Weakness - a Crime!

In 1899 Macfadden returned to New York. The next twelve years would be a period of near superhuman productivity. He went on a successful, national lecture tour founding Physical Culture "clubs" in several cities across the country. He communicated his energy and enthusiasm and was a highly charasmatic and persuasive speaker. (CLICK HERE to see a facsimile of a lecture program.)

Entering the Publishing Business
During these twelve years he wrote fourteen books on health. When he had difficulty getting a publisher to publish his writings, he decided to become his own publisher. In addition to his books, he began to publish a monthly magazine that remained in publication for over 50 years, was the most popular health magazine of the time, and was the forerunner of today's health and bodybuilding publications.

The name of the magazine was Physical Culture. The first issue appeared March 1899 and sold for 5 cents and focused on bodybuilding. With time, the magazine added information on health and fitness. 

The magazine was a success, and within 5 months, Macfadden was able to move into a new, larger building. Physical Culture Publishing Company began in a one-room office. Moving companies were hired right away to move into the new office.

By 1903 monthly sales of Physical Culture magazine was over 100,000 copies. Macfadden hired over 50 employees working in several offices. In addition to bodybuilding subjects there were articles about natural foods and the natural treatment of disease. There were also drawings and photographs showing people (frequently Macfadden himself) wearing minimal or no clothing. Macfadden was the first publisher to use photographs extensively in books and magazines. Physical Culture Magazine stayed in print for over 50 years; it holds the record for the longest running health and fitness magazine in U.S. publcation history. 

CLICK HERE for a look inside some Physical Culture Magazines from the earliest to the last.

CLICK HERE for a look at my collection of 466 images (from various sources) of 50 years of Physical Culture Magazine covers. They're amazing!

In addition, he published a magazine for women called Beauty & Health. Although this magazine was published for only a few years, it shows Macfadden's interest in promoting fitness for women as well as men. CLICK HERE for a look inside an issue of Beauty & Health.


In 1904, Macfadden began to organize and promote bodybuilding competitions in which men and women competed. He was an advocate of women being physically healthy. He went against the standards of his time by encouraging women to exercise, to participate in outdoor sports such as tennis and swimming, and even to get tanned by the sun. He campaigned against corsets, swimwear that hinders natural movement, high-heel shoes, make-up, hair preparations, and any kind of clothing that constricts the body. Macfadden was the first person to organize shows like this. Click here to see a video clip.

Over the years, several of the contestants in Macfadden's competitions became famous in their own right. Three of the contestants stand out. They were Albert Treloar, winner of the first competition, Pudgy Stockton, called "the first lady of iron," and Charles Atlas, winner of Macfadden's "Most Perfectly Developed Man" contest. Virtually all bodybuilders of the first half of the twentieth century had some connection with Macfadden. 

Macfadden was a dynamic and charismatic man who had no trouble attracting loyal followers. Wherever he went, people loved him. He embued his physical culture teaching (which advocated a rather Spartan life) with energy and excitement. Not only was he a dynamic spokesman for his cause, but he had a super-abundance of energy and worked sixteen hours a day on his multitude of projects. One follower called him "the original nature boy."

Macfadden was totally dedicated to his life's mission - to educate people on the importance of maintaining good health. In an editorial in a 1906 issue of Physical Culture Magazine, He wrote, "When the importance of physical culture is recognized, when men and women realize its true importance, it will enter into every phase of human life. There is hardly a question in life which physical culture should not be a part."

People today often follow Macfadden's formula for achieving success which includes developing extraordinary mental energy. The practice of 4-dimensional visualization and meditation using pictures is one way to develop that energy.

In 1905, Anthony Comstock, the self-appointed smut exterminator, brought legal action against Macfadden to have him arrested and a second exhibition scheduled in Madison Square Garden cancelled on the grounds that it was a lewd display of carnality. Macfadden was given only a suspended sentence, and because of the publicity, the crowds filled the arena and people had to be turned away. People who came to the show hoping to see a display of female flesh were disappointed. All the female participants were modestly attired in union suits.

More Events, Enterprises, & Experiments
Physical Culture Magazine
was a success and his books were selling well. He had a real "head for business" and had become a outstanding financial success by the time he was 35. Indeed, his rise to success is a true life "rags to riches" story. In 1903 he married. This was also the year that he founded the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. In 1904 his first daughter, Byrne was born. 

In 1905 he had enough capital to realize a dream - to open a Physical Culture community which he named Physical Culture City. It was located on 1900 acres of unspoiled land in New Jersey. The city was set up to be a community in which outdoor exercise and healthy living close to nature were the rule. Saloons and the like were not permitted. Because the people who joined Macfadden in PC City shunned restrictive clothing, it acquired what seems to be a somewhat undeserved reputation for being a nudist colony. For more information and more pictures, including the layout of Physical Culture city in 1905 and a map of the area today, click HERE.

The photo to the left shows Macfadden's house at Physical Culture City. It had 30-some windows to let in the sunlight and a porch all around for sleeping outdoors in warm weather. The idea was that the house would be heated mainly by sunlight - a novel idea at the time. In addition, he had a large, new building constructed for his publishing business and a building for the Macfadden Institute (see photo above). Approximately, 200 people joined Macfadden at Physical Culture City (most living in tents), but within several months the numbers began to dwindle. Because of unforeseen legal and financial difficulties as well as other business responsibilities (see below), Macfadden had neither the time nor the money to keep PC City going.

In 1906 he wrote and published a book titled "Muscular Power and Beauty" which has become somewhat of a classic. In it he explains how to use tension and resistence exercises to develop muscles. A couple decades later, his protégée, Charles Atlas, would successfully market a course based on these exercises.

During this time, he also established a sanitarium that would use his treatment methods. From 1907 to 1909 he owned the Bernarr Macfadden Sanitarium in Battle Creek. When Kellogg and Post came out with their breakfast cereals, Macfadden tried to market his own nutrition breakfast food made with wheat, oats, and nuts called "Strengthfude." It didn't really catch on with the public at large, and he dropped it.

In 1909 he relocated the sanitarium to a large building in Chicago and renamed it "The Macfadden Healthatorium." He employed well-trained people that he trusted to run these operations. These were a great success and helped establish Macfadden as a leader in the field of alternative health care.

To get a closer look at these two Macfadden sanitariums CLICK HERE.

The photographs of Physical Culture City and his sanitariums are clear evidence that these were successful operations. It is clear that these were not low-budget or shoe-string operations.

During this same period, Macfadden began the "Bernarr Macfadden Institute" which was a school that trained students in his physical culture methods which he called "physcultopathy." The curriculum covered anatomy, physical training, hygiene, and instruction in natural methods of treating illness. Macfadden created the curriculum materials as well as the examinations. 

Graduates could find work as trainers, coaches, and therapists. This enterprise was very successful. It was first located in New York City, then in Physical Culture City, and finally was moved to his "Healthatorium" in Chicago. Many practioners of alternative health methods graduated from the Macfadden Institute. Many of them went on to become well-known in their own right. The Macfadden Institute eventually split into the American College of Physical Education and the International College of Drugless Physicians.

In addition to everything else he was doing, Macfadden also opened a couple restaurants. He used the restaurants to prove that health food could be both delicious and less expensive than "junk" food. His "Penny" restaurants became very popular, and by 1910 he owned nearly twenty restaurants in several cities. 

In 1907, Macfadden was arrested again - this time for publishing a story in Physical Culture Magazine which was judged to be "obscene material." This time, Macfadden was convicted. He attempted to have the case heard before the Supreme Court but was denied on the grounds that the case did not involve constitutional questions! He campaigned nationally to have his conviction overturned and finally in 1909, received a presidential pardon from President Taft. 

Macfadden was one of the first to challenge laws which restricted freedom of speech. He saw prudery as the source of guilt and many social ills. He also taught that feelings of guilt and shame were destructive to a person's overall physical health. Since the mind has a tremendous influence on the body, it is important to keep the thoughts positive. He believed that the body and especially sex were naturally good and wholesome; it was prudery that made them seem otherwise. Macfadden was an important influence in changing attitudes toward sex. 

The expenses of fighting his legal battles had all but wiped him out financially. He was running into increased problems with the authorities and with the U.S. Post Office which by then had banned his books from being shipped by mail. 

The story in Physical Culture which caused the furor was about a young man who had venereal disease. Combatting the spread of venereal disease because of ignorance was a major cause for Macfadden. His purpose was to raise the public's awareness of the problem. Macfadden accurately assessed the problem - to control venereal disease, the medical community had to first acknowledge that there was a problem; they must stop avoiding it simply because it was an embarassing or "dirty" subject. 

The First Edition of His Encyclopedia - Macfadden Demonstrating His Manipulation Techniques - Macfadden In His Thirties

In 1911 he published the first edition of his monumental opus, Macfadden's Encyclopedia of Physical Culture. In spite of his efforts, it looked like his legal problems might destroy everything he had created. In addition, his marriage had ended in divorce. For these reasons, he sold the Physical Culture City land in New Jersey at a loss, gave up ownership of the sanitarium and the restaurants, and placed his publishing business in the hands of trusted associates who would manage it for him. Having done this, he traveled to England for a second time. This trip would mark the beginning of a new life where he would become famous internationally and wealthy beyond all expectations.



Muscles, Sex, Money, & Fame
A spectacular pictorial biography of the amazing life of Bernarr Macfadden. With over 300 vintage photographs and illustrations. The most comprehensive collection of photos about Macafadden ever published in print!

Mighty Macfadden pictorial biograo\phy

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