A brief history of the barbell
Pre 19th Century
Although we can date strength apparatus like dumbbells back to ancient Greece, barbells are a much more recent phenomenon.
Heavy lifting had been done through natural stone and odd object lifting for centuries and by the 19th Century, dumbbells and indian clubs were becoming popular.
There seemed to be little need nor a market for a specific heavy lifting apparatus, until the 1830s when things began to change...
One of first recorded iterations of a barbell we see is from Ronald Walker's book 'Exercises for ladies' where he introduces the 'Indian Sceptre' for a variety of movements (see illustration below)
At this time we also see 'wooden wands' use for drill exercises and 'Eisenstäbe' (weighted iron bars) began to be used in a German system of exercises called 'Turnen'.
Dumbbells and indian clubs are also gaining popularity by this point but this is the first time we see evidence of an elongated weighted object used for strength training.
Hippolyte Triat was a 19th Century professional strongman and gym owner. In 1849, he opened one of the biggest gymnasiums in the world, located in Paris and attended by many of the social elite.
In 1854, the gym was written about by a French historian with the accompanying engraving. Triat advertised his gym as having “Bar- res A Spheres De 6 Kilos,” (bars with spheres of six kilos) which can be seen on the wall behind him in the engraving
The term 'Barbell' appears for the first time in 1870 in a British text called 'Madame Brennar's Gymnastics for Ladies, A Treatise on the Science and Art of Calisthenics and Gymnastic Exercises'
A “Bar-Bell” was an “appliance [that] partakes partly of the‘Wand,’ and partly of the ‘Dumb-bell.’” Brennar described the implements as being four to six feet in length, thicker than an ordinary wooden wand and with wooden balls on either end.
The US had been somewhat put off strength training during these decades following the sudden death of George Barker Windship who is credited with inventing shot loaded and plate loading weights.
According to one of the era's weightlifting experts Edgar Mueller, iron barbells were now commonplace in German weightlifting clubs. They were reportedly massive objects, filled with sand or lead. He even reports that globe and disc-loading barbells were now being sold in Germany.
In 1902, Alan Calvert who founded the Milo Barbell Company in 1902 started producing shot loading barbells (see advert below). He was rivalled by Thomas inch who began producing plate- loading barbells in the UK during this time.
The German 'Veltum-Bar-bell' was the first revolving-type barbellwhich evolved into the Berg-Barbell or Berg- Hantel when Kasper Berg began producing them.
Berg made the first 'Olympic barbell' which was used at the 1928 games and subsequently copied by the York and Jackson Barbell companies, who brought them to the mass market
The rest, as they say, is history...