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The first comprehensive history of bodybuilding in North America, Esprit de Corps reveals how bodybuilding emerged from weightlifting as a popular sport. Inspired by 19th century strongmen Eugene Sandow and Louis Cyr, the muscles-by-mail icon Charles Atlas, as well as the musclemen movies of Steve Reeves in the mid 20th century, bodybuilding soon eclipsed weightlifting in popularity. Montreal brothers Ben and Joe Weider’s leadership was central to this evolution. From his parent’s modest Montreal home in 1940, teenage weightlifter Joe Weider launched his publishing and business empire, staging physique contests, and eventually founding the world’s premier bodybuilding organization, the International Federation of Bodybuilders (1947). While Ben ran Canadian operations, fending off competitor Adrien Gagnon’s nationalist and racist attacks, Joe expanded the business into the United States encountering rival Bob Hoffman’s angry opposition, anti-Semitism, even allegations that Joe promoted homosexuality. A bitter feud resulted. Joe’s protégé, Arnold Schwarzenegger, revitalized the sport in the 70s and beyond, making it respectable and acceptable. In 1998, The International Olympic Committee recognized the sport officially. The use of performance enhancing drugs and a continuing debate over the ideal body type challenge bodybuilders today.

Publication Date



London, Ontario


Bodybuilding, North America, Sport history, Weider


Social History


Foreword Years ago, while researching another topic, Jim Woycke met bodybuilder photographer Tony Lanza who recounted many first-hand accounts of the early years of bodybuilding. Looking for more information, Jim discovered that, apart from some biographies of bodybuilders, there was little material on the sport, and less about Montreal brothers Ben and Joe Weider, founders of modern bodybuilding. Consequently, Jim resolved to write a comprehensive history. He researched the topic exhaustively in Canadian and American archives and libraries, and conducted several interviews. He met with Ben Weider in Montreal, who allowed him to read and photocopy all Weider magazines dating from 1940, and to quote from, and reprint photographs. Jim is the only researcher in the field to have read French language sources, uncovering Adrien Gagnon’s role in bodybuilding, especially his bitter rivalry with the Weiders. Jim died in 2010 after a long illness. He was a University of Toronto graduate (Ph. D History 1984), and a member of the Department of History, The University of Western Ontario. He wrote two books: Birth Control in Germany: 1871-1933 (Routledge, 1988), and Au Naturel: The History of Nudism in Canada (Federation of Canadian Naturists, 2003), and edited and wrote a forward to John Irvin Cooper’s, James McGill of Montreal: Citizen of the Atlantic World (Borealis, 2003). A draft of “Esprit de Corps” was completed in the summer of 2006 before the onset of Jim’s debilitating illness. I recovered Jim’s manuscript from his papers, and, later, commissioned sport historian Dr. Craig Greenham, University of Windsor to help prepare it for publication. My thanks to Craig and to Felipe Vicencio-Heap for formatting the book. The Faculty of Social Science and the Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Western Ontario provided financial support for final stages of this project. Rod Millard Professor Emeritus (History) The University of Western Ontario April 2016

Esprit de Corps: A History of North American Bodybuilding