By Tom Dare
A FASCINATING VIDEO from the 1800s, taken by renowned American inventor Thomas Edison, has showcased the routine of the man many people consider ‘The father of modern bodybuilding.’
Footage shows Eugen Sandow, the German-born bodybuilder who pioneered the idea of ‘muscle display performances,’ flexing his muscles in a variety of positions in one of the earliest video recordings ever made for the Edison studios in 1894.
In the video Sandow shows off his abs, biceps and back muscles, with the sole focus of the film being on his looks rather than feats of strength, which had characterised ‘strongman’ shows up to this point.
Born in Prussia in 1867, Sandow first gained fame in Britain in 1889 after winning a strongman competition in London. Adoring crowds began to follow Sandow across the country, and he spent the next four years travelling up and down the length of Britain refining his show, which featured posing and incredible feats of strength.
In 1894 he took his show to the United States, where he was featured in this short video for the Edison studios. Again, the focus was on him flexing his muscles rather than feats of strength, and after marrying a girl from Manchester he returned to Britain to open the first ever Institute of Physical Culture. Open to the public, here he taught exercise routine, dietary requirements and weight lifting.
“Life is movement,” he was once quoted as saying.
“Once you stop moving, you’re dead. Choose life.
“Health is a divine gift, and the care of the body is a sacred duty, to neglect which is to sin.”
In 1898 he founded a monthly periodical called ‘Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture’, which was dedicated to all aspects of physical culture, while also writing several books between 1897 and 1904. The last of these featured the first ever reference to the term ‘bodybuilding’.
In 1901 Sandow organised one of the world’s first ever major bodybuilding competitions in London’s Royal Albert Hall, with competitors from across the worlds flocking to take part. The event was so popular that people were being turned away at the door, with the judging panel featuring none other than world-famous author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as Sandow himself.
Sandow is often referred to as the father of modern bodybuilding due to his obsession with the Grecian ideal. It is rumoured that he visited ancient Roman and Greek history museums to take measurements from the statues there, which he then strived to reach. This focus on dimensions rather than strength was a first in the world of strongmen, with Sandow receiving so much attention that even King George V was said to have been a huge admirer, supposedly hiring Sandow as a special instructor in physical culture.
Sandow died of a brain haemorrhage in 1925 at the age of 58, and is buried in Putney Vale ceremony.