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Atlas, Charles (30 October 1893–23 December 1972), physical culturist, was born Angelo Siciliano near Acri in the Calabria province of Italy, the son of farmers. (The parents’ names cannot be ascertained.) He emigrated to the United States with his mother in 1904 and settled in Brooklyn. After leaving school at fifteen, he worked in a women’s pocketbook factory; his future seemed unpromising. Like most “pedlars” from this era, Siciliano was psycho-asthenic and of foreign extraction. Anemic and lacking confidence, Siciliano was subjected to beatings from a neighborhood bully and from an uncle. These humiliations provided an impetus for his lifelong struggle to overcome weakness. Statues of Hercules and other mythological heroes he saw at the Brooklyn Museum inspired him to build his body. Realizing that such beautifully proportioned physiques came from exercise, young Siciliano began reading ...

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Charles Atlas Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117754).

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Fixx, James Fuller (23 April 1932–20 July 1984), writer, was born in New York City, the son of Calvin Henry Fixx, a journalist, and Marlys Fuller. After completing his primary education, he attended the Garden Country Day School in Jackson Heights, New York, from 1947 to 1948, and he graduated from the Trinity School in New York City in 1951. Fixx attended Indiana University from 1951 to 1952 and then served as a clerk in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1954 in Pusan, South Korea. In 1955 he entered Oberlin College and majored in English literature, with the goal of becoming either a journalist or a teacher. While studying at Oberlin, Fixx worked as a reporter and feature writer for the Oberlin ...

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Hovey, Henrietta (06 April 1849–16 March 1918), Delsartean teacher, was born Henriette Knapp in Cooperstown, New York, the daughter of Edgar Knapp and Catharine Tyler. Hovey’s lifelong interest in clothing reform is traced to an early experience when a doctor, to combat her frailty and ill-health, prescribed loose-fitting garb that would allow easy breathing and free motion. By her early twenties, Hovey was designing her own unique uncorseted costumes—subtly colored flowing gowns that became her hallmark—and lecturing on the aesthetic and health aspects of dress. To improve her speech for such presentations, she entered the Boston School of Oratory in the early 1870s where she was introduced to the system of expression developed by François Delsarte (1811–1871), a French theorist and teacher of acting, voice, and aesthetics. Delsarte’s theory was an elaborate derivation of his personal interpretation of the Christian Trinity and featured particular attention to the relationship between body, mind, and spirit in the practical work of expression in any of the arts. Hovey’s interests expanded to include physical culture and expression, and she traveled to Paris where she met Delsarte’s widow and studied with his son Gustave before the latter’s death in February 1879. In the late 1860s or 1870s she married Edward B. Crane; their son was born on 21 April, probably in 1878—possibly in 1867....

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Macfadden, Bernarr (16 August 1868–12 October 1955), physical culturist and publisher, was born Bernard Adolphus McFadden near Mill Spring, Missouri, the son of William R. McFadden and Mary Miller, farmers. A weak and sickly boy, he was virtually abandoned after his mother divorced her often drunken and violent husband. Both parents died before he was eleven, his father of alcoholism, his mother of tuberculosis. After serving on an Illinois farm, he worked in a Chicago hotel and in the St. Louis area as delivery boy, clerk, bookkeeper, and farm and construction laborer, and for a short time co-owned a St. Louis laundry....

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Muldoon, William (25 May 1852–03 June 1933), wrestler, physical culturist, and New York State athletic commissioner, was born in Caneadea, New York, the son of Patrick Muldoon, a farmer, and Maria Donohue. Muldoon’s parents met and married in Dublin, Ireland, where Patrick had traveled from his native Portumna, near Galway, with the intention of studying for the priesthood. Patrick took employment with a surveying company and set sail for Canada. Eventually, the Muldoons settled in Caneadea, a tiny farming community in Allegany County, New York. William was the seventh of ten children. As a youth Muldoon exhibited unusual levels of physical strength and a rather quick temper....

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Pilates, Joseph Hubertus (1880–09 October 1967), physical trainer, was born near Düsseldorf, Germany. His exact date of birth and the full names of his parents are unknown. His father, a champion gymnast, was Greek; his mother, who was German, worked as a naturopath. The family name, of Greek origin, is pronounced “Puh- ...

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Eugen Sandow Photograph by Napoleon Sarony, c. 1893. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102011).

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Sandow, Eugen (02 April 1867–14 October 1925), physical culturist, was born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller in Königsberg, East Prussia (later Kaliningrad, Russia), the son of merchants whose full names are unknown. His childhood is shrouded in mystery, but during the late 1880s Sandow immigrated to Brussels to escape Prussian military service and to pursue a performing career. A less reliable account records that he attended the University of Göttingen and later studied anatomy in Brussels. He did, however, benefit in Brussels from the tutelage of the legendary Professor Attila (Louis Durlacher), who fostered Sandow’s physical development by impressing upon him the importance of lifting heavy weights. In Amsterdam he drew attention to his tremendous strength by breaking novelty weightlifting machines in the city’s cafes. His equally awesome physique later attracted the attention of artists in search of models. But Sandow built his reputation as a strongman by pitting his strength against such notables of the period as Charles Sampson, “Cyclops” (pseudonym for Frank Bienkowski), and Henry “Hercules” McCann. His match against McCann in 1890 was closely regulated and served as a basis for all subsequent weightlifting competitions....

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Stebbins, Genevieve (07 March 1857–1914?), American Delsartean teacher and writer, was born in San Francisco, California, the daughter of James Cole Stebbins, a lawyer, and Henrietta Smith, who died when Genevieve was two years old. Stebbins was drawn to theatrical expression from an early age and performed pantomimes, songs, dances, and statue posing at family and public gatherings. In 1875 she moved to New York City to pursue a career in theater, first studying and touring with the actress ...