Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Incredible Life And Impact Of Eugen Sandow - By James Athanasiou

It is no miracle that strength training and its impact on body proportions has been greatly altered over the years. We have come to an era where physical fitness and weightlifting  are recognized and pursued by millions worldwide.

It is a miracle, however, how one man could have almost single handedly been responsible for this turn of events. Whether you've heard of him before or not, there is never enough to be said about this generational icon. 

Today, we're diving into the incredible life and achievements of Eugen Sandow, the man that shaped a century Bodybuilding and Strongman and continues to pose as a positive role model even to this day. You never know how you may find yourself related to this legend's journey. 

1. The Boy Before Sandow:

He was born in 1867 by the name of Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, in a family of Jewish origin in Prussian Königsberg. His family's plans early on in his life were in favor of him becoming a Lutheran minister, but a trip to Italy would entirely change the trajectory of his life.

The remarkable sculptures portraying the epitome of male development ignited young Friedrich's passion for Bodybuilding at just 10 years of age, a passion that had nothing to do with his parents' influence. It wouldn't take long before his rejection of others' plans on his life would force him into a tough decision.

2. The Birth Of The Legend:

In 1885, the now 18 year old Friedrich knew very well that he would have to respond to the Military's call. Unwilling to settle, he turned off the call by fleeing his country the same year. Despite knowing nothing of what he was going to face afterwards, he didn't look back.

His wandering around Europe eventually landed him a job as a Circus athlete and showman. It was there that his new identity was forged. For the rest of his life, he would be known as Eugen Sandow, a name that was directly altered from his mother's originally Russian name "Sandov".

3. The First Encounter With Weightlifting:

During the early stages of his Strongman career, he visited the gym of a fellow named Ludwig Durlacher, better known as "Professor Attila" in Brussels. It was in this training that Eugen's talent in strength was first recognized. Attila offered to mentor Eugen, an opportunity that would turn out to start an entire era of incredible feats and life changing impact.

And while Eugen's the main character of this article, it would be a disgrace to Professor Attila's incredible impact if his life went unmentioned. Born in 1884 in Karlsruhe Germany, he got a taste of lifting training early in his life thanks to the Italian strongman Felice Napoli.

Ludwig would build up a strongman career, touring all over Europe and performing remarkable feats. His true talent, however, relied on his ability to coach and get the best out of everyone he trained. Attila wisely built on this gift, becoming the equivalent to our modern day "personal coach" for the elite of his era. He would go on to open his series of gyms, one of which landed him the opportunity to train Sandow.

As of 1889, he was ready to officially travel to London and compete in his first strongman competition, a debut that would matk his dominance and spark people's interest.

4. The Remarkable Feats That Marked The Name Sandow:

With little access to modern-style weights, the old school strongmen used feats that included daily activities in order to display strength that captivated ordinary people's attention. Lifting and moving horses, using one's body to bear tremendous amounts of weight or grip tests in various ways were all very common.

One of Eugen's most incredible feats of strength that earned him a great deal of publicity in the early days was him strolling around cities, breaking grip strength machines with the sheer strength of his arm. When he was inducted to the police center for violation of property, rumors say he displayed his incredible grip strength by single handedly lifting an officer overhead.

However, this would be nothing compared to his competition with Charles Sampson and Cyclops in London. The former was a master in grip related strength feats, while the latter specialized in making heavy weights move. One night, the two strongmen challenged people for money, seeking someone who could match their strength. Unfortunately for them, that night Eugen stepped on the stage. 

Dressed up in normal clothing, everyone mocked him. This was until he ripped them off, revealing his outstanding muscular frame in his show suit. To everyone's disbelief, he matched all previous performances, gasping the whole public's sympathy and making the short tempered Sampson jump around shouting.

There are many other remarkable feats of Sandow, both known and unknown. Perhaps the one that displayed his superb strength in the most functional way was his wrestling match with an actual lion during one of his trips to America.

The event was held in public display, where it was agreed that the lion would be unable to use its nails or bite Sandow. Under those conditions, Eugen opted to test in the waters before the show, which ended up in a ferocious battle before the actual battle. Despite being knocked down once or twice, he stood up and eventually established his lead. When it came time for the actual show, the lion backed off from Sandow, shocked by the power it had witnessed.

5. The Rise And Life Of The Superstar

His full of exciting and innovative exposure to the public transcended him beyond the spectrum of any other celebrity of the Victorian and Edwardian times. His house in London is living proof of his status, a marvelous piece of construction attainable to the elites of society, far out of reach for most celebrities. 

He married Blanche Brooks, daughter of the well known photographer Warwick Brooks in 1896. Around most places of the world, he was held as an idol, the embodiment of peak human potential and aesthetics. Unfortunately, many circumstances that were to follow would not allow Sandow to remain happily ever after.

6. The Impact On Bodybuilding:

What really separated Sandow from all other strongmen of this era was his incorporation of muscle displays, where he would publicly pose and let people witness his advanced physique. This all started with the suggestion of Flo Ziegfeld, where they developed a pioneering exploitation of light, much like modern day bodybuilders.

The worldwide attention of these stage appearances, alongside Eugen's charisma and personality really inspired people to take better care of their bodies. He also proved that there was room for entrepreneurship to take place in the field of strength and muscle building.

These muscle displays became engraved in many cultures, so much so that a film of his by the Edison Studios in 1894 stands as one of the oldest films ever recorded. To further expose the natural aesthetics he acquired, Eugen would often pose off stage, recreating famous artwork from ancient times or even his own sculpture and paintings.

Had it not been for Sandow's efforts to make muscle building and displaying a universally acceptable and highly desirable pursuit, our modern culture of strength training and overall physical improvement might have never existed.

7. The Transition To Eugen's Career:

Through his world fame, Eugen proved that there was room for entrepreneurship to take place in the field of strength and muscle building. Occasionally, he would capitalize on the opportunity to make money from his influence. This resulted in the fine invention of the Sandow Dumbbells, a grip strengthening and muscle building tool that quickly rose into fame.

While his inventor days were short lived, his writing work was truly impactful. Sandow's magazine forums that illustrated practical workouts and tips really raised awareness on the matter of personal fitness. His book "Strength and How to Obtain It" was a five edition breakthrough that belonged in everyone's bookshelf.

Later on, he followed up by opening the institute of Physical Culture, a place where he helped everyone willing to train to acquire a physique like his. This would scale up to a franchise of schools and thousands of training programs sent to people with mails all around the world.

Eventually, however, this pursuit of making himself into a brand led to his demise. Him getting involved in the food industry by managing his own cocoa manufacturing brand required an enormous capital. The war broke out and his persecution followed right after.

8. The End Of The Journey

At just 58 years old, a terrible incident would mark the end of a Champion and the beginning of his legacy. One day, one of his cars fell into a ditch. In an attempt to get it back to the road, Eugen returned home with a sharp headache. This was the only warning he ever received, as he inexplicably passed away after quite some time in 1925. The cause still remains unknown.

Despite the fact that he lifted weights and remained in great condition for his entire life, father time and the plethora of disappointing events during the last few years took their toll on Sandow. Perhaps it was this rupture with his family, becoming estranged with his wife and daughters that led to this disgrace. It was thanks to some friends of his erecting a small monument that allowed for his memory to be preserved

9. Why The Name Eugen Sandow Stands Tall To This Day

A man is both honored by his deeds and the character he portrays. Without both, one cannot become great. Eugen showed tremendous physical prowess throughout all stages of his life, but so did many others.

It was his well rounded approach to strength and weight training, alongside the good use of his international fame to affect the lives of millions. Such is the generational power of the gift Eugen Sandow offered to this world.

The man was just about 5'9, weighing at around 185 pounds. Dressed up in casual clothes, he would look just like any other person passing by. He had to work his entire life to change people's perceptions in the matter of fitness and beauty, a pursuit that even resulted in him sacrificing the growth and fulfillment of many pillars in his life.

Such is the way of Strongman. It's not about the number of weight lifted, but more so about the weight you can bear during the journey to your destination. I hope that everyone reading this can see his own hopes and values being shaped by the marvelous figure of Eugen Sandow, a genuine All Time Great.

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Vintage Bodybuilding Literature

Vintage Bodybuilding Literature
Oldtime Strongman Books

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