The world’s first fitness influencer was a Victorian strongman

Will Coldwell in 1843 Magazine:

When Eugen Sandow (pictured) opened his first School of Physical Culture in London in the summer of 1897, he ensured that its decor matched his personal brand. On arrival at 32A St James’s Street, visitors found themselves facing a life-sized statue of the founder himself. A nearby oil painting depicted Sandow as an ancient gladiator. In both cases his sculpted physique evoked the spirit of Greek classicism that Sandow, regarded in his heyday as the “perfect man”, strove to embody.

The opening of the school heralded the birth of the Sandow fitness empire. It was the culmination of a decade of celebrity status that Sandow, a circus strongman from Prussia with a winning smile and a striking moustache, had enjoyed since arriving in Britain in 1889. That year he earned the title of “strongest man on Earth” when he vanquished Charles Samson, a Frenchman. In a bicep-popping competition at the London Aquarium, the men burst chains with their chests and lifted a (presumably normal) man at arm’s length. Sandow secured victory when he lifted a 280-pound (127kg) weight with one hand. Samson couldn’t compete.

There were tougher men out there. Stronger men, too. Sandow lost the title 18 months later, but he had struck a chord with the public. Though other Victorian strongmen faded from memory, Sandow remained a household name (and sex symbol) until his death in 1925 from an aortic aneurysm (reportedly a consequence of lifting his car out of a ditch a year or so previously).

What endeared Sandow to the public was his ordinariness.

More here.