Soon after being named head coach of the Washington Redskins, Joe Gibbs hired a weight-training specialist to add bulk to his undersized players and ordered $10,000 worth of weightlifting equipment from York Barbell Co.
The nation's largest manufacturer of barbells, York supplies nearly every National Football League team, including the Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Cardinals.
Founded in 1932 by Bob Hoffman before "getting fit" became trendy, the company has been the heavyweight of competitive weightlifting for half a century.
At 83, Chairman Hoffman no longer runs the day-to-day operations of York Barbell, but he comes to the office every day.
"Everybody knows Bob Hoffman built this business from scratch to what it is today, and it's a good thing that he still keeps in touch with it," declares John Terpak the 69-year-old general manager. Terpak, who has worked for York since 1935, won world weightlifting titles in 1937 and 1947 and coached the U.S. Olympic weightlifting squad in 1968 and 1972.
Hoffman is the classic example of a skinny youth who overcame illness and devoted himself to a lifelong regimen of physical fitness. After almost dying from diphtheria and typhoid, Hoffman went on to excel in rowing, running, boxing and, of course, weightlifting.
York Barbell began during the Depression as a moonlighting effort of Hoffman, who was in the oil burner sales business.
"Bob always had a keen interest in physical fitness, but in the beginning, his efforts in this business had to come while making his living selling those burners. And believe me, that took a lot of effort," Terpak explains.
Hoffman likes to tell a story about when he and his partner would drive to Baltimore, purposefully going without enough money to make the return trip to York, so they had to sell at least one burner to get back home.
When he began selling barbells in 1932, Hoffman purchased steel castings from a foundry in Lebanon, Pa., for 1.5 cents a pound. In 1936, Hoffman and his partner sold their oil burner business and he turned his full attention to barbells.
Hoffman's barbell sales were slim, but his magazine, Strength & Health, began to develop its own muscle. "By 1935, when I joined Bob, the magazine had a circulation of 15,000, at a dime a copy," Terpak says. It was the only special publication for weightlifters, body-builders and related businesses. With the increase in devotees of weight training, the magazine has a circulation of 125,000 today and Hoffman also publishes a magazine directed toward body builders. Muscular Development.
Hoffman, Terpak and their colleagues traveled the country in the late '30s and '40s extolling the virtues of weightlifting and bodybuilding.
After the Depression and World War II, York Barbell began supplying barbells to retail sporting goods stores, beginning with a D.C. outlet at 8th & D streets NW. The big breakthrough occurred when a New York-based buying syndicate placed a huge order for a string of department stores' sports departments.
In the early days, Terpak recalled, Hoffman frequently worried about whether sales would ever reach $100 a day. By the early 1950s, York's sales of exercise equipment hit $1 million a year.
Sales reached $6 million in 1970 and in 1980 sales of the exercise equipment division climbed to nearly $9.5 million, where they remained through 1981.
Terpak said the company last year produced more than 12 million pounds of iron casting for barbells. The barbells are cast at York's own foundry and the firm also produces the steel bars on which bells are suspended. In a standard 125-pound set of exercising equipment, the iron barbells weigh 100 pounds and the steel bars 25 pounds.