by Al Myers
One of the topics brought up recently on the USAWA Discussion Forum was the Schmidt’s Automatic Exerciser. Recent USAWA member James Fuller found information on this old and unique piece of exercise equipment that was used primarily at the turn of the century. After reading the descriptions of it, I immediately recognized that this piece of equipment I knew with another name. I made one for the gym a few years ago after receiving an advertising flyer about it from Dale Friesz. In the flyer it was called “The Strongman Machine”. My guess is that the flyer was probably from the early 1900’s.
I never knew much about it at the time, except what was in the flyer. I know from this picture it is hard to decipher all the words since it is not very clear. This is my best interpretation of the writing:
“The Strong Man Machine is the only apparatus on the market to day that will develop your strength to its limit, and give you the Great Power and Super Strength of the Great and Famous Strongmen of the past: Sampson, Sandow, Saxon, Hackenschmidt, Jowett, Cyr, Travis, Jefferson, Kennedy and all the rest. If you want Great Strength you have to handle great weights as all Strong Men have. Short movement lifts, and exercise with heavy resistance are the only ways to develop your powers to their limit. They are more natural than full movements. Just watch a He-man at his heavy labor or a child as it progresses through childhood. A horse takes long steps when running free but very short steps when pulling a heavy load. I do not mean by this that a horse has more sense than human beings for man does the same thing. It is natural and we just can’t help it. Neither do I mean to say that this wonderful machine will take the place of your bar bell and dumb bell set but I do say that no set of weights are half complete unless you have enough weight to practice heavy lifts and exercises such as the Kennedy, Jefferson, Hand and Thigh, Hip and the 100s of other lifts and supporting feats where 100s and even 1000s of pounds may be handled. The Strong Man Machine is adj. from 0 to 5000#. Complete with 1 &2 hand lifting bar, chain, hip lifting belt, weight chart, 15# shot chamber and instructions. A 55# machine for only $9. Same as above machine but without the shot chamber (has a 1 1/16″ bar to fit your own bar bell plates) , a 25# machine for only $7. Order from JIM EVANS GYM, 1900 Ave., E. Lubbock, Tex”
When I made the Dino Gym’s version of this Strongman Machine, I envisioned this as something I could train the Heavy Lifts with, especially when training time was limited and I didn’t want to take the time to load up the heavy bar. Truthfully, I have only used it a handful of times as when I’m in the mood to train the heavy lifts I prefer “the real thing”. So it has been just sitting in the corner of the gym, collecting dust. I hadn’t really given it any recent thought until James brought it up on the forum. I was intrigued why it was also called the Schmidt Automatic Exerciser (now I know someone in the USAWA who goes by the name of Schmidt who is pretty darn proficient in the heavy lifts! But I also knew this had to be long before his time, and probably wasn’t named after him, although it SHOULD be!) So I did a little research, which didn’t amount to much because there is very limited information on a subject like this on the internet. The Oldtime Strongman Blog by John Wood had the most information. In it he has a picture of the Professor Adrian Schmidt using this device and recommending it as a training implement to build strength in partial movements. One of the “selling points” is since it is a lever apparatus, less weight needs to be loaded to have the same effect as more weight loaded on a heavy bar since the “leverage principle” comes into play. The above flyer alluded to this when it stated that no weight set is complete unless you have enough weight to complete the exercise in question.
Adrian Schmidt was quite the strongman and instructor. He was not a big man by today’s standards – 5’9″ and 125 pounds. He marketed his “Schmidt’s Automatic Exerciser” to his pupils, and in his mail-order business, which was was one of the first mail order business’s geared to weightlifters. He was a champion finger puller, and it is reported that he defeated such notable strongmen as Warren Lincoln Travis, Joe Nordquest, and German champion Karl Morke in finger pulling. He also had done 10 chin ups using only the middle finger on his right hand! That is ONE STRONG FINGER!
I found a picture of John Grimek using this device. (but then again, what exercise did John Grimek not do??). It was said that Grimek would take his Automatic Exerciser with him when he traveled, just so he could do his heavy lifts in any gym, and not be dependant on them having the proper equipment or enough weights to do the heavy lifts. That is a selling point in itself!! But the question remains – which came first – The Strongman Machine or the Schmidt’s Automatic Exerciser?