Eugen Sandow (April 2 1867 – October 14 1925), born Friederich Wilhelm Müller, was a pioneering bodybuilder of the Victorian era and is often referred to as the "Father of Modern Bodybuilding".
Sandow was born in Königsberg
in 1867, in what is today Kaliningrad
. He became a great admirer of Greek
statues of gladiators
and mythical heroes when his father took him to Italy
as a boy. By the time he was 19, Sandow was already performing strongman
stunts in side shows. The legendary Florenz Ziegfeld
saw the young strongman and hired him for his carnival
show. He soon found that the audience was far more fascinated by Sandow's bulging muscles than by the amount of weight he was lifting, so Ziegfeld had Sandow perform poses which he dubbed "muscle display performances"... and the legendary strongman added these displays in addition to performing his feats of strength with barbells
. He also added chain-around-the-chest breaking and other colorful displays to Sandow's routine. Sandow quickly became a sensation and Ziegfeld's first star.
The Grecian Ideal
Sandow's resemblance to the physiques found on classic Greek and Roman sculpture was no accident, as he measured the statues in museums and helped to develop "The Grecian Ideal" as a formula for the "perfect physique." Sandow built his physique to the exact proportions of his Grecian Ideal, and is considered the father of modern bodybuilding as one of the first athletes to intentionally develop his musculature to pre-determined dimensions. In his books Strength and How to Obtain It and Sandow's System of Physical Training, Sandow laid out specific proscriptions of weights and repetitions in order to achieve his ideal proportions.
In 1894, Sandow featured in a short film by the Edison Studios
. The film was of only part of the show and features him flexing his muscles rather than performing any feats of physical strength. While the content of the film reflects the audience attention being primarily focused on his appearance it also made use of the unique capacities of the new medium. Film theorists have attributed the appeal being the striking image of a detailed image moving in synchrony, much like the example of the Lumière brothers
' Repas de bébé
where audiences were reportedly more impressed by the movement of trees swaying in the background than the events taking place in the foreground. In 1894, he appeared in a short Kinetoscope
film that was part of the first commercial motion picture exhibition in history.
Sandow performed all over Europe, and went to America to perform at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He could be seen in a black velvet-lined box with his body covered in white powder to appear even more like a marble statue come to life. Sandow was also a successful businessman, owning a mail-order physical instruction and exercise equipment business, as well as inventing different types of weight training equipment. He also produced Sandow Cigars, Sandow's Health & Strength Cocoa and Sandow, a magazine devoted to physical culture. He opened a Physical Culture Studio in London, one of the first health clubs to contrast starkly with the 'sweaty' gymnasiums that had already existed, and made exercise fashionable for all classes.
Sandow wrote several books on bodybuilding and nutrition and encouraged a healthy lifestyle as being as important as having a sound mind. His books included Sandow's System of Physical Training, Strength and How To Obtain It, Body-Building, Strength and Health, Life is Movement, and The Construction and Reconstruction of the Human Body.
Sandow organized the first ever bodybuilding contest on September 14, 1901 called the "Great Competition" and held in the Royal Albert Hall, London, UK. Judged by himself, Sir Charles Lawes, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the contest was a huge success and was a sell-out with hundreds of fans turned away.
Sandown married Blanche Brooks-Sandow, a jealous woman with whom he had two daughters. He was constantly in the company of other women who paid money to feel his flexed muscles back stage after his stage performances.
He was befriended by the likes of King George V of the United Kingdom, Thomas Edison and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was portrayed by the actor Nat Pendleton in the film The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Sandow was also a close friend to Martinus Sieveking, featuring him in his book Sandow's System of Physical Training.
He died in London on October 14 1925
. A "cover story" was released that 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 complications from syphilis
. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Putney Vale Cemetery
at the request of his wife, Blanche (who never divorced him). In 2002, a gravestone and black marble plaque was added by Sandow admirer and author Thomas Manly. The inscription (in gold letters) read 'Eugen Sandow, 1867-1925 the Father of bodybuilding'. In 2008 the grave was bought by Chris Davies who is Sandow's Great Great Grandson. The gravestone placed there by Thomas Manly has been removed and replaced with another one.
As recognition of his contribution to the sport of bodybuilding, a bronze statue of Sandow sculpted by Frederick Pomeroy
has been presented to the Mr Olympia
winner since 1977. This statue is simply known as "The Sandow".
A biography Sandow the Magnificent - Eugen Sandow and the Beginnings of Bodybuilding was written by David L. Chapman in 1994. In 2002 a novel For The Love Of Eugen was published by author Thomas Manly which is a ghost story featuring Sandow as the leading character.
Thomas Manly's items have been removed from the grave by Sandow's Great Grandson, Mr. Chris Davies, on the anniversary of Eugen Sandow's birth this past April 2nd 2008. A new one and one half tonne natural pink sandstone is in place. Simply inscribed SANDOW in the vertical as in ancient Greek funerary ornaments, called "Stele".
- Chapman, David, "Eugen Sandow and the Birth of Bodybuilding", Hardgainer (May 1993)
- Chapman, David, Sandow the Magnificent: Eugen Sandow and the Beginnings of Bodybuilding (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994)