George Barker Windship was a physical culturist born in 1834 in Massachusetts who invented many exercises machines and the first adjustable dumbbell. Like his father and grandfather, George entered Harvard and that’s where he started working out.
George was only sixteen when he started training in a gymnasium and with revenge as a motive. Since he weighed only 100 pounds and stood five feet tall, he was bullied by other students and decide to become stronger in order to defend himself. The tipping point for him was when one of the bigger students threw his student books downstairs on purpose and refused to apologize. That’s when George started training every night after classes, working out using different type of equipment, like suspended rings, climbing rope, parallel bars, spring-board and a pull-up bar. Soon enough, George forgot all about his revenge and focused on training and becoming a stronger and healthier person through weightlifting.
During one of the trips he took to New York, George found an exercises machine which he used to lift 420 pounds in a hand and thigh type of a lift. He liked this apparatus so much that he created his own once he got home, using a barrel filled with sand and hard rocks. He fell in love with weightlifting and entered medical school just so he can learn more about human anatomy in order to better his lifts. George Barker graduated at the age of 23, working out regularly and increasing his favorite hand and thigh lift to extraordinary 1208 pounds. After his graduation, he able to do a chin-up using only his little finger on either hand as well as twelve one arm chin-ups.
However, during this time George regularly trained with other type of equipment as well. He introduced dumbbells, old-style globe barbells and harness lifts to his workout routine. He was capable of lifting 2200 pounds in the harness lift and pressing two 100 pounds dumbbells. At his prime, he weighed only 147 pounds and stood 5’7″, so he wasn’t as big as he once wanted to be, but you couldn’t deny him the strength he possessed.
Interestingly enough, George Barker had a medical office and his gym next to each other. He used to tell clients that they should spend more time in his gym and less time in his office. As an active promoter of weightlifting benefits, George often gave lectures combined with weightlifting demonstrations on the spot, which he used as a tool for physical therapy.
One of his inventions was this incredible machine he designed and built himself, which is quite similar to the Universal Machine we have today.
But that’s not the only apparatus he used to treat his patients. He also invented adjustable dumbbells with plates ranging from 8 to 101 pounds in half pound increments, hip and leg machines he regularly used to train himself and as a form of a medical therapy for his patients. Below is the picture of the dumbbell along with an excerpt from a newspaper. The cost of this dumbbell was sixteen dollars.
This instrument, although designed by Dr. Windship as a special means of developing the chest, shoulders and arms, may be relied on as a very effective and convenient means of developing almost every region of the body. It is confidently recommended as something which decidedly meets the wants of thousands of persons who do not get the exercise they need in their ordinary routine of business, and yet have not time to regularly attend a gymnasium, who desire a more satisfactory device than a club with which to practice, and yet to not wish to incur much expense for apparatus.
George Barker Windship died as a young man at the age of 42, as a consequence of a cerebrovascular accident. To make things worst, people thought that he died from a stroke as a result of heavy weightlifting and for many years to come, this type of training was considered to be very dangerous.
The way of oldtime strongman training is still very popular today, and for a good reason. Check out this page to find variations of tools these incredibly strong people used to train with.