The Universal Fitness Equipment Company was founded in 1963 by John and Mary Likens. They were both former military personnel who had been stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia from 1942 to 1945. During their service they developed a system of training which involved using machines such as the dumbbell press, bench press, leg extension machine and many others. After returning home they started making these machines available to other servicemen around the country. Soon after, they began selling them to civilians too.
In 1967 the company changed its name to Universal Fitness Equipment Company Inc. The company’s first product was a “Weight Machine” which consisted of two metal plates connected together with a pulley system. These weights could be adjusted so that one side would move faster than the other when pressed against each other. The idea behind this device was to develop strength and endurance through exercise rather than muscle growth or fat loss via dieting methods.
The original version of this machine weighed over 20 pounds and cost $2,500. By 1970 the price had dropped to under 10 dollars.
By 1972 the company was selling machines made out of steel and weighing less than 5 pounds. At that time they sold machines in a variety of sizes ranging from small children’s toys all the way up to large adult men’s suits. The company also manufactured a variety of accessories including belts, straps, handles and other attachments for these devices.
In the beginning, the company was manufacturing their equipment in a small factory in Lewisburg, Tennessee. By 1976 this factory had expanded to over 300,000 square feet and employed over 2000 people. The equipment was sold all over the world and by 2004 the company was selling equipment on every continent except Antarctica.
In 1977 the company received a large amount of public attention. Mr. Universe, one of the most popular body building contests, had become sponsored by Universal machines. The president of the company at that time, Bob Gaynor, was a former Mr.
Universe winner himself so he was eager to keep the sponsorship. Mr. Universe had traditionally been held in the Los Angeles area but this year it would be held in the New York area and Bob wanted to show that Universal machines could produce as good of body builders anywhere so he offered to support it with free equipment.
The Mr. Universe event was held in Madison Square Garden and Bob sat in the front row with his top employees and their wives. He noticed that one of the other contestants was using a machine which he did not recognize so he rushed down to the stage with some of his employees and demanded that the judges take away the competitor’s score because he was using an illegal machine.
Sources & references used in this article:
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