Silver Era Bodybuilding refers to the period before the 1960s when bodybuilding started to expand from it’s small roots in the “Bronze Era” (Pre 1940) and create it’s own identity as a sport of it’s very own. Before this period physique contests were often just a “tack on” to weightlifting and athletic competitions. This began to change in the Silver Era and physique competitions became important as an event of their own. The physiques from this era were built without the assistance of steroids, and therefore these amazing bodybuilders should be seen as inspirational pioneers for modern day natural bodybuilders. In this article we will look at the evolution of Silver Era Bodybuilding. We will take a look at some of the legends of this era, the competitive results they achieved and the amazing physical development they attained in a time when the science behind training and nutrition was yet to be developed. In that way these legends are bodybuilding pioneers, laying the foundations that much of what we know about bodybuilding today was built on. We will also cover the history of steroids, as Silver Era Bodybuilding ended once these illegal and dangerous drugs were introduced to the bodybuilding scene.

Evolution of Silver Era Bodybuilding

The Silver Era is when bodybuilding really began to evolve and develop an identity of it’s own. Prior to this time physique competitions were tacked onto the end of strongman and weightlifting style events. Athletes were expected to be able to perform feats of strength and displays of athleticism, and this was the priority ahead of the actual development of their physiques. When athletes like the great John Grimek became involved in the scene the importance of the appearance of the physique became more prominent. Grimek was able to perform amazing feats of strength and displays of athletic talent, and on top of that he had an absolutely amazing physique to top it all off. All of a sudden having a good looking physique became the inspiration for the new generation of bodybuilder’s who would come through during the Silver Era. Physique competition as an entity of it’s own had arrived!

History of Steroids in Bodybuilding

Unfortunately there is such a negative perception of natural bodybuilding and what kind of physique is attainable drug free that I have to give a brief history of steroids and how that history makes it almost certain that the Silver Era Bodybuilding physiques featured in this article were 100% natural. The first ever steroid wasn’t even developed until 1930. At that time steroids were experimented with and tested for a wide variety of purposes, however athletic performance and muscular development wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that the use of steroids for the purposes of athletic performance became known. The Soviet team performed exceptionally well at the 1956 Olympics, and it was later discovered that they had been using steroids to achieve these results. So, naturally, the American’s followed suit and Dr John Bosley Ziegler developed a steroid for use by American athletes in 1958. As this was during the Cold War and the American’s and Russian’s were in competition with each other in many ways, the truth behind steroid use for athletes was kept highly secret. Therefore it is quite unreasonable to believe that members of the very small sub community that was bodybuilding at that time would be privy to this information or have access to these drugs (this is an era long before the internet). It is therefore my opinion that the majority, if not all, bodybuilders competing before the 1960s were natural and had not touched steroids.

Silver Era Bodybuilding Legends:

Jack Delinger

Jack Delinger was the quintessential “All American” bodybuilder, and his amazing physique and good looks led to him winning numerous top competitions as well as regularly appearing in bodybuilding publications.

Contest Results:

1945 Mr America – Did Not Place

1946 Mr California – 2nd

1948 Mr America – 2nd

1948 Mr Pacific Coast – 3rd

1948 Mr Western America – Winner

1949 Mr America – Winner

1952 Mr World – 3rd

1956 Pro Mr Universe – Winner

George Eiferman

George Eiferman began weight training whilst he was in the Navy. He developed an awesome physique which helped him to win a number of top bodybuilding competitions. After his bodybuilding career he promoted the benefits of weight training all across America.

Contest Results:

1946 Mr East Coast – Unknown Placing

1947 Mr America – 5th

1947 Mr Universe – 4th

1948 Mr America – Winner

1948 Mr California – Winner

1948 Mr Western America – 2nd

1949 Mr USA – 4th

1950 Mr USA – 2nd

1962 Mr Universe – Winner

Vince Gironda

Vince Gironda was the first bodybuilder to bring modern day levels of conditioning to the stage. At the time this was dramatically different to what had previously been presented on stage and Gironda didn’t receive the kind of accolades he would have if he were competing today. Gironda took his experience in bodybuilding during the Silver Era and became a top trainer and nutrition expert leading to his nickname “The Iron Guru” and producing numerous bodybuilding champions.

Contest Results:

1950 Mr USA – Did Not Place

1951 Pro Mr America – 2nd

1956 Mr USA – Did Not Place

1957 Mr USA – 3rd

1962 Pro Mr Universe – 2nd

Clarence Ross

Clarence Ross was one of the first bodybuilder’s to display a physique comparable to modern day bodybuilder’s. He had great muscular development, wide shoulders, flaring lats, proportionate legs and a small waist, characteristics that are required for success in the modern day bodybuilding arena.

Contest Results:

1945 Mr America – Winner

1946 Pro Mr America – Winner

1948 Mr USA – Winner

1949 North American Championships – Winner

1949 Mr USA – 2nd

1955 Pro Mr Universe – Winner

1956 Mr USA – 2nd

John Grimek

John Grimek was originally a champion weightlifter. This meant Grimek was able to perform a range of impressive physical feats that were required during the early days of competition. Grimek was a dominant force in the competitive scene, inspiring the superstars of the future. It was Grimek’s amazing and well developed physique that led to standalone physique competitions. When Grimek beat Steve Reeves at the Mr Universe Reeves went on to declare Grimek the greatest bodybuilder of all time.

Contest Results:

1939 York Perfect Man – Winner

1940 Mr America – Winner

1941 Mr America – Winner

1946 Most Muscular Man in America – Winner

1948 Mr Universe – Winner

1949 Mr USA – Winner

Reg Park

Reg Park was one of the biggest stars of the Silver Era. Reg developed a massive, herculean style physique that often overpowered his on stage rivals. Reg took his massive physique to the silver screen, playing Hercules and other similar roles. He was a major influence on Arnold Schwarzenegger, because of his amazing physique and his ability to use his physique to expand into other arenas.

Contest Results:

1946 Mr Britain – 4th

1949 Mr Britain – Winner

1950 Best Developed Athlete in America – Winner

1951 Mr Universe – Winner

1958 Pro Mr Universe – Winner

1965 Pro Mr Universe – Winner

1970 Pro Mr Universe – 2nd

1971 Pro Mr Universe – 3rd

1973 Pro Mr Universe – 2nd

Steve Reeves

Steve Reeves is rightfully regarded as the absolute biggest superstar of the Silver Era. Reeves had a perfectly proportioned and beautiful looking physique, which led to him becoming a dominant competitor at the highest level of bodybuilding. Reeves should be regarded as the godfather of “aesthetic” style bodybuilding, and his beautiful and well developed physique has served as inspiration for a countless number of bodybuilder’s. Like Reg Park, Reeves took his amazing physique and transitioned into acting, becoming a big movie star, most famously as Hercules.

Contest Results:

1946 Mr Pacific Coast – Winner

1947 Mr America – Winner

1947 Mr Pacific Coast – Winner

1947 Mr Western America – Winner

1948 Mr USA – 2nd

1948 Mr Universe – 2nd

1948 Mr World – Winner

1949 Mr USA – 3rd

1950 Mr Universe – Winner

The Silver Era Bodybuilding period was one of the most important times for the evolution of modern day bodybuilding, where the sport began to take on an identity of it’s own separate from weightlifting competitions. Bodybuilder’s during this time didn’t have access to, know about or take steroids, and they should therefore be seen as inspiration for all natural bodybuilding athlete’s competing today. With legendary superstars like Jack Delinger, George Eiferman, Vince Gironda, Clarence Ross, John Grimek, Reg Park and Steve Reeves the Silver Era has had a lasting influence on bodybuilding right until the current day.

  • NatBod will be revisiting this period with further articles, including in depth stories on the stars mentioned in this article and the training programs they utilised to develop their physiques. You can find all of our Silver Era Bodybuilding articles by CLICKING HERE.
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Ryan Norman

Owner & Editor in Chief of NatBod. Promoter & Head Judge of the NatBod Showdown. Natural Mr Australia - Physique (Classic) 2019. Owner of Moruya Gym. Passionate about natural bodybuilding and the fitness lifestyle.

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