"You will, no doubt, think us ambitious. Well, so we are!" Joe proclaimed in the premiere issue of Your Physique. He promised to grow the magazine and never let on that "we" under several bylines was him.
The first issue was 24 pages, all typed by Joe onto mimeograph stencils. He drew the large letters and illustrations, and he cranked out each page on a rented mimeograph machine and spread the wet paper around the house to dry.
Before that initial printing, he had subscriptions to fulfill, having mailed postcard announcements to 600 Canadians listed in a "Pen Pal" section of Strength and Health magazine. But it was after the first issue circulated in gyms that subscriptions poured in.
As promised, Joe continuously improved his creation. In the first year he incorporated more photos, professional typesetting and printing, writers with scientific expertise and a splash of color on the cover. Within 18 months it generated a $10,000 profit - a small fortune during those post-Depression, wartime years - and, at a time when bodybuilding was a mere adjunct to competitive weightlifting, it established looking good and living healthy as principal goals, a message that fueled the company's growth.
Following the success of Strength and Health's Bob Hoffman, Joe began selling weight sets and other equipment through the mail in 1942, advertising heavily in his own magazine. All the while he continued to live and work in his parents' house, where the corporate headquarters had relocated only from the kitchen to the living room.
In 1945 he launched a second bodybuilding magazine, Muscle Power, which published monthly by the following year; Your Physique went monthly in 1947. Both publications emphasized superior photography and design. Joe, who dropped out of school at age 12 to help support his family, learned the publishing business by trial and error.
Physiques were previously shot to look like effete statues, but Joe and his experimenting photographers found ways to accentuate muscles, and capture an aura of power and athleticism. The textbooks he studied for his continuing education were the most successful magazines of the era, to which he subscribed to study their techniques and emulate their prosperity.
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His strategy worked so well that by 1947 his business had outgrown not just his parents' house but his native country.
For the rest of our story on Muscle & Magazines pick up the May of M&F.