Following a reading of Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet by Mark Adams I’m offering below the essential dope on MacFadden. (Note that my experience with MacFadden goes back to 2010 when I found his “Vital Power” book amongst my grandpa’s personal library)

Weak to strong

MacFadden was an orphan who bounced around family members, scrawny and weak, and hapless. Withering away, he was given some outdoor work and his body transformed itself. Breathing in the fresh air, working hard in the sun, rebuilt his body. He went back to office work and his body declined again.

He had the health principles revealed to him through this process and ended up with extreme, but in many cases extremely logical views about physical culture. He also had an element of a sort of crazy to his personality, overly didactic and suppressive. Controlling. Especially with his family, he forced his ideas of health upon them and generated some ill-will.

Rags to riches (and ending up in prison!)

MacFadden is also a rags to riches story. And then to rags. In fact, he gave five million away at one point–upsetting his wife greatly and ultimately leading to a divorce. MacFadden had an excellent libido (which he spread around with other women from time to time), and of the “sex, money, power” trifecta that can trip up a man, sex was probably the greatest contributor to his downfall, both in terms of strength and cash. Mary was his long-standing wife and they went from the lowly times to the great heights. All together. She seemed to be a sort of catalyst for him. With the relationship soured, Bernarr didn’t seem to have any more hits like before.

While achieving fame and notoriety in his time, at the end he died in prison and penniless, and he’s left little legacy, unless you dig for it.

My thoughts

What’s interesting to me about MacFadden, is he had such control over so much of himself, especially in regards to eating. He fasted regularly and ate a super-clean diet. He was extremely impressive physically. He slept 8 hours a night. He walked religiously. Sometimes 25 miles a day. His vitality was through the roof–and I think in the end he drained it too much through sex and being unable to keep it in his pants.

MacFadden is sort of a forgotten grandfather of physical education in America. Some of his most important physical culture lessons are also forgotten. Had he won the election to the senate, perhaps things would be different. Perhaps we’d have some real health laws taught at school or some excellent school food. Or, get this–days of fasting at public schools!

Anyway, here are some of Bernarr’s important ideas:

  • Regular fasting – he fasted every Monday. Most of us don’t give our digestive system proper rest
  • Clean diet, no sugar, seemed he didn’t drink caffeine either
  • Walking – a lot, and at a good clip
  • Strength training
  • The philosophy of clean living and the importance of it
  • Sleeping eight hours

McFadden was a builder of people’s strength and vitality. An enthusiastic, energetic powerhouse. Following this list above would transform your life!

P.S. Another man from around this time was William Muldoon. Muldoon wanted every man to go through military training for discipline because he felt then, in the 1920s, that we were becoming weak! My favorite Muldoon quote:
“Most people know what they ought to do, they just don’t do it.”