B orn Bernard Macfadden, he was a weak and sickly child. Orphaned at a young age, Macfadden seldom had time for exercise. At age sixteen, disgusted by his physical form, which he referred to as "a complete wreck" and mistrusting of the medical profession, Macfadden bought a pair of dumbbells and created a daily exercise schedule for himself. He was inspired after reading William Blaik-ie's How to Get Strong and How to Stay So (1879), which was also a weight-loss system. Blaikie advocated exercise and diet for those with "considerable superfluous flesh" (Blaikie 1879: 155). Macfadden quickly added long walks outside, cold baths, minimal clothing, and mostly vegetarian eating habits to this regimen. In 1887, he opened his first studio in St. Louis under the name "Bernard Macfadden—Kinestherapist—Teacher of Higher Physical Culture." Having coined the new "scientific" label of "kinestherapist," he also created the slogan that he would use all his life: "Weakness is a crime; don't be a criminal!"
Macfadden first advertised this health regimen, which he dubbed "physical culture" at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, which is also where he saw Eugene Sandow, the first great celebrity bodybuilder. Knowing the value of publicity, such as that which propelled Sandow's career, in i898 Macfadden began publishing a monthly magazine called Physical Culture. It was at this time that he changed his name to Bernarr, which he believed was a stronger version of his given name. By i900, the magazine, which featured scantily clad but physically fit indi viduals, was selling thousands of copies at 15 cents per issue. The link between bodybuilding culture and the erotic, especially the male erotic, was clear. This was a surprising antidote to the early link between "unnatural sexuality" and the diet culture. Macfadden went on to start Macfadden Publications and the Bernarr Macfadden Foundation, as well as "healthatoriums" and vegetarian restaurants where he promoted his philosophies on health and fitness. His most grandiose plan was "Physical Culture City," which was to have 30,000 inhabitants whose "alert minds would be sheltered in healthy bodies" on i,900 acres in New Jersey. However, the cult of bodybuilding and nudism made the project scandalous. It floundered when, in i907, Physical Culture was accused of obscenity and Macfadden was sentenced to two years of hard labor and a 2,000-dollar fine. While William Howard Taft pardoned him, the stigma of pornography remained associated with Macfadden's "health culture."
In 1919, Macfadden achieved huge success with the young working-class audience when he published True Story, a magazine focusing on first-hand confessions of sex and other sins. By 1930, Macfadden was worth 30 million dollars, but the Great Depression hurt him severely. He died in i955 trying to cure himself of jaundice by fasting.
SLG/Sarah Gardiner See also Bodybuilding; Graham; Taft; Vegetarianism
References and Further Reading
Bennett, Jim (2007) "Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955), the "Father of Physical Culture." Available online at <http://www.bernarrmacfadden.com> (accessed March 11, 2007).
Blaikie, William (1879) How to Get Strong and How to Stay So, New York: Harper Brothers.
Ernst, Robert (1991) Weakness Is a Crime: The Life of
Bernarr Macfadden, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. Hunt, William R. (1989) Body Love: The Amazing Career of Bernarr Macfadden. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. Todd, J. (1987) "Bernarr Macfadden: Reformer of Feminine Form," Journal of Sport History 14 (1):
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