Organized in 1922 and implemented in 1924, the purpose of the American Continental Weight-Lifters Association (ACWLA) was to preach and plan standardized (according to an American standard vs. the European standard) weight-lifting events across the United States.
The two-year waiting period was said to have been caused by Macfadden’ physique contest (won by Charles Atlas) which overshadowed the ACWLA. While Macfadden will aid the ACWLA later on, he first refused to affiliate with founder George F. Jowett.
With the British Amateur Weight-Lifting Association already in place in Britain, its president, Bernard Bernard, partners with Ontario resident George Jowett to orchestrate the association.
According to Sport Historian John D. Fair, the ACWLA displays an iron game fraternity for one of the few times in a century; this fraternity however, will not last forever.
In need of assistance and promoters, Jowett contacts Bernarr Macfadden, Alan Calvert, Ottley Coulter, David Willoughby, Charles Atlas, and Earle Liederman, who all agreed to push the ACWLA forward as a legitimate organization. If you have the feeling that I’m name dropping here, well you might be right. For those of you who do not know the history of the iron game very well, the mentioned individuals were pioneers in their own way for physical culture. If Jowett would have simply named his organization ‘Power House’, I’m confident people would have responded: “yeah, no kidding!”
Jowett used his magazine Strength as a promotional vehicle for the association and goes as far as using a pseudonym – John Bradford – to praise Jowett’s (his own) endeavors and publications. John Bradford will later be elected as ACWLA secretary while Jowett remained president. Also supported by the Milo Barbell Company, Alan Calvert would claim that the ACWLA was “one of the greatest forward steps that has even been taken by American athletes.”
In 1926, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the know-all be-all of amateur sport in those times, recognized weight-lifting as an official sport, paving the way for the ACWLA to establish its supremacy on the American scene. The paved path however, was blocked off for George Jowett.
Trouble in Iron Paradise
While the ACWLA was a great step towards American weight-lifting, the association had internal problems that will lead to its demise.
As revealed by Fair, one of the reasons Jowett organized the ACWLA was not for weight-lifting but rather for himself. The latter craved international recognition. With weight-lifting recognized as official, meaning a sport that may and will be featured at the Olympic Games, what better way to be recognized than to lead an American weight-lifting team on the world stage of sport? Jowett, through Strength credited himself and the ACWLA for all American record holders across the country and stated that the ACWLA sought the supremacy of the race in weight-lifting (an idea thrown around by many strength promoters during that era – race here being related to nationality as opposed to our conceived idea of what race entails.)
Also, conflict with a prominent referee also pushed the ACWLA to its end. Mark Berry, officiating weight-lifting in the 1920s, judged that two athletes were tied due to the fact that they had lifted the same weight. Outraged by this decision, Jowett intervened telling Berry that there are no ties in weight-lifting, “the man exhibiting the best style, or making the nearest efforts to success¸ must be given precedence.” While no official rules stated Jowett’s intervention in the matter, he still held to his guns. A month after this event, Jowett received news of his forced dismissal from the ACWLA and of his replacement by…Mark Berry (ouch!). Fair reveals that upon his dismissal, Jowett wrote to Coulter: “accidently, I know too much.”
Fair also reveals that the ACWLA was having substantial financial problems that may also be a cause for its eventual demise.
With the ACWLA gone, Jowett joins forces with Bob Hoffman in his magazine endeavors. They quickly clashed – Jowett wanted to revive the ACWLA against the dominant AAU but Hoffman, who was a committee on the AAU wanted to support the organization.
Now, typical Hoffman cooperated with Jowett at first claiming that the ACWLA was the only organization who sought to improve American weight-lifting and its weight lifters. In 1933 however, Hoffman agreed to subordinate the ACWLA to the AAU.
What was next for George Jowett? Well, somewhere in a Montreal kitchen, a young man called Joe Weider was, without knowing it, about to take over the bodybuilding world one magazine issue at a time. Jowett, seeing opportunity and (possibly) a future in Your Physique aided Weider with his business endeavors.
ACWLA, so what?
Well, before bodybuilding was as big as it is, weight-lifting was the pinnacle of competitive physical culture – especially in Europe. The ACWLA marks a gigantic step in American recognition of, not only organization but participation on the international weight-lifting scene. Before the AAU was interested in weight-lifting (leading to the establishment of serious American weight-lifting teams for the Olympics) the ACWLA appeared as the association that would ensure Americans are recognized as a strong nation on the competitive scene.