Earle Edwin Liederman had secrets. But unlike many people who have something to hide, he was willing to say anything. His fitness cues, prevalent in a correspondence course, not only put him at the forefront of 1920s mail order sales, but also made him a pioneer in fitness marketing, such as the reveal sports historians Benjamin Pollack and Janice Todd. Liederman was the first to use “the manly image of enhanced American masculinity to sell a weekly course delivered by courier on a multi-million dollar scale.”
Liederman was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1888. He grew up in poverty, which affected his health. As a friend wrote, “it was a sick and thin childhood.” And, Pollack and Todd explain, men like him often used beginnings like these as a selling point, with selling points that “capitalized on earlier stories of … weakness and debility as proof of their transformative power. [fitness] systems.
Liederman’s interest in fitness was sparked at a young age, and he later attended college to become a physical education teacher. After a short stint at the New York Board of Education, he began touring vaudeville stages as a strongman. He never achieved fame, but he still wanted to be like the strong men he admired in his youth. The culture of fitness was taking root, and luckily for Liederman, it was happening just as correspondence classes were becoming big business. As Pollack and Todd write: “Between 1900 and 1930, over four million Americans, mostly working class, turned to these courses. People could study everything from chemistry to law in the comfort of their own homes, and “mail order muscles” also found their way into course catalogs.
These classes “consisted only of exercise programs, sent out weekly, usually with photographs demonstrating the prescribed exercises,” and Liederman wanted to participate. He started selling his first course in 1917, with a classified ad in Physical culture magazine. The ad featured “Liederman’s head and torso, flaunting his beautiful face and the impressive development of his arms, deltoid and neck,” and for thirty-seven dollars any man could look like Liederman. , in just ninety days.
As the business grew, so did the claims. “Your whole future may depend on this one step,” one ad warned. These muscular new days ahead would give men more success in business and love.
Liederman’s strategies from a playbook that is still in use today. As media scholar Emily Contois points out, “The food industry is convincingly nurturing consumers not only with weight loss programs and products, but also with promises.” And these promises are often gendered: “Men’s weight loss work is external to the individual, oriented towards public life, career advancement and athletic success. “
By the late 1920s, Liederman’s was the nation’s best-known correspondence fitness class, and by 1929 its publishing house was making over $ 1 million. But it did not last. Liederman’s ads also caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which accused them of being “palpably bogus.” Liederman claimed he had not knowingly misled anyone, but the FTC stood still and issued a cease-and-desist order, “forcing him to drop $ 100,000 of ads already purchased on credit. “. That, along with the nationwide economic downturn, marked the end of the mail order king’s reign.
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By: Benjamin Pollack and Janice Todd
Journal of Sports History, vol. 44, n ° 3 (autumn 2017), pp. 399-420
University of Illinois Press
By: Emily Contois
Gastronomic, Vol. 17, n ° 1 (spring 2017), pp. 33-43
University of California Press