Strength in numbers : "Strength & Health" brand community from 1932-1964
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Bob Hoffman is considered by many to be the “Father of American Weightlifting.” Through his York Barbell Company and Strength & Health magazine, as well as his own patronage, Hoffman contributed greatly to the rise of weightlifting and physical culture as a whole during the early to mid 1900s. He encouraged strength via exercising and training with weights, which he emphasized through the sport of weightlifting, and he sought to showcase America’s strength as a nation in the form of Olympic and world championships. Hoffman maintained a presence in the Iron Game until his health began to decline in the late 1970s. Hoffman and his companies have received a reasonable amount of scholarly attention, much of it from historian John Fair. Although this scholarship is high-caliber, many of Hoffman’s business aspects remain ripe for examination. What is more, despite the growing popularity of the health and fitness industry, little scholarship examining the history of the industry exists. Lastly, sport history scholars have also called for more research on the business side of the field. Thus, this dissertation examines the Strength & Health brand community through the pages of the magazine from the periodical’s debut in 1932 until the release of its sister publication, Muscular Development, in 1964. This project uses the Strength & Health brand community as a case study to demonstrate that, although members of the brand community generally think of themselves as distinct in some way from society, the community remains tied to, and influenced by, the society in which it is embedded. Through analysis of Hoffman’s cultivation and management of the brand community, I also argue that it played a major role both in the success and in the demise of his fitness enterprises. Overall, this project contributes to many areas of scholarship. It adds to the existing literature on Hoffman and the little research on his nemesis, Joe Weider. It also enhances our understanding of the role of the social environment on brand community. Finally, it helps fill the gap in business-oriented research in the sport history field.