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Mr. America

Mr. America
The Tragic History of a Bodybuilding Icon

Drawing on unique archival documents and fascinating interviews, an acclaimed sports historian delivers the first comprehensive examination of Mr. America, the iconic bodybuilding contest that honored ancient ideals while defining masculinity during the competition’s heyday in the 1950s.

Series: Terry and Jan Todd Series on Physical Culture and Sports

January 2015
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473 pages | 6 x 9 | 35 b&w photos |

For most of the twentieth century, the “Mr. America” image epitomized muscular manhood. From humble beginnings in 1939 at a small gym in Schenectady, New York, the Mr. America Contest became the world’s premier bodybuilding event over the next thirty years. Rooted in ancient Greek virtues of health, fitness, beauty, and athleticism, it showcased some of the finest specimens of American masculinity. Interviewing nearly one hundred major figures in the physical culture movement (including twenty-five Mr. Americas) and incorporating copious printed and manuscript sources, John D. Fair has created the definitive study of this iconic phenomenon.

Revealing the ways in which the contest provided a model of functional and fit manhood, Mr. America captures the event’s path to idealism and its slow descent into obscurity. As the 1960s marked a turbulent transition in American society—from the civil rights movement to the rise of feminism and increasing acceptance of homosexuality—Mr. America changed as well. Exploring the influence of other bodily displays, such as the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia contests and the Miss America Pageant, Fair focuses on commercialism, size obsession, and drugs that corrupted the competition’s original intent. Accessible and engaging, Mr. America is a compelling portrayal of the glory days of American muscle.

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Part 1: Precedents
    • 1. The Greek Ideal
    • 2. The Athletic Body
  • Part 2: The Golden Age
    • 3. The First Mr. America Contests
    • 4. The Glory Years
    • 5. Multiple Mr. Americas
    • 6. Winds of Change
  • Part 3: Decline and Fall
    • 7. The Arnold Era
    • 8. The Sprague Revolution
    • 9. Professionalizing Amateurism
    • 10. Eclipse of an Icon
  • Epilogue and Conclusion
  • Appendix: Mr./Ms. America Titlists
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

JOHN D. FAIR has authored six previous books, including Muscletown USA: Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell. He is a retired history professor (Auburn University, Montgomery, and Georgia College & State University) and has competed in nearly eighty weightlifting/powerlifting meets, served on the national AAU weightlifting committee, and judged many physique competitions, including the 1973 Mr. America Contest. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin’s Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.


“Fair’s book is deftly written and superbly researched. I have little doubt that this volume will remain one of the best sources for both the story of American bodybuilding and the “tragic history” of its most famous contest.”
Journal of Sport History

Mr. America has the potential to be a paradigm-changer . . . bound to become the new text of record on its subject. Gender scholars with interest in masculinities, readers with an interest in popular cultural changes, and those ambitious in the field of bodybuilding and weightlifting can all find plenty of connections within this new work.”
Charles Kupfer, Associate Professor of American Studies and History, Penn State Harrisburg


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca