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Sandow The Showman by David Gentle

Eugen Sandow


EUGEN SANDOW was born Frederick Mueller in Konigsberg, East Prussia in the year 1867.  His athletic career started as a circus acrobat touring Europe and there is some evidence he even visited the USA early in his career.

He was at that time also a very accomplished wrestler, winning many bouts with his already rapidly growing strength.

In one bout, however, he injured his arm in the process of breaking an opponent's ribs, and so decided quite wisely to enter the 'less hazardous ranks of the STRONG MEN boom that was developing in England, from its real origins the beer gardens of Germany and Austria.

Strength acts were very popular in the 1880's and were in fact quite a lucrative occupation. Amongst the many performers doing the rounds of music halls were two continental strong men called 'Cyclops', a stage name for Franz Beinkowski and Charles Samson.

They were offering large money prizes to anyone who could match their feats and Sandow attracted by the money and possible fame decided to challenge them.

Accompanied by Louis Attila, a small but very good strength performer in his own right and trainer of Sandow, Eugen faced Cyclops in a match of strength and consequently defeated him. Within a week he challenged and beat Samson in a variety of feats including bending bars and breaking chains ('jack chains' i.e. those formed in an S shape).  It is a matter of debate as to why Cyclops didn't challenge Sandow to attempt to break coins as Cyclops was just one of the few men who could genuinely bend and break coins in an impressive display of power.

But this is Another Story....

Eugen SandowThe resulting publicity of the contests ensured an enormous success for the next series of engagements. Eugen then toured extensively around Britain, Europe, Africa, Australia and the USA commanding some fabulous salaries and becoming a very prosperous man.

Sandow was in fact a very astute business men, with mail order courses, (long before Charles Atlas had bullies kicking sand in people's faces) and his physical culture institutes were the fore-runners of today's health clubs. Sandow advertised and endorsed a wide range of products ranging from cigars to cocoa.

Over the years through just posing alone, be it for still photos, films or as an artists model. it is estimated he earned over a million dollars. He was however an extraordinary man being generous giving away thousands of pounds to various charities in prizes and donations and genuinely attempted to encourage people to achieve better health and strength with physical culture competitions and via SANDOWS MAGAZINE.

Sandow, a star in his own right. mixed with royalty and the world's top celebrities. Friendly with THOMAS EDISON the famous inventor, he had the distinction of being in one of the world's first moving pictures in 1890. In this rare film he demonstrated his posing routine which he ended by performing a backwards somersault, and ability acquired from his earlier tumbling days.

He claimed to be able to perform such a somersault with a 56 Ibs dumbbell in each hand and whilst this may have been true, in practice the dumbbells usually weighed 35 lbs. each. and still a creditable feat few could equal. He also regularly practiced and gave 'muscle control' exhibitions an art at which only the master MAXICK (see later article) could excel him.   

Eugen SandowSandow's strength was much varied and of course the things he did were surrounded in showmanship. Normal weight lifting poundages were really only of interest to other weight lifters, one dumbbell looking very much like another. Many stage weights in those days actually were fakes, i.e. hollow iron spheres, much lighter than the weights announced, although the strongman performing no doubt could lift the weight stated when he HAD to. Most performers couldn't see any reason why they should lift their maximum poundages TWICE nightly.  

Eugen Sandow had an outstanding physique, amazing deltoids built through plenty of dumbbell work, full biceps and fantastic abdominals. He was renowned for both his physical and facial beauty. His moustache and curly hair completed his attractive appearance. He was agile as proved with his somersaults with loaded dumbbells. He could also hold a barbell weighing 125 lbs in front of him and jump backwards and forwards through his own hands while holding the bar as easy as jumping a broomstick. His bravery he demonstrated by wrestling with a lion in San Francisco. Unfortunately the fact that the lion was both tranquilized and had its claws drawn deflates that occasion a bit, although a heavy blow from a lion could still have killed him.

Anyway the publicity as a result was worth the risk. Strong he definitely was . . . AL TRELOAR, who was probably the first 'Mr America' type physique winner and worked with Eugen. said Sandow could do pull ups or chins with any ONE finger, even thumbs (he used a loop of rope). He raised 269 lbs. overhead with ONE HAND in the old style lift the BENT PRESS; could support a small horse (a pony) overhead' with one hand in a harness and walk across the stage with it raised aloft. He used to lift a huge barbell overhead of the globe type and on putting the weight down two people, usually young ladies dressed in crinoline gowns to complete the illusion. would jump out of the spheres. Sandow could tear three packs of cards into halves (all together that is) in less than 20 seconds, and in the widely practised exercise press ups, exceed 200 reps without any trouble.    

Eugen SandowNever a contender for the world's strongest man, Sandow's all-round power was still immense. He would regularly support in the so-called 'Pillar of Hercules' position (basically a position stones where you support the weight across your chest and bent knees, supporting yourself on all fours) a grand piano with an orchestra of eight performers seated on top, sometimes he would lift (support) the entire cast this way, including the show dog!!!

As the title suggests, Sandow as the supreme SHOWMAN and always tried to introduce novelties to his act. One act consisted of Sandow and 'Goliath'. The stooge who played Goliath weighed 27 stones and was about 6ft 3ins with huge hands and feet. Sandow used to nightly lift both Goliath and a heavy cage with one finger. total weight over 400 lbs. One of the most spectacular ideas was performed at the Palace Theatre in London. Sandow supported three full size horses on a specially made platform across his chest. One horse stood at each end. and the third horse was in the middle of the platform. The horses, under direction then performed a see-saw with the centre horse shifting the balance each time to command.  

EUGEN SANDOW died in 1925. He was earlier involved in a car accident and legend has it that he tried to lift his car out of a ditch and overtaxed even his enormous strength. Personally I doubt if an intelligent man like Sandow would really have risked personal injury. especially without an audience. The real cause of his demise was listed on his death certificate as AORTIC ANEURYSM, there was no post mortem. The date of death was 14th October 1925.

Missed badly by the world of physical culture, his wife and family for reasons best known to themselves refused all attempts of various P.C. bodies to erect a suitable monument to his memory, but he will live on in the memories of those who admired his STRENGTH.  

Sandow the Showman © Copyright by David Gentle All Rights Reserved

Sandow Cast in 2003

View photos captured of the Sandow Cast during a visit to The Natural History Museum. 


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