George Barker Windship
"Though Windship was, admittedly, small in physical stature, his efforts on behalf of resistance exercise make him a titan in the pantheon of weight training pioneers." - Jan Todd - George Barker Windship and the First American Weight Training Boom
The Early years
Aged 16, 5 feet tall and 100lbs, Windship begins studying medicine at Harvard. Known as a weakling among his classmates, he began gymnastics to build his strength and soon became known as "the strongest man at Harvard"
In 1854 while on a trip to find work as an actor, he failed to wow a crowd surrounding a lifting machine with a 420lb lift. He yearned for a way to lift heavier loads...
Windship the inventor
Windship rushed home and devised his own lifting machineby sinking a hogshead in the ground and placing inside it a barrel, filled with rocks and sand, attaching a rope and handle to grip onto.
This apparatus would, in time, become the 'Health Lift' with various competitors making variations of the machine. Windship swore by the effects of heavy lifting on mental and physical health.
The show is on the road
Abandoning dreams of acting to pursue the study of the improving the human body, he graduated medical school in 1857. His career included exhibitions of strength, demonstrating new machines and lectures.
His personal best lift was 1934lbs at one of his lectures, lifting a platform full of audience members
"Strength is health"
Windship famously wrote that "strength is health", a statement he wholeheartedly believed in. So much so that he joined a gymnasium to his medical practice as he found he would have to see patients less in his office, if they were training regularly in the gym.
Windship, in part, caused the movement in the 19th century towards heavy lifting for health, aesthetics and enjoyment. However, he was also responsible for stunting the progression of the culture when he suddenly died aged just 42 after a massive stroke which many attributed to the heavy lifting.
Although the movement paused for a number of years, his work advanced the technology an popularity around lifting and we can now reflect on George Barker Windship as a true pioneer of strength