Peary Rader and Iron Man magazine
When I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, I would once a month drive to Oakland (Calif.) to DeLauer's newsstand for the latest muscle magazines. I lived east of the city in the then rural San Ramon Valley.
It was the 1950s and the Joe Weider/Bob Hoffman wars for muscle world supremacy were waged monthly through the pages of Hoffman's Strength & Health and Weider's Your Physique magazines. Mudslinging was not uncommon.
Meanwhile, Peary & Mabel Rader's Iron Man magazine seemed to be Switzerland during the conflict. If you were into weight training, as I was, you probably read all three publications and were well aware of the battle-lines.
It seemed to me at the time that the top people in the bodybuilding world, the superstars, were basically either Weider guys or Hoffman’s. It also seemed to me that Rader didn’t care about which camp you were in. He somehow remained above the fray. And in the subculture of iron pumping, I think everyone admired his neutrality, while at the same time he tirelessly promoted all that is good about weight training.
But this is really a story about American enterprise and ingenuity. Peary Rader was working as a school maintenance man when he found a broken copy machine. He fixed it and in 1936 printed out 50 copies of what was the first issue of Iron Man magazine. When people began subscribing they paid 15 cents per copy.
The Raders bought an old barracks in Alliance, Nebraska, where they printed and published their magazine for 50 years, eventually having more than 40,000 subscribers. They also published books, training courses, and sold their own brand of exercise equipment. They sold their interests in 1986.
Rader had been the typical skinny kid who discovers weight training and builds himself up. Eventually, he became the Midwestern Heavyweight Lifting Champion, a title he held for seven years.
An internet search will uncover many Iron Man historical sources and even places where you can buy their original training courses and books.
Peary Rader passed away in 1991. Perhaps one of the best tributes that I’ve found is “Our Best Man Gone,” from Terry and Jan Todd’s Iron Game History. On June 17, 2017, Mabel Rader celebrated her 100th Birthday.
Jim Murray, former managing editor of Strength & Health wrote the following about the Raders: “Their unselfish contributions have stimulated the growth of strength sports and have inspired countless young people to embark on healthier lives — a legacy of enduring value.”
Peary Rader was a gentleman, open-minded, and honest. At his Iron Man magazine, all reasonable points of view and training philosophies were welcomed.
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