First Known Bodybuilders in History (1900s)

Eugen Sandow, the “Father of Modern Bodybuilding” (1894)

In early 1900 there wasn’t really such a thing as bodybuilding. But there were people who had huge muscles who concentrated on traditional strongman routines for entertaining an audience. They lifted large boulders and performed impressive feats that showcased their incredible strength.

With the emergence of office work and factories, bringing about a new sedentary lifestyle affecting the manhood of men in industrial cities, the professional strongmen came about as a response to the Industrial Revolution.

Then came Eugen Sandow who would later go down in history as “the Father of Modern Bodybuilding.” Originally born as Friedrich Muller, this German native developed his physique so that his audience could also appreciate his fine musculature while he carried out what was then called “muscle display performances”.

Sandow was famous, not only for his incredible strength but also for his finely sculpted body. Apart from lifting the usual heavy weights, Sandow’s shows also featured “The Strongest Man in the World” flexing his well-honed muscles and posing his muscular physique during weightlifting intervals.

On January 16, 1904, the first large-scale bodybuilding competition in America took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The competition was promoted by Bernarr Macfadden, the publisher of the original bodybuilding magazines such as Health & Strength. The winner was Al Treloar, who was declared “The Most Perfectly Developed Man in the World”.

Eugen Sandow, 1896


A Russian bodybuilder, photographed in a studio circa 1900

George Hackenschmidt, circa 1900. He is believed to be the creator of the professional wrestling version of the bear hug as well as the person who popularised the hack squat, a deadlift with arms behind the body.

Hackenschmidt, circa. 1905

Louis Cyr, circa 1900. His recorded feats include: lifting 500 pounds (227 kg) with one finger and backlifting 4,337 pounds (1,967 kg)

Louis Cyr, the French Canadian strongman

Strongman, circa 1901

Eugen Sandow, 1902

Eugen Sandow, 1902

Eugen Sandow showing his guns

Lionel Strongfort. He began his famed stage career around 1897, becoming world renowned for his “Human Bridge Act” (The Tomb of Hercules position).

Frederick Winters, 1904 Olympics

A bodybuilder known as Mr. Eggleton, the manager of Sandows physical school in 1905

Mr. Murray, winner of the Sandow bodybuilding competition in 1905

The strong man of the police school, 1906

Georg Lurich, circa 1910

Georg Lurich, circa 1910

Bernarr Macfadden, c. 1918

Strongman, circa 1920

A. Dandurand, 1927