Mr. America’s Founding Father

Meet Eugen Sandow, who, in the late 19th century, turned bodybuilding into an aesthetic, rather than purely athletic, experience:

Men and women alike clamored for cabinet cards featuring Sandow in the buff, and his physique inspired the first generation of gym bunnies. As Tim Farrell wrote for Neatorama, “Sandow did more than simply shock and titillate audiences with his tiny waist and ripped muscles; he pioneered the notion of working out for the sake of aesthetics.” Sandow recognized the value of sex appeal and used it to establish one of the earliest celebrity sporting franchises from his headquarters in London, which formed the basis of modern gym culture. …

He would cover himself with white powder so that he would look more like marble, and he’d assume a pose. Then they’d close the curtain to this little box, and when they opened it again, he was in another pose. He wore tights, but he took his shirt off, and it was quite unusual in those days for a man to remove his shirt in public. He was using allusions to classical art and statuary as an alibi, an excuse for posing practically nude. But that’s what he did, and he was a huge hit among men and women.