Sandow and Stout: An Irish Story

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The Irish alcohol industry has, at its core, always been particularly adept at marketing. From Whiskey to Guinness, sellers have used a variety of inventive advertisements to flog their wares to a thirsty public. Illustrating this is today’s post about a strange encounter between Eugen Sandow, a Prussian born strongman and Murphy’s Stout based in County Cork, Ireland.

The above image depicting Sandow lifting a horse overhead was one of many used by the brewing firm in the early years of the twentieth-century to promote their stout.

So how did Murphy’s come to secure the image rights of one of the world’s most popular figures? The answer seems to have come down to sheer serendipity.

Passing in the Night…

In 1893, Eugen Sandow, one of the most famed physical culturists of his time, boarded the Lucania in London to begin his journey to New York City. As fans of the strongman will know, his American tour in the late nineteenth-century helped propel the already famous strongman to almost unparalleled levels of stardom.

In 1893 this fortune and fame had yet to materialise meaning that when Sandow boarded the Lucania he was still seeking to eek out business opportunities at every possible venture.

One such opportunity occurred on the Lucania’s stopover in Queenstown, Cork. Stretching his legs and flexing his muscles, the Prussian strolled the streets before engaging in a few feats of strength in a bid to earn some additional spending money for America.

Warming up with some light gymnastic feats, Sandow’s main act consisted of raising a fully grown horse overhead with just one hand. An impressive showing of strength that evidently left an impression amongst the local Corkonians.

Although it is impossible to know whether J.M. Murphy, the owner of Murphy’s Stout was in the audience that day, we do know that he soon got to work on rebranding his product with the Prussian in mind.

Murphy’s Stout Makes You Strong

Within a year of Sandow’s visit, Murphy’s stout had changed its logo to include a flexed depiction of Sandow’s arm. Building on this in the following years was the inclusion of the poster shown in the beginning of this post with the depiction, ‘Murphy’s Stout Makes You Strong’.

This marketing campaign hadn’t been easy to establish however as court reportings from 1899 attest. According to local newspapers, Murphy’s had purchased copies of the image from a third-party, and not from Sandow himself. This resulted in a bizarre court case which saw Sandow sue the third party for copyright breach while at the same time agree to sell said images to Murphy’s stout.

In effect, it appears that the firm paid twice for the images. That they used said images for the next three decades perhaps lessened the blow of the initial financial blow.

So did Sandow drink Murphy’s?

Sadly we’ll never know but Sandow’s writings suggest it was unlikely. According to the Prussian’s famous work Strength and How to Obtain Ithe abjured

anything intoxicating, confining myself mostly to beer and light wines.

Nevertheless he did find it in his heart to help advertise the Stout. A true friend to capitalism and Irish vintners.

At the very least, Sandow appeared to have gained some appreciation for Irish society. In 1898 he spent two weeks in Dublin and a further week in Belfast performing more refined feats of strength than those witnessed by the residents of Queenstown.

A Pint of the Black Stuff

Irish readers of the blog will no doubt be wondering what relation this had to Guinness, another Irish stout, who ran a similar campaign in the latter decades. At the risk of incurring defamation charges, it appears that the marketing team at Guinness were remarkably ‘inspired’ by Murphy’s advertising.

In the 1930s and ’40s, Guinness began running a series of ads draw by the artist John Gilroy with the caption ‘Guinness for Strength’.

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While they didn’t include a Sandow, there’s no denying the similarities with Murphy’s campaign. Perhaps that too was serendipity…

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