History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 9

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on June 17, 2014 Comments off

York, Weider, and Jackson.

If one lifted weights in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s when I received my start in the activity, they knew York and they knew Weider. Both Bob Hoffman who was the owner of the York Barbell Company and seemingly, most other business and land holdings in York, Pennsylvania and Joe Weider were the big names in the lifting and physique game. Their stories and rise to the top of what resulted in two rather powerful business empires came from the sale of equipment and nutritional supplements. Weider also had what he often termed “a publishing empire” that included gay oriented pornography-type magazines, at least as they were judged in that time period.

I met Joe when I was fourteen and with explanations from Leroy Colbert, understood his “deal” quickly. To his credit, he loved bodybuilding, enjoyed the other lifting sports, and gave all of it financial support, but without making any mistake about it, he was in it for the dollar, a lot of dollars. He also found a great deal of humor in the complaint I registered upon meeting him the first time, that over the school Christmas vacation, I had done little but work on the back of my father’s truck, lift weights, eat stacks of sandwiches, and drink his highly touted Weider Crash Gain Weight Formula 7, yet gained but one pound total, not the pound-a-day-for-two-weeks as the ads had promised. My rather bold request for a refund was met by his derisive laughter and comment, “Yeah, you and a lot of other people.” This was my first wake-up call relative to the nutritional supplement industry.

In the small town of Point Lookout where we lived, there were relatively few full time, year-round residents. Considered a summer beach community, many who stayed, or who were forced to live there through the winter months, like our family, did so without heat or hot water. There were substantial, year-round homes that of course made the ramshackle summer bungalows that others lived in pale by comparison and in one of these nice houses lived Mr. Angelo Siciliano. He was a splendid looking gentleman, always neat, well groomed, and in great physical condition, even at what was to my teenaged judgment, his “older age.” He jogged on the beach and lived quietly with his family and my father was insistent that I always refer to him as “Mr. Siciliano.” As I saw him daily, I was careful to do just that and not ever refer to him by his more famous and internationally known name of Charles Atlas. Yes, “that” Charles Atlas was actually a neighbor, one of the nicest men, no, gentleman in the truest sense of the word. He was polite, had an air of intellect and “finish” about him although he was an immigrant “off the boat” as the old timers would say, and probably had no more of a formal education than my father did. He was always very encouraging once I made it known that I intended to become bigger and stronger.

Another local who was a bit of a celebrity due to his time on television has remained one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the iron game and is still promoting physique contests and going strong in his mid-eighties. Dan Lurie was the only one of six or seven brothers who did not join the family moving business. Even in the late 1940′s, “Abe Lurie And Sons Movers” emblazoned on the side of trucks could be seen zooming around the area. Dan’s obsession with lifting weights and building his scrawny physique to huge proportions more or less was mirrored in my quest decades later. He began at a young age and he still hasn’t stopped. He never became “huge” but was extremely muscular, well proportioned, and strong for his size. He placed high in the early AAU Mr. America contests and by 1945 became “a professional”, regularly appearing as “Sealtest Dan The Muscle Man” on America’s first in-color television show. A little known fact was that Dan was Joe Weider’s business partner when Joe began to distribute his products from Canada to the U.S. Dan would be the first to tell anyone that he was but one on a long list of individuals that Weider took advantage of (see www.danlurie.com) and because he was another resource, I heard his side of the story more than once. When I met Joe, upon hearing that I lived in relatively close proximity to Lurie, he blasted his former partner, even taking a verbal shot at the Statue Of Liberty Dan displayed on his lawn for many years. Dan sold barbells and plates out of his Brooklyn factory and store and many former trainees from my era can boast of having a Lurie Barbell set although these were few and far between in other parts of the country.

York and to a lesser extent, Weider, were the barbell suppliers, at least in our area. There was no doubt that the York bar was viewed as the pinnacle of quality and it had its association with the famous barbell company and its Olympic lifters. The latter fact gave it a great deal of credibility. The desire to use a York barbell, for many of the guys followed along the lines of typical Madison Avenue group-think: “If the best lifters in the world and in our country are using only York bars and plates, I’ll train better if I use a York barbell and plates.” There was an “official York distributor” on 14th Street in Manhattan, and if memory serves me correctly, it was Gem Sporting Goods. It was a small store that always had a York 310 Pound Set displayed on the floor and when working in the shop with my father on 19th Street, I would occasionally walk over to Gem at lunch time. Just to say I had received the opportunity to lift on a York bar, I would terrify the clerk and do three or four sets of ten reps in the deadlift with the fully loaded display set. While the hired help was never happy to see me as it was obvious I wasn’t purchasing anything, I was justified in “having to try it” to see if I wanted to eventually buy it. There was no doubt in my mind that I was emulating the Olympians when my hands were on the York barbell.

Through the pages of his magazines, Weider touted his set as being superior to that of Hoffman and there were a few floating around the metropolitan area. We were led to believe that all of the Canadian strongmen trained on Weider barbells but everyone who read Weider’s magazines also believed that the Weider Research Clinic had guys in lab jackets rushing around from one test tube to another while in reality, the “Clinic” was no more than a storage closet with a sign on it reading “Weider Research Clinic.” York was considered to be the gold standard in our area and probably throughout the U.S, despite Weider’s protestations to the contrary. I was to learn later that in California, one could purchase Olympic sets made by Walter Marcyan or Paramount. Of course we never saw these in New York although Walt “Marcy” was a rather well known name in the iron game, dating back to the 1940′s. A former competitive lifter and bodybuilder as per the norm in those days, he was one of the pioneers in the health club industry, opening his House Of Health string of gyms and then beating the better known and more widely distributed Universal to the punch with his truly innovative multi-station Circuit Trainer machine. What I didn’t know until Tony Pandolfo pointed it out to me was that in the small storefront we trained in, we had what many considered to be the finest barbell set in the world, the Jackson Barbell Olympic set.