Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Origin of "Plastic Weights"

As a fun little Throwback Thursday post for exercise, I came across this one today in a "Super Strength Training" newsletter from Bill Hinbern. I have bought a few old school programs from Bill and love his historic reads in his newsletters that come out often each week.
Today's newsletter discusses the 'plastic weights' that used to be filled with a special cement mixture.
Did you get your start in weight training with weights like these, much like I did?
Credit to Bill Hinbern of on this tremendous insight into the origins of a classic training tool.
You’ve seen them, and, probably, as a young man, even had a set of those strange looking, plastic laminated, composition filled, weights.

Ever wonder how they ever came to be?

Forrest Hood “Fob” James Jr. was born on September 15th 1934, in Lanett, Alabama.

He played football (1952–1955) at Auburn University, where, as a half back, he was named All-America in 1955.

He played professional football in Canada as a member of the Montreal Alouettes during the 1956 season and entered the Army to serve two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Engineers and received a civil engineering degree in 1957.

It seems that in 1960, James had a conversation with Joe Newman, a local weightlifter.

Newman complained that cast iron barbells rusted, were noisy, and tended to mar household floors.

So, in 1961, while sitting in his basement, James came up with the idea of plastic coated concrete weights.

He developed a mixture of barite ore and concrete which, when solidified, was given the trade name “Orbatron”.

This, in turn, could be poured into a molded polyethylene shell.

James felt that the use of plastic coated weights would move exercising from garages and basements to inside the home.

Furthermore, since his product was rust-free, it would eliminate the use of a foundry.

In 1962, using $31,000, contributed by thirteen East Alabama businessmen, he founded “Health-Disc Inc.”, which later became, “Diversified Products Corporation Inc. (DP)”, a manufacturer of fitness equipment known for their patented plastic-coated barbell plates and dumbbells filled with "Orbatron."

His brother Calvin soon joined him in the firm.

DP utilized mass merchandising through department stores such as, Sears Roebuck & Co. (Ted Williams brand), Montgomery Wards, J.C. Penny, Kmart, Wal-Mart, Zayre's, etc., and sporting goods stores.

Here is a newspaper ad of February 28th 1964 for DPs “Challenger Orbatron” Barbell Set…

The Salt Lake Tribune from Salt Lake City, Utah, Page 4:



A big 112-lb. Orbatron bar bell outfit, use it anywhere in your home!

Noiseless, Rust-Proof, easy to Clean!

What is "Orbatron"? A revolutionary new development in weights that's specified by leading schools and colleges, combining a special compound in the interior of the discs with high-impact vinyl covering, permanently bonded together in weight calibrations to form the most durable and safe weights yet perfected.

You can use "Orbatron" weights on carpet and linoleum, in your home or office!

They never mar or rust, a damp cloth wipes them clean.

The complete 112-lb. outfit includes 2-25 lb. discs, 2-10 lb. discs, 2-5 lb. discs, 2-2 lb., 5-ft. chrome-plated bar wirh chrome-plated, knurled steel revolving sleeves, heavy-duty collars, wrench and body building booklet.



Over the next 15 years, the company ultimately grew to employ 1,500 people with plants in Opelika, AL, Los Angeles, and Toronto, with sales of about $1 billion annually.

By 1965, DP was manufacturing 4,000 barbell sets per day!

During the 1970s, DP began a promotional campaign that included endorsements from numerous fitness and sports celebrities, including; Billy Hitchcock (baseball), Bart Starr (football), Margaret Court (tennis), and Gary Player (golf).

DP designed a complete line of home fitness equipment for women endorsed by Debbie Drake, another television fitness expert.

DP also hired Bruce Randall, a former Mr. Universe and Washington Redskins strength coach, to visit stores, sporting goods shows, and schools to talk about physical fitness and health.

Randall's pitch and persona encouraged young boys to persuade their parents to buy a 110-pound barbell set that could be used at home without fear of marring the floors or rusting.

In 1977, DP was sold to Liggett Group of Durham, North Carolina.

In 1978 James turned the presidency over to his brother, Calvin, to run for the Governor of Alabama, won and served two terms, from 1979 to 1983.

Diversified Products Corporation (DP) of Opelika ended in 1998.

Until the next time...

Yours for greater strength,

Bill Hinbern
Once again, Bill's site is for a great resource of truly 'old school' programs, many of which were sold as mail order only in health, fitness, and bodybuilding magazines throughout the decades.

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