Physical Culture Magazine

Carrying the Message for over Half a Century

Physical Culture Magazine was the main instrument for promulgating Macfadden's ideas on health and fitness.
It launched his successful publishing career.

Following are selections of pages from 4 issues. This is a overview of the magazine through the years.

An early issue from September, 1902 showing Macfadden on the cover. It was during this time that the magazine became a success with about 100,000 readers and still growing. This is one of the older issues in my collection.

His famous slogan, "Weakness is a Crime - Don't be a Criminal," appeared on many of the covers but does not on this particular issue. 

The format is 6½ x 9½ inches and is 68 pages (including the cover) in length. At this time, pages in the front and back which were exclusively advertisements were not numbered. The pages with articles were numbered but not by the individual issue but by the volume. In this issue the article page numbers range from 311 - 352.

Inside the front cover are advertisements for Macfadden's exercise equipment and a portable shower. At this time, very few if any well known companies advertised their products in his magazine. The advertisements featured body building equipment, courses in self improvement, natural foods, and a lot of Macfadden's books. The earliest issues of Physical Culture were mainly pamphlets designed to sell exercise equipment and books. This issue had not quite broken away from that purpose.

The advertisement on the left offered Macfadden's original exercise apparatus, a punching bag, a device for strengthening the grip, a back massager, 16 books, and a year's subscription to Physical Culture for just $1 per week for 23 weeks.

The next two pages - more advertisements. The page on the right is interesting because it promotes Macfadden's book, Strength from Eating, with a complete synopsis of the contents. The cost was $1.

The photograph is interesting. It is a photo of Macfadden who has just completed a 7 day fast, lying on his back and lifting a large man using the muscles of his arms only.

A full page ad for Macfadden's book on how to have a full head of healthy hair. Again, the text of the ad is merely a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the contents of the book.

Two ads on the right: one is for a breakfast cereal named Wheatlet, and the other is for health lectures and a mail order course by a mustachioed individual in a stiff high collar named Professor MacLevy.

Upper left is an ad for Macfadden's Woman's Physical Development, also titled Beauty and Health, a magazine for women. 

Lower left is a series of 10 photographs of Macfadden in a variety of classical poses - 15¢ each.

On the right side are 2 ads for exercise programs - one for women, one for men - and a pamphlet by Macfadden condemning vaccination as a "cruel, criminal, disease breeding practice."

Photos illustrating resistance exercises for building the muscles of the arms and an editorial article by Bernarr Macfadden on how almost all news publications are geared toward only one thing -making money, and they do not report the news accurately. Instead, they focus on "human degeneracy." The newspapers are "composed largely of revolting records of criminal events, which appeal only to the lowest elements of the human mind." He goes on to ask people who believe in the "higher elevation of humanity" to lend their support for (meaning buy) a weekly newspaper which "will be called --- 'THE CRY FOR JUSTICE.'" The idea was to publish a newspaper that would report good, uplifting, wholesome news. It actually ran for about a year and promoted an ultra-left point of view that bordered on socialism (totally out of character with Macfadden's other publications).

The magazine offered a wealth of information on different kinds of exercise. Here is part 2 of an article on a form of Japanese exercise.

An article by John Coryell which tells the reader how "prurient prudes" have hindered the march of progress toward an educated populace that sees sex as something that is healthy and good. 

The pictures that accompany this article are typical examples of how Macfadden used reproductions from classical art to show an idealized human form and to celebrate the beauty of the human body.

Physical Culture had regular articles on the subject of defeating old age and staying healthy and physically fit. This is an article about a man who "is one hundred and six years old, healthy and, therefore, happy."

I have selected this issue from April, 1925 to illustrate the magazine during the height of its success. This issue has 156 pages, including the cover. The format is now a full 8½ x 11½ inches. The full color cover illustration is both spectacular and very typical - a young, scantily clad, athletic woman portrayed in a dynamic and sensual manner. There is a lot of movement in this illustration. The cover artist was Jay Weaver. 

Part of the formula which Macfadden developed for selling magazines was to put short statements on the covers to entice people to buy the magazines to read the articles. Macfadden hired writers and editors who were experts at this kind of writing.

The price of the magazine was 25 cents - not cheap for its day.

Inside the front cover is an advertisement for his 5 volume set of encyclopedias. The advertisement no longer relied on just giving a synopsis of the content. Instead, it touted all the benefits a person would derive from owning the set - "You can add 15 years to your life!"

The advertisement on the right side is for a course which is supposed to teach the student how to speak and write correct English - a valuable asset which will enhance a person's popularity and job potential. This kind of self improvement advertisement is very typical.

Another ad for a self improvement course and a listing of business opportunities and services (paid advertisers).

A classic body building ad by Lionel Strongfort.

Another sampling of the kinds of ads in Physical Culture. There were still many of the same kinds of advertisers as seen in earlier issues, but the kinds of businesses advertising in Physical Culture at this time were increasing.

There were always instructions on exercise. Macfadden liked to show celebrities exercising, and here we have a well known opera singer demonstrating his exercise routine. 

Notice the beautiful layout design of photos and text on these pages.

"The Body Beautiful" became a regular feature. This section was often printed in sepia tones to set it off from the rest of the magazine. Macfadden had a staff of highly skilled photographers. The photography was spectacular.

"The Body Beautiful" continued. The people featured in this section were sometimes celebrities, professional dancers or models, but most often they were amateur physical culturists.

On the left is the last page of the "Body Beautiful" section. Male physiques were always on display within the pages of the magazine. On the right is an article on exercises for women.

An interesting 2 page advertisement in which Macfadden encourages his readers to invest in stock in Macfadden Publications. Twelve of his magazines and the NY Evening Graphic newspaper are shown here.

The advertisement on the back cover - Lifebuoy Soap. Well known and highly respected businesses were now advertising in Physical Culture.

April, 1935. The cover art is by Victor Tchetchet and is a beautiful example. By this time the popularity of Physical Culture Magazine had begun to decline. The number of pages has dropped down to 106. Notice that the price has been cut to 15 cents.

Advertisements inside the front cover.

The table of contents and an ad for Quaker Oats. More mainstream companies are advertising but the magazine as a whole has lost its "cutting edge" and become much tamer. In fact, it looks just like a whole lot of other magazines. There was a lot more focus on families, children and mothers. There were very few articles on actual body building.

This Charles Atlas ad is interesting. Notice that articles are now interspersed with advertisements.

Wrigley's gum ad and an article on morality. The design of the illustration and text is masterful. However, the article is rather dull and stuffy. It is aimed at a general audience (nothing offensive) and lacks the outspoken quality of articles in earlier issues.

A True Story type of love and romance article. 

Charles Atlas appears in "The Body Beautiful" section.

"The Body Beautiful" continued - beefcake. These were amateur body builders.

Exercises for women - to "develop feminine grace and charm." This represents a real shift in emphasis from strength and fitness to poise and beauty.

Listerine advertised on the back cover. The magazine had unfortunately lost its unique identity.

December 1951 - January 1952. This was one of the last issues and was the final newsstand issue. It contained only 52 pages. After that, the magazine was by subscription only. When the subscriptions ended, the longest running fitness magazine in history ceased publication for good.

Macfadden had tried everything he possibly could to make the magazine a success again -even changing the name to Macfadden's Health Review and then changing it back to Physical Culture, albeit "Vitalized." At one point, he had actually built the readership back up to about 100,000, but it could not be sustained.

The photo on the cover is of Macfadden many years earlier documenting his famous 7 day fast. There is a tiny article inside titled "Fasting Is Not Starving." It fills barely a quarter of a page.

An advertisement for his encyclopedia and the Rosicrucians. Notice all the empty white space. The layout is plain and unappealing.

An article by Macfadden which does show some of the old "fire." It condemns the medical "trust."

Macfadden always had an eye for the ladies. This is the story of a model, how she succeeded and how important physical fitness is to her career.

"The Body Beautiful" section looks more like a school yearbook than a professionally designed publication.

Pictures of amateurs and an article about past glories.

The back cover - the Rupture Easer has replaced Lifebuoy and Listerine.