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Eugen Sandow (1867-1925)

The German Eugen Sandow was a body-builder who developed a highly influential system of exercises in the late 1800s. He also performed ‘muscle display’ shows.

As a child, Sandow decided to attain a ‘perfect physique’ like the Greek and Roman athletes immortalised in sculptures. He seems to have followed his goal with a lot of dedication: at the age of 19 he already attracted large crowds when he performed as a strongman in the Ziegfeld Follies, a theatrical review that was hugely popular at this time.

Sandow was a good businessman as well as a successful performer - he went on tour around Europe and America, and sold his publications, exercise equipment and other products such as Sandow's Health & Strength Cocoa globally. In publications such as Strength and Health: How Disease May Be Successfully Combated by Physical Culture (1912) he argued that with regular, methodical exercise anyone could make his or her body perfect and healthy.

Sandow made exercise fashionable, winning the support of famous figures of the time such as Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. He even became King George V’s personal fitness instructor. In the 20th century others, such as the American Charles Atlas (1893-1972), developed body building further.

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Bibliography

D Chapman, Sandow the Magnificent: Eugen Sandow and the Beginnings of Bodybuilding (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994)

E Sandow, Sandow's System of Physical Training (London: Gale and Polden, 1895)

E Sandow, Strength and Health: How Disease May Be Successfully Combated by Physical Culture (New York: R K Fox, 1906)

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