Joe Roark's

The HUGE library of Iron History compiled by Joe Roark.


Welcome to Iron History with Joe Roark!  

Joe Roark has been studying the iron game since 1957, and by 1970 began a systematic gathering of information on index cards. By the time his first computer was acquired, there were several hundred thousand references to be typed into it.

For a few years he published his own newsletter called MuscleSearch: The Roark Report. By 1992 he was appointed as the IFBB Men's Bodybuilding Historian, and began writing about history for FLEX in his column Factoids. For ten years he contributed to Iron Game History from the U of Texas at Austin. Recently he also began writing All Our Yesterdays for FLEX.

His passion has always been the period between 1880 and 1920, with particular emphasis on the oldtime strongmen of that era. Joe will be offering bits of history for Cyberpump once per week, and the text will be relevant to the dates of the calendar for those events of yesteryear relevant to the coming week.

In this column, readers will also be able to ask Joe questions or comment on his posts.  Note: The comments are solely for interaction between Joe and the readers only -- not reader to reader.

7/30/2004: Letter to Joe Roark from Charles A. Smith Sep 26, 1986

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Dear Joe,

Before I answer your letter, there is something you ought to do right away if not faster. Go to your University library and there take out a copy of the NEW REPUBLIC MAGAZINE, issue September 15th to 22nd � one issue- and in it you will find what I consider the most scathing indictment of Weider and what he has done for bodybuilding- COMMERCIALIZED IT to the extent that the participants no longer regard it in terms of the health benefits derived and the fun attached, but for what money they can make out of it. It is something I wish I had the talent to write. Enjoy.

I can�t remember who told me, but it seems that Balik got his backing money, not from Weider or the Arrogant Austrian but from his wife�s father. I think it was you who imparted the news that he, Balik, has said he has already sold advertising space and hopes to go monthly some time in 1987.

Saw some letters the other day exchanged between Leo Gaudreau and Ottley Coulter in which Gaudreau WAS COMPLAINING ABOUT the honest Christian Rader. He related to Ottley that he had done some work for Rader in that covey�s early years and Rader was so grateful he gave Gaudreau a life time sub to Iron Man. Later on � and prior articles for PR had been done WITHOUT any payment received for them- Gaudreau began to write for the Wunderkind. Whereat Rader wrote to ask Leo to submit articles to him. When Leo wrote back to say he was unable to do so, Rader stopped his �Life Time� sub.

Todd has a copy of Hoffman�s will, sent to him by Al XXX. I read it and said, �Let me have a copy. I�d like to send it to Roark.� Terry said OK and that�s the last I heard of it. The will is quite long. Hoffman acknowledges in it that HE ISN�T MARRIED and has not had, or does not now have any children, living or dead. Yet he lived common law with Alda Ketterman for thirty years, meanwhile Hoffing around with countless other broads.

It is obvious he had an idea the will might be contested since he has a provision in it for the executors to contest any such contestation. The man must have made MILLIONS out of the Game while protesting he was doing so much for it. Same old stuff as the Wunderkind. 5 hundred thousand is set aside as the Hoffman Foundation, money from which is to be disbursed in percentage amounts to various old girl friends and Rosetta and other individuals. If my arithmetic is right, it will mean some of them will draw all of a thousand bucks per annum. What bounty.

As I figure it, with liquid assets and real estate, he must have been worth close to twenty million when he died. May be wrong, but may be close to the mark.

I shall not forget the way he hounded Marvin Eder out of the sport simply because Marvin was tied up with the Wunderkind. At the very same time he was getting Eder cast out of the AAU as a professional and taking part in an unsanctioned meet, he was at the same time paying BOTH Davis and Schemansky a weekly salary for doing nothing but lift for the York Barbell Team. Now that�s real loving amateurism for you. Every man who worked for him, while at the same time competing in amateur AAU events, was so doing in direct contravention of AAU rules which, at the time distinctly stated that NO ONE could work for a barbell company or magazine and remain an amateur.

Terry is indeed a very bad correspondent. Ottley complains about it in many of his letters. I thought of suggesting to him that he takes all letters he gets, such as the one Hinbern wrote, jot down his reply on the envelope and I would type out a reply for him, just to keep people happy and public relations on a good level. But I thought, the hell with it. Alex Godo, who is always writing and asking for copies to be made of this or that old timer [article] for him, also complains about Terry�s lack of response. What can I do?

Hinbern wrote to me asking if I would jot down all of the Jowett book titles we have. Now of course you know the situation there. So I asked Terry about doing it. His reply surprised me greatly. It was an outright refusal, then I�ll think about it adding that he didn�t like some letter Hinbern had sent him complaining of discourtesy in not replying to his, Hinbern�s letter.

With my usual diplomatic, sledge hammer approach- I always did prefer the bludgeon to the rapier- I said that what Hinbern said was true- that he WAS a poor responder, but that I could understand this since he had his job to do at the University. Then added that there were quite a few people who put great stock in a reply to a letter they wrote, that it was common courtesy. My words went over with all the enthusiasm of Terry being slapped in the face with a sock full of slack shit. So I clammed.

I agree with your sentiments re TT and the collection, yet there are many strange things going on, things which I can�t put my finger on or explain to myself. So far as I know the Collection belongs to the University, and indeed, in some of his letters, Ottley openly states the University has approached HIM to sell his collection to them. What is done with the Foundation money I do not know. What I do know is, that like any good curator, TT is always trying to add to the foundation financial base. The income, so far as I know is to buy up collections of others and pay for subs to all kindred mags in Lifting and Booby building.

I have seen the latest MD and think it pitiful. Page after page of the same layout so it looks as if all pages are the same. Bad bad bad. Oh what couldn�t I do with that bloody mag given half a chance and DECENT PAY.

Bill Hinbern may be a true fan of Jowett, but if and when he comes to the Collection as he says he MIGHT, he is due for a monumental shock. Jowett was a robber baron and he didn�t rob the rich and give it to the poor. HE KEPT IT. The Byzantines had nothing on George Fuisdale when it came to plots, schemes and skullduggery- always loved that word.

My suggestion to you is to write to Lurie or Denie and DEMAND your article back under threat of recourse to an attorney�s intervention.

It seems to me that the cheap skates run the magazines. Bob Hasse who was Hoffie�s editor for a number of years, told Hoffie to jam it when Hoffie refused to give him a raise. Hasse said in a letter to Coulter that he had to do this since it wasn�t possible to keep a family on a single man�s pay. That it was galling to him to see certain other employees of Hoffie walking around in expensive clothes, driving luxury cars, their kids going to College and he could hardly afford to drive an old clunker. Same is said to be true of the Wunderkind. The top few get riches. The lower echelons get zip. The Peerless Christian, Honest to God Rader for years didn�t pay a cent for any article until peer pressure forced him to. The highest he ever paid- so far as I know- was 100 bucks an article. In 1938 I went to great trouble to cajole, coerce and otherwise flimflam the Russian consulate in London to let me go through their files for information about Russian lifters. I got loads of info PLUS some margellous shots of them- at least fifteen. I sent all to Rader and the article was published late 1939 or early 50 [sic].

One condition the consulate laid on me was that ALL the pics were to be returned. This I relayed to the Peerless etc etc Rader and he agreed. Did I get the pics back? Does an elephant have feathers? Shit I did. As to honesty, the Christian feeling here is more than I can stand. It�s enough to make me convert to the Church of Egypt.

And so it goes.

Best of everything to you and yours,

Posted by TheEditor @ 08:45 PM CST

7/23/2004:Chronological Listing of Strength & Health Letters to the Editor (Part VI - 1966 to 1986)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Editors Note: Joe has got his scanner working and is posting GREAT photos over on the forums. Check it out:

This is the LAST installment of a chronological magazine listing of Strength & Health readers who wrote letters to the editor, starting in December 1933 (mag had begun one year earlier).

Again I must remind you that I never intended to share this material, had composed it for my own use, and would have double-checked it before using it, so you may find mistakes. And, while I regret that, it does not prompt me to re-check the hundreds of references here before offering it to you- as I said, I would have checked a ref as needed.

Anyway, please ignore the * when you see it.

After all the installments have been presented, you will have a record of
everyone who ever wrote a letter to the editor at S&H.

Thanks, and please tell a friend about the paysite at And please spread the word about the free forum at

Joe Roark

Click Here

Posted by TheEditor @ 09:09 PM CST

7/16/2004: Letter from Charles A. Smith to Joe Roark Sep 16, 1986

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Dear Joe,

Thanks for your letter post dated September 12th which was waiting for me on arrival home from the U of T. Thanks also for the enclosed obit on Mac [Batchelor] which will find resting place in the Collection. Terry walked into the office last Thursday, said YOU had phoned HIM and you were sending along the obit and you had said your Hi's to Jan and me.

I am enjoying letters with Hinbern who has the quaint habit of addressing me as MR. SMITH. But let that go. In his most recent letter he asked if I would not make a list of all the Jowett books we had here. I said I would and approached Terry. He said to the effect piss on him, but in much more polite language. When I asked why, he remarked that Hinburn had written a rather caustic letter complaining that he, Terry, hadn't answered a letter Bill had written to the Reverend Todd.

I pointed out that some people set great score by prompt answers, Liederman being one and he'd get furious if you failed to reply promptly if not faster. I also pointed out diplomatically that it was true T.T. was in the habit of NOT answering but phoning instead, that even Pal Ottley had complained in some of his mail that Terry was a poor correspondent- and Ottley wasn't exactly a complaining man. Terry said something to the effect that 'we'll see.'

What news? Not much.

And now, horror of horrors. Dangerous Dan, the Brooklyn Flash, aka Dan Lurid, has been ELECTED TO THE AAU HALL OF FAME. Now don't ask me how this happened or what wires were pulled behind the scenes of this absolutely, positively NON POLITICAL Association. I am wondering what I have to do to get elected, even CONSIDERED for the honor. If it hadn't been for me and my constant nagging at the Wunderkind in his early and most productive days- from 1950 up when I left- excuse me while I cough significantly- there never would have been a scintilla of stuff about Olympic Lifting in his mags. I pushed and pushed my way at him until, finally he gave way, and later on even had an entire section devoted to Olympic Lifting. Pray for me, pray.

There was some hell of a mess going on at one time in York. It seems that most of the staff were robbing the company blind and Hoffie let it go on even though he suspicioned it. There were SEVERAL WHO WERE FIRED or so I was told. In at least TWO cases it was true.

One who got fired was XXX who stole dough from the take and was idiotic enough to drive around a shining Caddie. Then I am told that Joe XXX was fired for pocketing sales money. During the Todd reign there, two more were fired. Terry told me XXX and XXX were let go for some skullduggery or the other- this is what TT told me. Then at one time Hoffie was seriously considering firing Steve XXX because when Steve was working on the loading dock and someone came up to buy a set [of weights] or whatever, the cash, if in such payment form, never saw light except what crept into XXX's pocket.

I am also informed that at one time Hoffie was gonna fire XXX for some reason or the other- I don't know what- and Sig Klein talked him out of it. IT was also Sig who suggested to Hoffie that he put Grimek's picture on the protein powder box which, business wise had been doing zipp. The sales took off when JCG appeared on the box. So it only goes to show what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

XXX refused the job of IM [Ironman] because, as he told the Reverend Todd and TT told me, XXX didn't want Jones hanging over his shoulder and getting onto his arse 24 hours daily. Simple as that.

There is also a strong rumor going round that Arnold The arrogant Austrian is behind the plot, that he is providing the backing [Ironman]. Now to me, while I am not entirely prepared to believe it, makes sense since Arnold not only has the money to be able to take a loss and thereby a tax gain, but now has the POLITICAL CLOUT to foil any attempts on the part of the Wunderkind to screw things up. The Wunderkind badly needs competition. He is getting a bit too big for his mink lined pants.

Balik's decision NOT to use powerlifting results but rather a personality or two makes editorial sense. For him to give results as POWERLIFTING [USA] does would entail a certain redundancy. Why buy two mags to find the same stuff in them. If Balik uses his noodle and not his doodle, he will write about powerlifters that POWERLIFTING USA doesn't. Olympic Lifting is to all intents and purposes a dead issue and getting deader by the day, and, sad to relate no one seems to care or be willing to stop the rot. For this of course- purely in my personal opinion, we have Hoffie to blame.

On the one hand we see Hoffie's control of Lifting and the results it has engendered. Due to his insistence on being top bull in the pasture and refusing to let anyone else develop as a coach- and I think nada of his coaching ability, Olympic Lifting was unable to develop new coaching talent. While Hoffie was around no one stood a chance.

[Re Weider] I DID see him clean and jerk 300 on an ordinary bar.

I think too, that powerlifting will go the way of Olympic Lifting- not soon but in the future. There are too many splinter groups in the mill now and some of them formed because they don't like the ban on steroids or the testing for them. Again powerlifting is becoming commercialized like Hoffie and Wunderkind did to Lifting and Booby building- and then you now have not only the use of steroids, but as I have previously stated, the use of special tops to help increase your bench, special bottoms to help improve your squat and dead lift, so it seems to me that a block and tackle will, that is possibly become a sine qua non. Foolishness breeds on foolishness and grows bigger in so doing.

Hope your lady is enjoying her new job, My very best to you and yours,


Posted by TheEditor @ 07:56 PM CST

7/9/2004: Arax Letter

Thursday, July 8, 2004

[We will resume the Strength & Health letters to the editor data soon, but wanted to insert some variety for you]

I had intended to scan the following letter so you could see the original handwriting, but it is tripled-spaced, so I decided to type the words instead.

This letter is not dated, nor does it name the receiver, it is signed by G. Arax, so I am assuming that to be the famous photographer.

On June 26, 1953 Professor Desbonnet died, so this letter was after- one presumes shortly after- the great Frenchman's demise. This letter tells us he died two days after his 85th birthday, so he was born Jun 24, 1868. As an interesting circumstance, consider that G. Arax himself died on June 27, 1975, and based on the following letter it is not a stretch to consider that Arax took note of the 22nd anniversary of Desbonnet's passing, not knowing he would die the next day in 1975.

"A great mourning has hit the 'physical society' in France and the whole world.

"Professor DESBONNET has left us forever. His name, which has shone throughout France and beyond it borders for more than 65 years, had become synonymous with health, beauty, and strength.

"How many hundreds of thousands of men and women have found the way to happiness, thanks to (the use of) his method. How many physically ill people, considered incurable, have regained their health, and thereby their joy of living, without counting those who, thanks to him, have created for themselves the enviable position of being banners of his doctrine throughout the world.

"Professor Desbonnet has proved to us, by his own person, the efficiency of his long-life formula. But how much we would have wished him still many more years of life, so that he could stay among us like a living symbol and a vigilant guardian of his doctrine, to raise, each time it was necessary, his authoritative voice against the abuses, against the false paths, which certain people don't hesitate to follow.

"But no fear of that, no danger that his work will disappear after his death.

"Hundreds of 'DESBONNET' schools are still standing, thousands of teachers that he trained, and hundreds of thousands of followers are there to continue his admirable work.

"This work, left to all of Humanity will be immortal and his name, already legendary, will enter into History.

"Just a few months ago, on these same pages, I dedicated a few lines of praise to him, on the occasion of his 85th birthday. I especially wished that, taking advantage of this happy occasion, the FFCPH and with it all his disciples, students, admirers and friends, would unite in a common spirit and with a common ideal, to celebrate his 85th birthday and the 65th anniversary as a leader, to thereby express to him, all the gratitude that his contemporaries owe him.

"At the very same moment when this happy demonstration would have been able to take place, we received the terrible news of his death, just two days after his birthday. And instead of the joy that this jubilant reunion should have caused, there were only tears of farewell in our eyes as we stood before his respected coffin.

"Thousands of people came to his funeral, and they were all profoundly moved.

"His intimate friend Pierre BARDEZ could hardly contain his emotion.

"Follows a list of some people who came and spoke at the funeral:

"BARDEZ compared his friend Desbonnet to Louis Pasteur, how they were both similarly outstanding in their field and contributed so much to humanity.

"Everyone presented their condolences to Mme. Desbonnet and the children and grand-children.

"The belgrans [? Unclear] will miss him also. He liked M. GARSOU, editor of 'Muscles', a lot.

"Two happy incidents in my life attach me particularly to his person and his work:

"The first was when I was an unknowing practitioner of his method as an adolescent of 12 yrs old, in a far off country under the direction of Professor CHRISSIAN, himself trained in the Desbonnet method first at Paris and then with his londonian [?] colleague Sandow from 1906 to 1909. I therefore owe him the debt of my excellent health and the good physical development that I've obtained and which consequently led me to athletic successes on the sports fields.

"For these two reasons, my devotion was complete and his friendship for me was without reserve, two reciprocal bonds, which were never abused during our long collaboration; of which I keep the fondest memory.

"Adieu, my dear master.

"Sleep your eternal sleep in peace, with the clear conscience and the deep satisfaction of having accomplished a great work for the good of your contemporaries and of future generations.

"May your words, your writings, and your cried of alarm be always heard and followed, for the regeneration of the race, for the happiness of all and for a strong, healthy, and beautiful; France.

"G. ARAX."

Posted by TheEditor @ 08:05 PM CST

7/02/2004:Chronological Listing of Strength & Health Letters to the Editor (Part V - 1961 to 1965)

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Editors Note: Joe has got his scanner working and is posting GREAT photos over on the forums. Check it out:

This is the FIFTH installment of a chronological magazine listing of Strength & Health readers who wrote letters to the editor, starting in December 1933 (mag had begun one year earlier).

The first name, Gilbert Guttormson SH 3-34 p 17 means that his letter to the editor at S&H can be read in the third month of 1934 (March, 1934) starting on page 17.

Again I must remind you that I never intended to share this material, had composed it for my own use, and would have double-checked it before using it, so you may find mistakes. And, while I regret that, it does not prompt me to re-check the hundreds of references here before offering it to you- as I said, I would have checked a ref as needed.

Anyway, please ignore the * when you see it.

After all the installments have been presented, you will have a record of
everyone who ever wrote a letter to the editor at S&H.

Thanks, and please tell a friend about the paysite at And please spread the word about the free forum at

Joe Roark

Click Here

Posted by TheEditor @ 09:35 PM CST


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