EUGEN SANDOW – FATHER OF MODERN BODYBUILDING
Eugen Sandow (April 2, 1867 – October 14, 1925), born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, was a pioneering German bodybuilder known as the “Father of Modern Bodybuilding.”
He was born Friederich Wilhelm Mueller in Königsberg, Prussia in 1867, in what is today Kaliningrad, Russia. By the time he was 19, Sandow was already performing strongman stunts in various sideshows.
Born out of wedlock, he was later adopted by the Müller family, who gave him the name Friedrich Wilhelm Müller.
SANDOWS INSPIRATION STORY:
Growing up, Sandow later reflected, he was a pathetic figure – weedy, fragile and pale-skinned.
However, when he was 15 his father took him on a trip to Rome, and his life was to change forever.
The great sculptures of deities and wrestlers that he saw there, contorted in poses of brawn, beauty and flesh, stirred his imagination, and he dreamed of one day reaching this aesthetic apogee.
Returning home, the Prussian teenager dedicated himself tirelessly to achieving this state of physical perfection, taking tips from professional circus strongmen to put him on the right path.
In later life, he went on to measure the ancient sculptures in museums, developing, in the process, his ‘Grecian Ideal’, which underpinned his notions of the ‘perfect physique’.
When he was 18, he left his family and home behind, and, adopting the stage name ‘Eugen Sandow’, travelled across the capitals of Europe performing as a circus athlete and professional wrestler.
SANDOWS POSES AND ATTRACTION:
He was initially known for his impressive barbell routines and for breaking a chain locked around his chest. However audiences quickly became far more fascinated by Eugen Sandow’s bulging muscles than by the amount of weight he was able to hoist. As a result, Sandow developed and performed poses. He dubbed these displays ‘muscle display performances’ and the routine was a precursor to the bodybuilding competition posses we see today. His routines and physique quickly made Sandow a sensation and a highly sought after carnival attraction.
SANDOWS COMPARISON TO ROMAN GOD:
Sandow was compared to a Roman god. His resemblance to the physiques of classic Greek and Roman sculpture was no accident. Sandow had visited Italy as a child and it was there, after gazing and admiring the bulging physiques of the ancient gods, that his passion for sculpting his body took root. In training, Sandow actually measured the marble artworks in museums. He viewed them as ‘The Grecian Ideal’ and as a formula for the ‘perfect physique’. Sandow eventually built his physique to the exact proportions of Greek and Roman Sculpture and, in the process, became one of the first athletes to intentionally develop his musculature to pre-determined dimensions. Today he is considered by many to be ‘The Father of Bodybuilding’.
SANDOWS TEACHING AND PHILANTHROPY:
Eugen Sandow began to teach his muscle building techniques and workout tips to the public, and went on to open a series of ‘Institutes of Physical Culture’ (forerunners to the gyms of today), as well as selling and manufacturing gym equipment.
He boasted a string of celebrity clients, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who went on to become one his closest friends.
Eugen Sandow taught the secrets behind his incredible physique, imparting theories on nutrition, exercise and weight training that were previously unheard of.
He also volunteered his knowledge to various philanthropic causes: he sponsored the 1908 London Olympics, provided financial support for Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole, and worked to improve the physical fitness of the recruits who signed up to fight in the Boer War.
In 1906 Sandow became a British citizen, and in 1911 he was appointed Professor of Physical Culture to George V.
SANDOWS CUT LIKE A STATUE:
Sandow liked to tell his fans that he started perfecting his body at the age of 10, after his father took him to Italy to see the statues of the gods. The sculpted abdomens and chiseled biceps inspired him, and when he returned home, he became obsessed with developing his muscles. Of course, none of this is true.
A master of creating his own legend, Sandow’s biography tends to be a patchwork of great marketing and tall tales. What’s known for certain is that he was a Prussian acrobat who toured with small-time circuses across Europe during the 1880s, until he landed in Brussels without a penny to his name. There, he stumbled across an educator in the nascent world of physical fitness named Louis Durlacher, better known as Professor Attila.
At the time, it was thought that lifting more than 5 lbs. at once could cause muscles to cramp and lock, eventually leading to paralysis. Attila, however, decided to buck popular opinion. A former strongman himself, he’d developed a system of progressive weight training in which muscles are strengthened by gradually increasing the weight lifted over time. Today, it’s the cornerstone of bodybuilding. When Attila met Sandow, he knew he’d found the perfect specimen to test his system.
In 1889, the pair moved to London to secure a strongman show for Sandow. In order to grab people’s attention, they set their sights on the city’s reigning brawny duo, Sampson and Cyclops. Sampson was known for lifting “imperial tons” (2,240 lbs.), Cyclops for tearing coins in half.
Sandow began by challenging Cyclops to a feat of strength. On the night of their competition, he walked out in a foppish, tailored suit. Once at center stage, he tore off the outfit in one pull, revealing only Roman sandals, a pair of tights, and a physique the likes of which no one in the audience had seen before. The crowd went wild and quickly took the side of the handsome, mysterious challenger. Sandow soundly defeated Cyclops in a series of barbell lifts.
One week later, Sandow returned to the stage to face Sampson and matched him stunt for stunt. Then came the final challenge—chain-breaking, in which both contestants had to break free only by flexing their muscles. Sampson had never been defeated in this competition, but then again, he’d always cheated; his chains were rigged to fall apart. Sandow had discovered Sampson’s trick weeks earlier and tracked down the blacksmith, who made him a set of his own fake chains. On the night of the contest, the chains burst off Sandow’s body in record time, and Sampson stormed off stage. London had a new king of strength.
At the time of his death in 1925, a cover story was released stating Sandow died prematurely at age 58 of a stroke shortly after pushing his car out of the mud. The actual cause of death was more likely due to complications from syphilis. Sandow was buried in an unmarked grave at the request of his wife, Blanche (who never divorced him) at Putney Vale Cemetery near London. In 2002, a gravestone and black marble plaque was added by Sandow admirer and author Thomas Manly. The gold-lettered inscription reads Eugen Sandow, 1867-1925 the Father of Bodybuilding.
Since 1977, as recognition of his contribution to the sport of bodybuilding, a bronze statue of Sandow has been presented to Mr Olympia winners. The statue is simply known as ‘The Sandow’.