I believe that the real golden age of physical culture started with the industrial revolution and its first major superstar was Eugene Sandow. He was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his day. He had strength beyond belief, can wrestle with the best of them and had one of the most powerful physiques of his generation next to the Russian lion himself George Hackenshmidt. During this time on till about the early 60's, the strongmen were the rockstars of their day. In the vaudeville era where theaters flourished with acts of all shapes and sizes ranging from acrobatics, magic, comedy and others but usually the Strongman got it's biggest applause of what they were capable of doing. Sure there were guys who faked lifts and certain stunts but the legit men and women put on a show that can still be talked about to this day.
One of the coolest things that these men did was challenge the audience to their special lifts and put up prize money to whoever can lift and handle it as good or better but safe to say, far too many tried and failed. One of the strongest men of all-time The Mighty Atom, had men of all shapes and sizes come up and try to bend one of his signature spikes and only a handful ever did it and one of them became his one and only student and he was dubbed the nickname, Slim The Hammerman. Atom and others just captivated audiences all over the world showcasing their unbelieveable strength. Some carried horses across the stage, some lifted elephants off the ground, others lifted weights from odd angles and even others would hold a weight in one arm and have a totally different type of apparatus in the other (e.g Barbell and kettlebell, look up Arthur Saxon).
Some still talk to this day about the great impact the old-timers gave and encouraged us to become strong, vibrant and powerful. Some old-timers however have been forgotten and were only mentioned by those who had seen them or read about. I don't believe for a second that those who had been forgotten were that at all, they were just lost in history until one learned how to find them again and there are a few who have done just that. Learning fitness and strength is really learning about our own history as there's information out there that are as good or better today then any modern method of the last 40-50 years. There really are secrets of how the old-timers trained for the things they've done and some of that info is lost in history but now you can find some of that lost treasure here.
I am a firm believer in old school bodybuilding and whether using weights or bodyweight alone, the old school ways are far better then the crap that's used today. Sure some modern methods are good but that's an extreme few. Bodybuilding today is bigger then life and it has its share of ups and downs and almost none of the men and women of today have a damn clue of what true bodybuilding is. In the old days (long before steroids) guys trained to get strong and used natural methods to put on muscle in ways that can never be reached today. If I had to choose between Ronnie Coleman and John Grimek i'd pick the latter. Unlike Coleman, Grimek had a physique that's still unmatched to this day and had the wicked strength to go with it. Sure Coleman is a strong mofo and can move weight as good as anyone but Grimek can actually move his body better. The point is, guys like Otto Arco, Maxick, Grimek and even Reg Park for that matter are the real deal of what it takes to get strong and powerful. Are they even close to the guys of today, hell f*cking no but its also vise versa, guys today interms of health, real strength, power and vibrancy are no where near guys like them.
Reg Park was really one of the first men of his era that showed he can have a powerful physique and the strength to back it up. He was the first bodybuilder to bench press 500 lbs. That was unheard of at that time and the bench press itself was itching its way to becoming a synonum for what someone's strength is. I believe that Park and Bill Pearl were the last of the all-natural bodybuilders that had real world-class strength to back up their physique. They can lift, they can pose, they did it all without ever needing steroids or PED's. They ate good, they trained hard and were actually healthy. Reg Park was the man that got the great Schwarzenegger himself on the track to becoming the most famous bodybuilder of all-time.
In all fairness you don't need steroids to become strong and powerful. The physique stars of the early era didn't need them cause they weren't around then and still don't really need them for that purpose. Media has really to blame whats wrong with how one looks. If you want to be a bodybuilder today, you need steroids, if you want to get ahead in sports, you do steroids, you want a quick fix, you take steroids its all real bullsh*t. Yes genetics play factors but that doesn't give you an excuse to build the body you want naturally. Usually these days if one looks a very muscular guy there's at least 2 things on his mind, "He must be on roids" or "he was born to be that big." I don't always believe either one of those things. Look at guys like Maxick, Charles Atlas an others, if you saw them before they got strong you would've thought they were swizzle sticks just waiting to get their ass kicked and never had a chance in hell of having a phenomenal physique. Maxick was a sick child and didn't have much to look forward to as he was tol he was too weak, too frail to do the simplest activities yet he became one of the first 3 men in history to officially lift more then double bodyweight in the overhead press and had the some of the very best muscle control that no one was close to duplicating. Charles Atlas was a 97 lb weak teenager who would be the target for mos of the bullies in his neighborhood and once had a girlfriend who left him for s tronger guy yet managed to put on nearly 100 lbs of muscle in a few short years and was crowned the most perfectly developed man twice.
Never assume that one is strong because you think they were born that way. In my opinion, the old school methods of physical culture are far better for you health wise compared to the crap used today. Learn your history and find that it doesn't take a whole lot to learn how to be strong. Work hard, create goals, imagine yourself being strong and muscular eat good and use basic principles. Its easy to learn now as it was back then. Let me ask you this, if you didn't have your chrome and fern gyms, your little bity weights and your machines, how would you be able to turn your body into from a weak state to a muscular state? You'd be surprised on what you can find.