Even today, many recognize the famous image of the “ninety-seven pound weakling” popularized by advertisements for Charles Atlas’s muscle-building courses in the 1940s. Atlas’s long-running advertising campaign has, in fact, led several scholars to credit him as a founding figure in modern fitness marketing. In this paper, however, we argue that Atlas’s advertising was neither unique nor original. Earle E. Liederman, with whom Atlas worked in several capacities, published a hugely successful mail-order muscle course in the 1920s based on appeals to masculine desires for fame, wealth, and sexual prowess. Liederman’s advertisements were then virtually copied by Atlas as he launched his own mail-order course called Dynamic Tension. History may have largely forgotten Liederman because of his abrupt financial failure in the early 1930s, but characterizations of Atlas as the first and most important mail-order fitness tycoon do not stand up to historical scrutiny.

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