Little Bits of History

Tough Guy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 16, 2015
Bernarr Macfadden,

Bernarr Macfadden

August 16, 1868: Bernard Adolphus McFadden is born in Mill Spring, Missouri. He changed his name to Bernarr Macfadden, thinking it gave him a better image of strength. As a small child he was weak and sickly. He was orphaned at the age of 11 and placed with a farmer. He worked on the farm and with the healthy food available, he turned into a strong youth of 13. He moved from there and then took a desk job and by the age of 16, he was once again frail and sickly. He described himself as a physical wreck. He began working with dumbbells, walking miles per day, and became a vegetarian. His health reverted to his robust farming days.

He founded a health magazine, Physical Culture, in 1899 and remained the editor until the August 1912 issue. He and Fulton Oursler worked on creating a publishing empire, bringing in a variety of magazines like True Detective and True Story. One of his magazines was SPORT, the sport magazine until Sports Illustrated began publication on this day in 1954. Macfadden entered the pulp magazine trade with his publication of Ghost Stories. He had some failures until he underwrote Harold Hersey’s pulp chain, the Good Story Magazine Company. He then entered the sci-fi pulp market with Amazing Stories. Macfadden contributed many articles as well as wrote entire books, the latter based on healthy living.

One of his big proponents for a healthy life was fasting. He recommended people fast for a week and their bodies would be rejuvenated. He claimed it was a way to health as well as revealed strength and stamina. It was a way to prove a man’s superiority over others and was probably something only the “superior” culture (that is white) men could achieve. In order to demonstrate the health effects of a week spent fasting, a photograph was taken of him lifting a 100# dumbbell overhead immediately after completing a seven day fast. Macfadden established several “healthatoriums” in the Eastern and Midwestern states. He also felt that bread was the “staff of death” and opposed eating any.

He gained his fame by his heath programs but he gained notoriety by his attitude toward sex. He was of the opinion that sex was healthy and was not solely for procreating. This was not the same as the mores held by most physicians at the time, as well as much of society. He was arrested on obscenity charges. He campaigned for most of his life against “pill-pushers”, processed foods, and prudery. He married four times, had eight children with his third wife, and lived to be 87. He died of a urinary tract infection which he refused to have treated. His fourth wife claimed that he had buried money in steel cartridge boxes around the country. It is unknown if this is true, but in 1960, a box was found on property once own by Macfadden and there was $89,000 found inside.

Kissing a person whose lips are not alive with the stimulation of blood circulation, is like kissing a tub of butter! – Bernarr Macfadden

Weakness is a Crime – Don’t be a Criminal. – Bernarr Macfadden

It’s better she’s gone; she only would have disgraced me. – Bernarr Macfadden (when one of his daughters died)

Virtually all bodybuilders of the first half of the twentieth century had some connection with Macfadden. – from

Also on this day: Ray Chapman – In 1920, a baseball player was struck in the head with a baseball, the only death from the game.
Not Waterloo – In 1918, the Peterloo Massacre took place.
High Flyer – In 1960, Excelsior II was tested.
Dole Air Race – In 1927, the Dole Air Race began.
Sports Illustrated – In 1954, the magazine was first published.


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