The paragon of male physique at the turn of the 20th century, Sandow made use of the stage as one of his modes of projecting the ideals of physical culture. Photography, silent film, magazine articles, and personal appearances mattered as well. A Prussian, he emerged out the ranks of circus strongmen and remained fixed on performing fetes of strength, including lifting and wrestling, until his fateful appearance at the 1893 Columbian Exposition under the management of Florenz Ziegfeld.
Ziegfeld had secured Sandow's services from a competitor by offering a percentage of gate receipts. Ziegfeld, anxious that Sandow not be viewed as a vulgar circus performer, urged that he represent himself as: 1) a re-embodiment of classical ideals embodied in Greek sculpture, the point to be illustrated in imitative posing, and 2) an instantiation of scientific principles of body shaping and nutrition. These alterations made Sandow a rage among Chicago High Society. Sandow adjusted his self-presentation subsequently to be both an aesthetic avatar of human perfection and the culmination of scientific progress in making the body a potent mechanism.
In the mid 1890s he opened his own house of physical culture, the Sandow Institute, and set in motion a publishing empire. He most lasting contribution to the theatricalization of the body was the creation of the body building competition, a comparative display of human physiques, in 1901. David S. Shields/ALS