Siegmund Klein | German-American Strongman

Siegmund Klein

It's critical to always look back to the past when looking ahead to the future

The sign over the entrance to Sig Klein's gymnasium declared tersely, "Here We Build Men," and few could doubt its truth. For more than 40 years Siegmund Klein was the patriarch of bodybuilding in America, and his gym was the meeting place of every muscleman on the continent. Intelligent and energetic, Klein was able to mold body culture through his writings in his own and others' magazines. He knew many of the physique pioneers, and fortunately he was eloquent enough to write down his remembrances. He delivered training advice in hundreds of magazine articles and in his own publication, Klein's Bell.

Sig was born in Germany on April 10, 1902. His family emigrated to America and settled in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1903. From an early age Klein became interested in athletics and would sneak off to see the vaudeville strongmen who passed through Cleveland whenever he could.

At 17 the young man started systematic weight training, and by the time he was 20 he had acquired a reputation as an up-and-coming physique athlete. He came to New York City in 1924 in order to seek out Professor Attila, the trainer and onetime mentor of Eugene Sandow. Unfortunately, he arrived a few months too late, for the Professor had just died. Nevertheless, the muscular youth contacted the strongman's widow and arranged to reopen the Attila Gym. This proved to be a success.

While negotiating with Mme. Attila, Sig met her youngest daughter, Grace, with whom he fell in love and later married. He opened his own establishment in 1926, and Siegmund Klein's Physical Culture Studio became one of the best known institutions of its sort in the world.

Sig Klein was an irrepressible collector. He would collect anything as long as it pertained to the sport he loved. His gym was cluttered with antique globe weights, old photographs, statuary, trophies, paintings, and other things. But Klein had a natural affinity for things German, so it is not surprising that one of his most extensive collections consisted of antique beer steins that featured tipsy Teutons hoisting weights as well as mugs of their favorite brew.

Sig also collected stories. He would spin out his remembrances of the old-timers and their exploits for hours on end. Thankfully, he had the sense and the eloquence to put many of these tales down on paper so that they were preserved for posterity.

Sig's love of the past even caused him to champion the bent press. This old-fashioned lift had been discarded by almost every other lifter, but Klein found something almost romantic in its graceful and poised levitations. It must have brought back to him the vaudeville athletes of his youth.

All of his attributes would have been a little less impressive, however, if Sig had not possessed one of the finest physiques of his generation. Klein was also very adept at showing off his body to best effect. He knew the value of a good photograph, and Sig's poses are still striking several decades later.

"Train for shape, and strength will follow."

This was Klein's constant dictum for bodybuilders. His own vitality and excellent physique were in-contestable proof of this pronouncement. Sig also showed his expertise by becoming a fine instructor. He was one of the first to introduce scientific bodybuilding to the world. Sig attempted to codify the movements and exercises that would produce the best results. When no equipment existed to do what he wanted, he invented what was needed.

Sig Klein died on May 24, 1987 at the age of 85, but his teachings had long established him as a bulwark of the sport he helped to form.

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