Thursday, September 22, 2011
Originally posted on NaturalStrength.com on 15 June 2002 Reprinted on NaturalStrength with permission of THE IRON MASTER. (Iron Master Editor Osmo Kiiha)
To at least a half-million Americans, York is a sort of Mecca, for no more reason than that it is the home of the York Barbell Co. and of Strength and Health magazine. Both are in the same ramshackle building near the tracks, which also house, during working hours, some twenty-five of the strongest men in the world, all title-holding champions. If intellectual endeavor is little in evidence, there is an abundant display of outsized muscles and feats of strength. The central character of the York Barbell Co. and editor-in-chief of Strength and Health is Robert Hoffman, a forty-eight-year-old strongman, whose handsome, pensive face and soft voice disguise a fanatical approach toward strength, health, muscles, and life in general. Born in Georgia, he migrated to Pittsburgh in early life and lifted nothing very heavy before World War I. His career in the U.S. Army was marked by bravery in action and the earning of a number of decorations, which did not include, as the Federal Trade Commission pointedly pointed out to him in 1936, the Distinguished Service Cross. After the war Hoffman went to York to visit his brother and has been there ever since. He worked at first with the York Oil Burner Co., of which he was a partner, and in 1923 he discovered barbells.
A barbell is a kind of loosely built dumbbell, so designed that iron plates of varying weights may be attached to a bar in different combinations in order to vary the total weight at will. Hoffman, after a few rounds with the barbells, decided that they were the only way to physical development. "Other ways," he says (and he meant all other ways), "are pretty much a waste of time. You can become such a superman through weight training you can do anything. I've won over 600 prizes in different sports. Whatever I take up, I become a champion - golf - handball - swimming - football." Hoffman is the author of several books, including Weight lifting, Big Arms, The Big Chest Book.
By 1929, Hoffman had infected enough people with his enthusiasm to warrant the commercial production of barbells. The York Barbell, like any official Olympic one, is adjustable in weight from forty-five (the weight of the bar alone) to 360 pounds; sets vary in price from $12 to $82. The best-selling unit is a $39 set, which includes a barbell, dumbbells, foot and head weights, and the necessary straps and buckles. Hoffman claims to have sold 50,000 of these since 1941. He is content with the figure and exhibits typical and inexplicable sales satisfaction. "I am more interested in selling lots of small sets to keep people fit," he says. "Out of the 50,000 I've only had sixty-one returns. That must be a record." All together, Hoffman has sold over 300,000 barbell combinations and thousands of courses in development. Nineteen hundred and forty-six was the first year to see over $1 million gross, although 1945 would have cleared that mark except for shortages of iron. Hoffman personally makes about $50,000 annually, and would make more if he had not sold out his oil-burner interest to devote his entire time to bodies. "I would be richer if I had stuck to oil burners," he observes wistfully. "But this is what I love."
Hoffman's only visible means of public relations is Strength and Health, edited in an atmosphere of perspiration and horseplay in York, printed in Baltimore, and sold all over the U.S. for 15 cents. The magazine loses some $3,000 per month despite a circulation exceeding 140,000. It is an assembly of advertisements; both direct and editorial, of the equipment offered by York Barbell Co. and the York Athletic Supply Co., which specializes in iron shoes, cable pullers, teeth lifters, and resistance apparatus. Supervised by Hoffman and edited by a former heavy-weight champion lifter, Gord Venables, Strength and Health is no more modern in its approach to selling than were the advertisements of Attila and Sandow. It is more remarkable for the presentation of nearly nude photographs of spectacular bodies than for elegance of style or precision of grammar. Articles are concerned with such technical problems as "The Leverage Method of Building Bigger Arms" and "The Art of Lifting Human Weights," or moralist considerations of "Both sides of the Drinking Question" and "How Harmful is the Use of Tobacco?" There is also a self-improvement stories department, presided over by Steve Stanko, Mr. America of 1944. Principal reason for Strength and Health deficit is Hoffman's squeamishness about advertising. "I don't take liquor, cigarette, or breakfast-food advertising," he says, omitting the editorial "we." "I don't eat breakfast food. Why clutter up my stomach with a lot of starch?"
Of Bob Hoffman's 300 employees, twenty-five are champion weight lifters, imported as members of the York Barbell Club and as employees in the various enterprises. Venables, Stanko, and John Grimek (Mr. America of 1940 and 1941, and Olympic team member 1936) edit the magazine, Jules Bacon (Mr. America of 1943 and famous for his "muscles that have muscles") manages the foundry, and John Terpak (ten times U.S. champion) is general manager of the entire organization. In the shipping room, where their muscles are put to good use, are Emerick Ishikawa and Stanley Stanczyk, both members of Hoffman's team, which defeated the Russians for the world's lifting championship in Paris last October. Every afternoon at four thirty sharp most of the staff knock off work and make for the red-and-black gymnasium over the shipping room for a two-hour session of grunting, groaning, and straining. Profanity, loafing, and smoking are sharply forbidden by signs posted about the entrance.
In his early and leaner days Hoffman used to give employment and $10.00 per week to any promising lifter who turned up in York. Now he pays his stable of Apollo's $50 to $200 per week and provides several of them with houses. He has set up fifteen of his former champions in businesses that include a restaurant, a taproom, a roadhouse, a curiosity swap shop, and a food market. And he has not been less generous to his two girl friends in York, each of whom has a house and a business; one operates a little taproom and the other a dress shop. About his private life Bob Hoffman is earnest and frank. "I'm so strong," he says, "I have to have two girls. I've been going out with both of them for eight years and I can't bring myself to break either's heart by giving up one or the other." Enlarging on the disadvantages of indulgence, he observes, "A strong man can take more than anyone else, but there are limits. He can smoke or drink or make love to the ladies. I don't smoke or drink." His two friends are both proficient weight lifters, and a pleasant evening spent in the company of either often consists of competitive lifting in Hoffman's parlor. "We could use the gym out in the garage," he explains, "but somehow we always seem to work out in here on that thousand-dollar rug." The bookshelves in the parlor are crammed with heavy works that display only such titles as Practical Birth Control, Stay Young and Live, You're only Young Twice, The Sex Life of the Unmarried Adult, Birth Control, The Male Hormone, and Physical Training for Children.
Whether or not Hoffman is responsible, weight lifting is on the upswing in the U.S. Many young men were exposed to barbells for the first time in the armed forced and have become enthusiasts. Few such muscle builders have sufficient incomes to patronize gymnasiums, and most serious trainers consider weight lifting merely "kid stuff." There are many gymnasiums, however, which go in heavily for "mirror athletics" and weight lifting. Tony Sansone, a good-looking Latin with a classical frame, operates a gymnasium on Third Avenue in New York City where weight lifting is encouraged. Sansone's clientele, however, includes many young men of the theater and the arts who can afford to pay his rates. In San Francisco a bulging and joyously healthy athlete named Walt Baptiste operates a lush barbell parlor called Body Moderne, which is probably the most lucrative of all the weightlifting establishments in the U.S. Baptiste has constant 250 students, who pay $20 per month to learn the lifts. He also sells vitamins and publishes a bimonthly magazine called Body Moderne. Most of his clients take the course for about six months, at the end of which time they buy from Baptiste a set of home training weight and continue at home. By the time they are ready to ripple themselves on the beach, they have paid something over $150 to Baptiste for instructions and equipment.
Hoffman is sad that his advocacy of weight lifting has given rise to competition, but he feels that lifting with weights made by competitors is far better than not lifting at all. Most serious competitor in the field is a Montreal firm called Your Physique Equipment Co., which manufactures the usual line of barbells and resistance equipment and publishes three magazines, Your Physique and Muscle Power in English, and Sante et Force in French. The organization stems directly from George F. Jowett, a strongman of the turn of the century, whose methods and basic teachings are still preached.
The Canadian organization has established a U.S. outlet through the Dan Lurie Barbell Co. of Brooklyn. Dan Lurie is a Brooklyn boy who claims to be "the Most Muscular Man in the World," although his right to that title is hotly contested by Kenneth Pendleton, a Negro protege of Bob Hoffman. Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck stores are now selling barbells supplied by a California organization named Healthways. Healthways is a mushrooming firm in Los Angeles that currently sells 3,000 dumbbell and barbell sets per month. All sells are direct, as the sets are too heavy for mailing. Hoffman has neglected to exploit over-the-counter sales to any extent, and he may very well regret it in the future.
Hoffman's only other real competitor, and for years his most serious rival in the strongman business, sells no equipment. He is Charles Atlas, who for twenty-three years has displayed his torso in almost every pulp magazine in the U.S. What he offers as a way to "bright eyes, clear head, real spring and zip in your step!" is a method called Dynamic Tension. His advertisements, which sometimes take the form of comic strips with such titles as "How 'Jack the Weakling' slaughtered the 'Dance-Floor Hog'" exhort the underdeveloped to try the Atlas method only fifteen minutes per day to become new men. Dynamic Tension, as described by Atlas, is simply the pitting of one muscle against another to obtain resistance. Thus one arm is pulled upward while the other arm attempts to keep it down - or the head is pushed backward while the locked arms try to pull it forward.
Atlas, who was born Angelo Siciliano in southern Italy, claims to have hit upon his method while watching the great cats in the zoo. "My rivals, who are all jealous," he says in his shy and modest manner of speaking," claim that dynamic tension builds up nervous tension. If that's true then cats and dogs should be nervous wrecks. My cat isn't a nervous wreck." As he speaks, he frequently jumps from his chair, throws out his chest, and dramatizes the point he is making. He tramps about the room as he expounds the values of natural exercises. "Take walking," he says. "What in the world could be better than a brisk morning walk on a chilly day, when you breathe in that delicious air and feel every muscle in your body tinkle."
Like many other physical instructors, Atlas owes his start to Bernarr Macfadden. His early years of struggle from a ninety-seven-pound weakling to "the World's Most Perfectly Developed Man" have been extensively publicized in The New Yorker and the Saturday Evening Post, as well as in the hundreds of advertisements by Atlas himself. In 1922, Macfadden awarded Atlas the title "World's Most Perfectly Developed Man," gave it to him again in 1923, and then called off the contests since it seemed that Atlas would always win. Next year Atlas set himself up in business selling Dynamic Tension by mail order. Today he employs as many as seventy girls at a time to open his mail. Since 1924, Atlas has sent his courses, at an average cost of $20 to $25 to the client and a probably $15 to Atlas, to over half a million pupils. The great majority has been satisfied, according to Atlas, and (alluding to the alleged dangers of lifting) no one has ever been hurt.
Every day he gets letters of thanks and letters asking advice on diet, exercise, and the optimum frequency of sexual intercourse. He also gets propositions from ladies interested in his body. Every one of these he answers firmly but politely, pointing out that he is happily married. Today, at fifty-eight, Atlas takes the widespread admiration of his torso seriously. "When I think back on my childhood," he explained to the Saturday Evening Post, "it doesn't seem possible that today the whole world looks up to me as the most ideal specimen of the human body. It is a great responsibility." The feud that has existed between Atlas and Hoffman for fifteen years has become less intense, but traces remain. Hoffman, privately, still refers to Atlas' method as "dynamic hooey," although the Federal Trade Commission ordered him in 1936 to cease and desist from calling it such in print. (At the time of the hearings before the FTC, Hoffman asked Atlas if his house cat actually pulled up with one paw while pushing down with the other and Atlas answered firmly, "Certainly, all the time.")
In the light of scientific information published recently, the FTC was perfectly right when, during the thirties, it ordered a number of mail-order gymnasts to soften their claims that any customer could become a Hercules overnight.
ED NOTE: The following appeared in the Amsterdam, New York, newspaper, "Evening Recorder" June 8, 1939. "Give me your measurements and I'll prove in the first 7 Days You Can Have a Body Like Mine."
Charles Atlas, "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man," whose physical culture ads appears in hundreds of magazines and newspapers over the above slogan. Has been ordered by the United States government to cease and desist from misleading representations of his course or the results to be obtained from following the instructions given.
Owing to the complaints of many students that the school courses did not fulfill what they promised, the corporation was investigated. And, on the basis of findings, was directed to cease representing that users of its courses could acquire in 7 days the muscular development of Atlas or any other person of similar physique and appearance.
Atlas who is now treasurer of the respondent company and owner of half of its outstanding capital stock, was advertised in the respondent's current book "Ever-lasting Health and Strength," as recipient of the title "America's Most Perfectly Developed Man" at a physical culture exhibition held in 1922, according to findings.
Gathering evidence is that while the respondent's correspondence courses may be generally beneficial to users they will not accomplish the results claimed.
Other representations prohibited under the order were that the use of the Atlas course would cure, relieve or benefit constipation, or skin ailments, and that any price is special or extraordinary when in fact it is the regular price. End, "Evening Recorder."
Studies of types of human physique indicate that at least 65 per cent of the population will never be able to develop athletic bodies, will always tend either toward well-padded midriffs or toward flat, skinny limbs. The other third of the population are born with naturally athletic constitutions and will probably develop their bodies in youth without realizing what they are doing. Those who tend toward fatness or skinniness are doomed to frustration and disappointment if they dream of possessing torsos similar to those of Atlas and Hoffman, although they can with moderate exercise keep themselves in better condition. But they will not succeed in changing the physical equipment with which they were born. (This was the way it was in 1946, times have changed, or have they? Increasing number of Americans has gotten fatter over the years).
ED NOTE: If you are interested in reading more about Bob Hoffman and all the other people mentioned in the above article, now you can. Professor John D. Fair has written a book "MUSCLETOWN USA" definitely the book for all interested in Physical Culture - MUST READ.
MUSCLETOWN USA (432 pages 70 illustrations) ISBN 0-271-01855-0 paperback, Order from Physical Culture Books.com see link below.
Physical Culture Books.com
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