Sandow as a Strongman in Holland (1894)

In 1894 Eugen Sandow, alongside G. Mercer Adam published Sandow on Physical Training. This was the first training manual/biography which Sandow published but it was not his last. Over the next twenty years, Sandow published a multitude of books covering everything from working out to alternative medicine. Sandow on Physical Training was published during Eugen Sandow’s tour of the United States. It came at a point in the tour when interest in Sandow was at its height and people were eager to learn more about the mysterious muscle man. Here an excerpt is taken from Sandow’s biography in which he tells of the ingenious way he promoted himself in Amsterdam in the 1880s. If nothing else, it is a strong reminder of the marketing genius Sandow and his handlers had. Enjoy!

Sandow in Amsterdam

WITH no decided views as to where, after parting with Atilla, he would be likely to find employment, Sandow found the occasion urgent to go in search of it, for he was again entirely de- pendent upon his own resources. In passing from his native Prussia to Belgium, he left behind him not only those who knew and loved him, but, to some extent also, the interest actively felt throughout the Fatherland in wrestling and all manner of gymnastics. To the young adventurer the situation was more serious when he had to pass from Belgium into Holland, because this took him still further from hope of engagement, where he was known as an athlete, besides, as we have seen, having now to get along without his father’s allowance. In proceeding to Amsterdam, he was venturing his barque on an entirely unknown sea. He as yet knew no one in the city, though he possessed the pleasant manners and frank, open countenance of one ere long certain to make friends. He had, moreover, youth and hope on his side, and, by this time, had acquired re- markable strength, with a varied though miscellaneous experience of circuses, theatres, and shows. At the chief theatres he sought employment as a strongman, but strongman exhibitions, he was brusquely, almost rudely told, were not then in vogue; while the manager of the “Paleis voor Volksvylt” would not pay Sandow the humble ten guilders ($4) a night the young athlete asked for this services. At this juncture, when fortune most frowned, his worthy father once more besought him to return home; but, though without prospects, and in almost extreme need of money, he refused. Depressed and crestfallen as he was, with his hotel bill in arrears and not a little of his effects in pawn, he yet had confidence in himself: in any case, he could not brook the idea of acknowledging his life, so far, a failure.


One day, when his store of money was quite gone, save a mere pittance in his pocket, a dar- ing scheme entered his head, which, he thought, would be a novel mode, at least, of advertising himself, and might lead to his securing the employment which he now sorely needed. He was, as we have said, unknown in Amsterdam, and had had no chance afforded him to show his powers. What he did was to take a cabman into confidence and arrange with him to drive him round the city some morning between midnight and dawn. His purpose was to visit all the weight-lifting machines scattered throughout the town, outside the closed cafés, and wreck each in turn by a strong pull at the handle—a feat which only a very powerful man like young Sandow could do. Dependent upon the good-nature of the cabman, not only to keep his counsel as to what he in- tended to do, but for the necessary coin to put in the slot of each machine, he set out and only too well accomplished his purpose. In the morning, when the city was astir, every passer along the streets carried the news to the police stations, and soon bulletins were issued by the newspapers, saying that the city had been visited over night by a gang of ruffian marauders, who had, by their combined strength—so the account ran—dismantled and wrecked every weight-lifting machine. The whole city wondered at the deed, and for days it was the subject of universal talk. The authorities offered a thousand guilders reward for the discovery and capture of the miscreants. Every citizen, and of course every habited guardian of the city’s nocturnal peace, had each his own theory of how the town came to be so invaded and the machines gutted. In time, the town breathed freely again; the machines were repaired; and the inexplicable deed was about forgot- ten. A second time, and, after a little, a third time, the city woke to a repetition of the machine- wrecking experience.


After the second of the wrecking exploits, it was of course not easy to guard against surprisal, for by this time the police were officiously on the qui vive, while every porter and night- watchman was but too anxious to obtain the civic reward. The cabman, with Sandow, had almost completed the third night’s round when the latter was espied by a porter at one of the cafés just as he was giving the wrench to a machine which threw it out of gear and broke the springs. The porter, realizing the apparent strength of the nightly depredator, kept a respectful distance from the strongman, but having the reward of the authorities before his eyes was not willing to lose the chance of bagging his game. Sandow, on the other hand, having sufficiently stirred up the city to interest in his nocturnal acts, was but too ready to reap his own peculiar reward and inwardly was not averse from arrest.

The porter, meanwhile, having rushed to the nearest police-office, brought with him a posse of constables, who collectively pounced upon young Sandow, who suffered himself to be taken to the station. There he was catechized by the sergeant-in-charge as to who were his confederates in crime, for no one imagined that the machines had been wrecked by a single pair of arms. San- dow’s protestation that he alone did the deed was received at first as a joke. Again and again was he interrogated on the point and threatened with handcuffs and imprisonment. He, of course, con- tinued to make but one answer, and as its possible truth began to dawn on the police they treated him with more politic consideration. At this Sandow, with a nonchalant air, repeated his protest against arrest, for, as be naïvely observed, he had been merely exercising his arms, and in the slot of each machine had honestly paid the toll. Presently, a commissary of police appeared on the scene, and, with amazement and curiosity, heard Sandow’s account of the affair and his demurral to the indignity of arrest. The comic aspect of the scene was reached when the culprit gave indisputable evidence on the biggest of the constables that he was the strong man he claimed to be, to the amusement of the inspector and the crowd that by this time had gathered in and about the po- lice station.

After this amusing exhibition of strength, which quite won the heart of the old commissaire, Sandow was released on his own recognizances, promising to appear should action by the authorities be pressed, which, we may say here, was not the case. On the contrary, the young ath- lete became the lion of the town, and he and the cabman were escorted in triumph to the hotel where Sandow lodged, which has since become a great resort owing to its connection with the morning’s incidents. There the entire staff of the establishment was for hours kept busy drawing beer for the enthusiastic populace that had followed Sandow and were talking in hilarious flee over the affair. A suite of fine rooms, in exchange for his previous humble domicile, was offered our hero by the hotel proprietor, who had caught the contagion of excitement from the crowd and was eager to show his gratitude to Sandow for bringing him such welcome and unlooked-for cus- tom. This custom, thanks to the now notorious athlete, was not evanescent, but grew daily in volume, especially while Sandow made the city his home; and the hotel-proprietor, it may be re- marked, emphatically dates the founding of his fortune from the day on which the incident transpired which we have just related.

At the theatre, it may be added, which had refused Sandow a salary of ten guilders a night, he now obtained a prolonged engagement at twelve hundred guilders a week!



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