Friedrech Wilhelm Muller

by Dennis Mitchell

A classical picture of Friedrech Wilhelm Muller (better known under his stage name of Eugen Sandow).

Friedrech Wilhelm Muller was born April 2, 1867, in Konigsberg, East Prussia. His father was a German army officer and his mother was from Russia. He also had an older brother who was a professor at the University of Gottingen. Friedrech was an excellent student, and even though he described himself as a delicate child he grew to be quite proficient as a gymnast and was a good all-round athlete. His parents had hopes for him to enter the clergy.

After his father retired from the military, he went into the jewelry business. He would take young Friedrech with him on some of his business trips. It was on a trip to Italy, when Friedrech was ten years old, that he saw the sculptures of the Roman athletes. It was from these that he first desired to get physically strong and have a well developed body.

Even though his father had been an officer in the German Army, Friedrech left East Prussia to avoid military service. He could never return or he would have been arrested for avoiding his military obligation.

He made his living by being an acrobat in the circus. It was on his second trip to London, England that he met Professor Louis Attila. Attila saw Friedrech’s great potential and coached him, and taught him how to perform as a professional strongman. He learned so well, that Attila and he traveled together performing strongman acts in various theaters, music halls, etc. It was at this time that Attila thought that Friedrech should change his name, as was the custom of most strong men performers. One story is that he took his Russian mother’s name Sandov, ( the V being pronounced as a W) and became Eugen Sandow. They had a very popular and successful strongman act. After a while Attila returned to his gym in London and Sandow continued to perform alone.

Florenz Ziegfeld saw Sandow performing his strongman act a circus side show and hired him for his own carnival show. After a wile it became apparent that people were more interested in Sandows muscles than how much he could lift, and a “Muscle display performance” was added to his show.

There was a very popular strongman act in London at that time by the name of Samson and Cyclops. At every performance they would offer one hundred English pounds to any one who could duplicate the feats performed by Cyclops, and one thousand English pounds to any one who could beat any of Samson’s feats. Sandow returned to London and with Attila watched several of their performances. When Attila felt the time was right Sandow accepted their challenge and defeated them both. Sandow was not only a very good showman but was also a very strong and capable lifter, and his reputation was made.

In 1894 Sandow once again joined with Florenze Ziegfeld and performed at the World’s Colombian Exposition, in Chicago. The only exhibit more popular than Sandow was “Little Egypt”.

Sandow was married in 1894 to Blanch Brooks Sandow. They had two daughters.

There were many different claims made as to Sandow’s measurements. I will list the ones taken by Dr.Sargent of Harvard University: height, 5′7.25″, expanded chest,47″, waist, 32.75″, thigh, 23″, upper arm, 17″, and he weighed 180 pounds.

There were many conflicting claims about his strength. He did have an official bent press of 269 pounds and an unofficial lift of 280 pounds.

Sandow’s greatest contribution was that he inspired many people to be physically fit, and taught that the average person could improve their strength and the development of their body. He ran the Sandow Institute of Physical Culture and also published Sandow’s magazine of Physical Culture and British Sport.

Eugen Sandow died on October 14, 1925. Again, there were various accounts of what caused his death, but the one generally accepted was he broke a blood vessel in his brain while lifting his car out of a ditch after an accident.