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York Barbell's Museum and Hall of Fame

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Power Archives!
York Barbell's Museum and Hall of Fame captures history of strength.
By AL Thompson

YORK, Pa. Matt Smith never knew anybody cared. The Westside Barbell Club super heavyweight was surprised to see a rather elaborate museum showcasing the diverse history of strength sports the first time he traveled to York Barbell to compete in the Strength Spectacular.

"It was a bit of a surprise," said Smith, who won the 2001 York Strength Spectacular with a total of 2,355 pounds (930 squat, 625 bench, 800 bench).

"Given that you always hear about the other Hall of Fames and sports museums, I never actually realized that power lifting or weight lifting in general had it's own."

What makes York Barbell's museum and Hall of Fame so special is because it is located in the birthplace of weightlifting, as we know it today.

Bob Hoffman, the "Father of Weightlifting" and founder of the York Barbell Company, literally founded the sport in America back in 1932 when he began publishing Strength and Health Magazine. Three years later Hoffman, who originally came to York to start an oil burner business, bought Philadelphia's Milo Barbell Company at a bankruptcy sale and thus started the York Barbell Company, which is now considered one of the top manufacturers of training equipment in the country. The WWI veteran's intense interest for athletics in general and his love for weight training prompted him to make strength sports his life's work.

Hoffman officiated Olympic games in Helsinki, Melbourne, and London. He also worked at the Pan Am games, the Central American games as well as other major track and field events in the United States. He was the coach of the United States world championship team in 1950. Hoffman is a member of the International Power Lifting Hall of Fame.

As the sport grew and his accomplishments as a sponsor, official and innovator around the world started to mount, he created his museum to make sure weightlifting's history would never be forgotten. Using a large section of his central Pennsylvania plant, Hoffman documented not only the deeds of modern day strength athletes but the turn-of-the-century strongman as well, many of who could only do their thing in carnivals and the traveling circus.

On display at York are many of the gimmick dumbbells and weights used by entertainers including the CYR dumbbell.

The cumbersome piece of equipment was used by famous Quebec strongman Louis Cyr as part of his act challenging anyone in the audience to lift the 273-pound dumbbell for a cash wager. Due to its thick handle the bell is hard to lift by anyone, let alone an amateur with a belly full of lager. Cyr had an unusually strong grip and had his way wherever he went.

The centerpiece of the central sky-lighted gallery of the Hall of Fame is the Travis Dumbbell, which when unloaded weighs 1,500 pounds. Named for the man who made it famous, Warren Lincoln Travis, this legendary dumbbell resided outside the plant above the door of the entrance to York Barbell Company headquarters for years.

Everything about this incredible piece of equipment is humongous, even the wrench used to loosen the end nuts, which is three-feet long and weighs over 90 pounds. When the ends were removed, the globes could be separated and filled with water, sand, scrap metal, or lead-shot to dramatically increase its weight. Travis, who weighed about 190 pounds, hip-lifted this thing at each of his roughly 80 shows per week.

Great strongmen from yesteryear weren't all conmen. Many were recognized as great legitimate athletes of their time. Among the many faces and physiques you'll see portraits of at York include George Hackenschmidt (1878-1968), known as the "Russian Lion" a world-renowned strongman and Greco-Roman wrestler, John Grunnmarx (1868-1912), known as the "Luxembourg Hercules" and George Rolandow, one of the greatest strength athletes ever produced in this country.

Rolandow made his mark at the turn of the century in just about every track and strength event possible. Virtually every top strongman and weight lifter male and female from the past 100 years is represented. Smith said he saw exhibits of some his favorite lifters from over the years.

"It was cool to see pictures of Bill Kazmaier and Don Reinhoudt and all the other great lifters from the past," said Smith, who played football (DL) for Sheridan High School near Thornville, Ohio.

"There's so much information there it's hard to remember everything I saw." The soonest Smith will compete again is in March 2002. He is deciding between several different competitions but plans defend his IPA crown at York this June. It will be his fourth trip back to York Barbell's Strength Spectacular. Smith says every time he returns he appreciates the tradition and history a little but more.

"For everybody that is a power lifter or a weight lifter or spends time training, it's good to know there is somebody out there does take the time to recognize the greats of the sport," said the 6-foot-4, 339-pounder, who attended Central Ohio Technical College in Newark, Ohio.

Will the Matt Smiths, the Greg Kovacs, the Garry Franks, the Ed Coans of today end up in York's museum?

Smith, who is married (Amy) and lives and trains in Columbus, says even though he has been impressed with what York Barbell has done for weightlifting over the years with its Hall of Fame and museum, he lifts for his own personal goals. Smith, like most great lifters, says he trains to be the best he can be, not what others expect from him.

"I do what I do for myself," said Smith. "You have to find something from within you to drive you to do what you do. If (what I accomplish) goes unrecognized or I never have somebody talk about me or never achieve fame, that's OK."

Walking through York's museum and looking back the greats of the sport, you get the idea that that kind of thinking has been around for a long time.

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