Apr 9, 2016

Bob Hoffman, York Barbells, and Muscletown U.S.A.

If you're going to do any serious muscle building, sooner or later you'll have to leave behind the Nautilus machines, go into the weight room, and pick up a barbell or a dumbbell.

Barbells are on a bar, so you use both arms at once.

Dumbbells are separate, one for each arm (called "dumb bells" because they're silent).

Athletes have been lifting weights to gain strength and muscle mass since ancient times, but the classic modern barbell, with round weights attached to either side of an iron bar, appeared in 1902, when physical culture pioneer Alvin Calvert founded the Milo Barbell Company in Philadelphia.  At first he sold globe-shaped barbells that had weight increments 2 1/2 pounds, but customers complained that it was too difficult to take apart the apparatus to increase the weight.  By 1910, he was also selling plate-loaded barbells that could be adjusted easily with a twist of a bearing.

In 1935, Bob Hoffman bought the Milo Barbell Company from Calvert, renamed it the York Barbell Company, and set about publicizing the benefits of weight-lifting.  He sponsored thousands of bodybuilding competitions, published dozens of books and magazines, and made sure York Barbells could be found in nearly every gym in the world.

The problem with the barbells was, they didn't wear out.  Once you bought a set, you were fixed for life.  So in order to stay solvent, an ever-increasing customer base was necessary.  During the 1980s, as weight training machines became popular, that customer base started to diminish.  Bob Hoffman's death in 1985 almost brought about the company's demise.

Today York Barbell is marketing itself to general consumers, young people interested in a healthy lifestyle, not just power-lifters.

Still, every bodybuilding enthusiast has made a pilgrimage to York, Pennsylvania, where a giant image of a bodybuilder revolves atop the company headquarters.  Inside, the Weightlifting Hall of Fame has some interesting artifacts and exhibits.

While you're in town, check out the York Murals, murals of important local events and celebrities that adorn local buildings.  Bob Hoffman's Muscletown U.S.A. is at 37 West Philadelphia Street.

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