In 1896, amateur strength specialist Franz Föttinger of Vienna performed a remarkable feat. He had two large wooden blocks attached to each other with a cord. The lower block also had some additional weights attached to it. On the top of the upper block, an ordinary needle was stuck; less than an inch of needle projected above the wood. Grasping the needle with his thumb and forefinger only, Föttinger managed to lift 28-1/2 pounds in the above manner. Föttinger was 59 years of age at the time and reported that he had been working on this feat for over five years.
At St. Louis Hall in Chicago, Illinois on May 7th, 1896, in front of 1000 spectators, Louis Cyr lifted a 535 lb. weight clear of the floor with one finger. This was just a warmup through, among the other feats performed that day: a “muscle out” with a 131-1/4 lb. dumbbell, held for five seconds at a perfect right angle to the body, then brought back to the shoulder with ease … a one arm press of 258-1/4 lb. dumbbell … shouldering with one hand, a 433 lb. barrel filled with sand and water … pressing a 162-1/2 lb dumbbell overhead 36 times in succession.
The North American Gymnastic Union was the oldest American institution for the education of teachers of physical training. It was originally established in 1866 and had many different homes. It began in New York City, then transferred to Chicago but eventually re-located after the great fire. This was the quite impressive location in Milwaukee during the late 1800’s. Shown here is a rare look at the inside and outside of this fantastic facility. Milwaukee was a hotbed of physical culture activity during that time largely due to the efforts of the Milwaukee Turners, and George Brosius.
Hans Beck was a German strongman who excelled at barrel lifting feats. In the year 1896, in Munich, Germany, Beck cleaned and pressed a 249 lb. barrel three times and followed it up with another success lift of a 275-1/2 pound barrel — both mind-boggling feats! Shortly after, Beck clean and jerked that barbell sitting in the foreground, becoming the first man to lift 330 lbs. overhead.
In keeping with the saying Mens sana in corpore sano (A healthy mind in a healthy body) the University of Michigan built some of the finest gymnasia the world had ever seen in the late nineteenth century. The Waterman Gymnasium (pictured right and named for Joshua W. Waterman, a notable Detroit attorney who donated most of the funds) was completed in 1894. The Barbour Gymnasium for women (on left, named for Regent Levi L. Barbour), followed in 1896. The physical director of these facilities was George A. May and the above picture was how both grand buildings looked from the diag, circa 1927. The chem building now sits on the site where these gyms were once located.