General George Custer first came to Kansas in 1866 as Lieutenant Colonel of the newly formed 7th U.S. Cavalry. He spent late spring of 1867 at Fort Hays, where the 7th camped until they had accumulated adequate supplies and ammunition for a summer campaign. Time in camp was quite boring and to pass the hours, as well as keep physically fit, Custer commissioned the fort’s blacksmith, Thomas Kennedy to make this dumbbell for him sometime in 1867. It is made of bronze and weighs around 25 pounds. Custer’s Dumbbell currently resides in the Kansas Museum of History.
Over a century later, Arthur Saxon still holds the greatest bent press poundage ever recorded. The man who has come the closest under official conditions was Al Beinart who managed 330 pounds and trains at Yaco’s Gym in Detroit. The hardest part of the lift, according to Beinart, is getting the weight to the shoulders. This is the style that he used. and with 300+ pounds, that’s an impressive feat by itself.
An interesting comparison of bent-press techniques. On the left, Real Lacombe of Toranto, Canada bent-presses a heavy dumbbell. On the right, grandmaster martial artist Wang Zi Ping does something similar with a Chinese stone lock. The bent-press is not, to our knowledge, named so in ancient Chinese training literature, but it is clear that it — or a version of it — was certainly practiced.
Now here’s a curious one: We have several rare shots of the great French weightlifter Ernest Cadine with these interesting pieces of equipment. You could make the case that they have the trappings of kettlebells but they appear to be used more like dumbbells with an unusual twist. The counterweight can be adjusted along the handle to increase or decrease the resistance but the resulting torque of holding them in place must be tremendous which means even curls, presses or other basic movements would be terrific grip developers. Cadine was certainly no slouch in the forearm department. We’ve never seen these advertised so they must have been for his own personal use.
The Swingbell is essentially a dumbbell with the weights loaded in the middle instead of either end. This configuration has a great feel for exercises such as curls, wrist curls, abdominal work and, as the name implies, swings.
Chuck Ahrens was never interested in showing off so no one really knew what he was capable of. Feats like this had a lot of people wondering just exactly what his limits were. I count twelve 10-pound plates and 2 smaller ones, likely 7-1/2 pounders, for each dumbbell — that’s approximately 135 pounds per hand – and Chuck reportedly pressed them with ridiculous ease. Even when dressed in a baggy, flannel shirt, you can tell Chuck Ahrens was built for some serious horse power.
Kettlebells? They have a longer history in America than you might think… Case in point, this “Strength Maker” kettlebell, was produced by Professor Anthony Barker around 1910 or so. The “Strength Maker” was a set which consisted of two hollow globes and various handles. Depending on what you wanted to train with, you could screw in a short handle to make a dumbbell, a long handle to make a barbell, or the handle shown above to make a nifty pair of kettlebells. The globes were hollow and weight could be adjusted with shot as needed.