Eugen Sandow and Thomas Edison

Oddly given the site’s extensive interest, we have yet to detail Eugen Sandow’s most exciting remnant, a short film clip taken in 1894.

Taken during Sandow’s extensive promotion tour of the United States, which began in 1893 and included everything from posing sessions to fights with lions, Sandow’s film is one of the earliest movies we have of a bodybuilder on film. Long before Steve Reeves, Reg Park, or later Arnold Schwarzenegger were wowing audiences, Sandow appeared before the camera.

Directed by William Kennedy Dickson, a Scottish inventor who, alongside Thomas Edison, helped to create the early motion cameras needed for movies, the short reel featured a snippet from Sandow’s shows. Sadly for us, the video in question doesn’t feature any of Sandow’s weightlifting exploits. There are no bent presses, roman chairs or bicep curls. Instead we’re treated to a small posing sequence which likely featured in Sandow’s act from the time. As the grainy reel continues, Sandow moves his body in ever stringing positions, reminding us that posing in bodybuilding has evolved over several decades.

Another version of the clip, shown below, shows Sandow execute an impressive backflip.

Now if you’re like me, you’re no doubt wondering how Sandow came to appear on film.

After appearing at the Chicago Columbian World Exposition in 1893, Sandow, under the tutelage of the incorrigible Flo Ziegfeld, became a headlining act the USA. Such was Sandow’s fame, and the American public’s desire to know Sandow, that he met Thomas Edison during his time in New York City. Then the main attraction at Koster & Bial’s Music Hall, Sandow travelled to New Jersey to visit Edison at his “Black Maria” studio. There the ‘strongest man in the world’, and soon to be proclaimed ‘world’s most perfectly developed specimen’ would meet Thomas Edison, the renowned inventor and innovator.

During his meeting with Edison, the decision was made to cast Sandow in two shot film clips, both shot on 6 March 1894. They were part of the first film reels released by Edison’s company. Sandow thus has the distinction of being both the world’s first bodybuilder and finest muscled movie hunk. Quite a combination!