by John D Fair
It is my belief that the present day official amateur lifting in Canada and the United States is the natural result of the efforts and accomplishments of George Jowett in regulating and promoting lifting and creating interest in progressive exercise.(1)
—Ottley Coulter, 1956
He is so notorious for drawing the long bow, that what he says is of little value and not to be relied on. He always told it to the advantage of George Fiusdale. Nothing he claimed was so. No titles. No Awards. No nothing.(2)
—Charles A. Smith, 1989
The most striking feature of the growing body of strength literature in the past decade has been the prevalence of biographical accounts. Glittering portraits abound of heroes from the past, satisfying the nostalgic cravings of “Strength & Health Boys Grown Up” and proving a rich heritage of role models for future generations of strength athletes.(3) Comparatively less attention has been focused on the great patriarchs of the iron game, the likes of which include George Windship, “Father” Bill Curtis, Professor Attila, Eugen Sandow, Bemarr Macfadden, Alan Calvert, George Jowett, Mark Berry, Bob Hoffman, Peary Rader, and the Weider brothers. Of these luminaries only Windship, Sandow, Macfadden, and Hoffman have been subjected to academic scrutiny.(4) That Jowett who (with Ottley Coulter and David Willoughby) institutionalized weightlifting as a sport in this country during the 1920s has not received greater recognition as a father-figure may seem curious. During his editorship of Strength magazine from 1924 to 1927, Jowett was clearly the most dominant figure in American weightlifting. But internal strife at the parent Milo Barbell Company led to his dismissal, the decline of his once vibrant American Continental Weight-Lifters Association, a sullying of his reputation as a physical culturist and a legacy of doubts concerning his patriarchal status. An examination of contemporary sources, principally Strength and the Jowett-Coulter correspondence in the Todd-McLean collection, reveals that much of the confusion over Jowett’s role as a founding father is rooted not so much in the realm of sport as in the vagaries of American business.
In the 1920s Philadelphia was the mecca for American weightlifting that York would later become. There Alan Calvert, inspired by Eugen Sandow‘s magnificent physique and strength feats, had founded the Milo Barbell Company in 1902 and started publishing Strength in 1914. After struggling for two decades to acquaint the public with barbell training and to sustain a living from it. he sold the enterprise to Daniel G. Redmond and Robert L. Hunter. The former, son of the treasurer of Fairmont Foundry, Milo’s supplier of weights, revived the business which Calvert had virtually abandoned during the war years. Hunter soon sold his interest to Redmond, but he prepared the first issue of Strength (which had also ceased operations) in November 1919 and set the magazine on a prosperous course in the early twenties.(5) After finalizing the deal, Calvert explained to Coulter that he had “agreed never to reenter the Bar Bell business, so all my connection with the P.C. game is at an end.”(6) But he did retain an association with the magazine over the next five years culminating in the publication in 1924 of his Super Strength, an inspiring and informative training guide that was marketed by Redmond.(7) Philadelphia thrived as a strength center from the presence of the venerable Herrmann’s Gym as well as the Milo Barbell Company, and when Carl Easton Williams, formerly editor of Bernarr Macfadden’s Physical Culture, arrived in late 1923 there was a dramatic transformation of Strength.(8) But Williams, mysteriously, stayed less than a year. It seemed fitting that Jowett, whose stature as a writer and promoter had been growing, should join Redmond’s staff in September 1924, the impression being that he would complement Calvert’s presence and help give the magazine a greater weightlifting orientation.(9)
While high hopes were expressed all round over the probable benefits of this association, anticipations likely exceeded reality. In an early letter to Coulter, Jowett provides a rare glimpse of routine life at weightlifting’s first true capital.
I dictate & write articles, help write ads, & write leaflets, answer questions for ‘The Mat’ & Answer & Question Dept., & see all goes out in courses, & mark up all the courses of instruction.
It does not keep me awful busy, as I have three stenogs [to] dictate to & one for my complaints on shipments, others handle the rest.
Calvert does little but write & sell his books, just in a few mins. a day. . . I cannot say I like this city at all. It is too dead, & they call [it] the Quaker City alright, everybody seems to have forgotten how to smile.
Redmond will not allow a girl in the office with us as a worker, & it makes a lot of running around for me, taking stuff to them.
He does not approve of you saying Good morning to them, as he says it makes them go above their station, & makes one appear clubby with them. Can you imagine that.(10)
Despite the princely sum (at least $75 per week) Jowett was earning at Milo, it is obvious that ennui had already set in. What he needed was more opportunities to tap his gifts of organization and imagination, lift him out of the humdrum of office routine, and fulfill the considerable needs of his expansive ego.
The ACWLA furnished just such an outlet, and company officials were quick to recognize that it brought an infusion of altruism to the otherwise commercial image of Milo. As Calvert noted in introducing the concept to Strength readers, “the standardization of lifting” was one of the “principal objects” of the organization Jowett had brought with him. But “don’t get the idea that by joining, all you will do is to help along a worth movement for the association can do more for you than you can do for it.” Calvert predicted that Jowett, as president, was “going to be a much overworked man, but the ACWLA was “one of the greatest forward steps that has ever been taken by American athletes.”(11) Jowett was no less sanguine, and it seemed at last that his dream of a North American lifters organization that would rival the British Amateur Weight Lifters Association (BAWLA) was at last becoming a reality. “The Milo is paying for all the A.C.W.L.A. correspondence,” he explained to Coulter. “I told all of our true circumstances to Redmond &
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