Martin 'Farmer' Burns

1861 - 1937

Martin "Farmer" Burns was born on February 15, 1861 in a log cabin in Cedar County, Iowa. His father was a farmer who died when Martin was 11 leaving him, his mother, a brother and five sisters. The family was poor which caused Martin to work many years at hard labor from a very early age. He also worked in grading camps which was also very hard physical labor. The hard work was really a key to Martin's physical development as he and other athletes of that era developed their physical strength through performing hard labor rather than working out in gyms.

From a very early age Martin displayed an interest in, and had a natural ability for, wrestling which was developed in many impromptu matches with boys in his home town and the surrounding area.

Martin was born during a very troubled time for the country as the year of his birth was also the year that the American Civil War started. Wrestling was a popular activity in the army camps, as it had been and continued to be, in the camps and towns that sprang up during the westward expansion. During the Civil War its popularity increased due to the fact that the wartime President, Abraham Lincoln, was himself a champion wrestler having defeated the Louisiana State Champion in New Salem, Lousiana in 1831.

The grading camps really provided the opportunity for the maturing Martin to hone his skills. The camps were populated by very rugged, tough men who were heavy drinkers, smokers and chewers who stayed up all night playing cards. They depended strictly on their brute strength in wrestling matches which were a very popular activity. Martin was able to beat them because of better conditioning as he never participated in drinking, smoking or other activities that would hurt his conditioning. He also had a very analytical mind which was constantly evaluating different wrestling techniques and trying to improve on them. The combination of the conditioning and the knowledge made him a lot of money during the wrestling matches on payday.
His nickname of "Farmer" was given to him on his first trip to Chicago in 1889. He had traveled to Chicago on a cattle car and was very impressed by the city. One of the things that impressed him most was a sign offering $25.00 for anyone who could last 15 minutes with 2 well known wrestlers of the time - Jack Carkeek and "Strangler" Lewis. At first they didn't want to give him a shot because he was unknown,but eventually he made it on stage in his overalls and sock feet with jeers of the crowd insulting him by calling him "Farmer." He stayed with both of the wrestlers for 15 minutes and the crowd's jeers soon turned to applause. The next day he found himself treated as a hero by the local papers.
In his time Farmer Burns wrestled over 6,000 matches in every type of situation from grading camps to circuses and lost only 7. He won the World Wrestling Title in 1895 when he defeated Evan "Strangler" Lewis and retained the title until 1897 when he was defeated by Tom Jenkins. He later won and held the light heavy weight title until 1908. Burns weighed only 175 pound but defeated many of the great wrestlers of the day-some of which out weighed him by 50 or 100 pounds. He had a very strong neck that measured 20 inches and allowed him to perform one of his favorite stunts of doing a six foot hangmans drop which he performed many times.

One of his greatest accomplishments was taking another Iowa farm boy, Frank Gotch and developing him into a world champion wrestler that many believe to be the greatest wrestler of all time. He trained many champions.

His correspondence course is very well done and combines calisthenics, light dumbells and resistance exercises in a very effective way. It is as useful today as when it was written.

He was not only a great athlete,but a creative and smart businessman whose promotional brochure and correspondence course provided the prototype for the many physical culture and bodybuilding courses that followed in the US in the 1920s,30s, and 40s. He was still wrestling well into his sixties and reportedly remained active and in good health until his death at the age of 77. (Gordon Anderson)

Medical students pursuing an online health administration degree to experienced surgeons would agree that "Farmer" Burns fitness plan of calisthenics, light dumbells and resistance exercises combined with regular cardiovascular workouts would be helpful for anyone to follow today. His ability to best men that were bigger in wrestling matches simply because he abstained from smoking and drinking is an important lesson for anyone looking to improve their physical health. Medical professionals will always promote the idea that avoiding bad toxic habits and sticking to a regular exercise routine can help anyone return to good health and wellness.

Early Farmer Burns Flyer

Date unknown

Contributed by Gordon Anderson

Physical Culture Wrestling

This 30 page promotional leaflet was published around 1920 and is full of facts, photos and testimonials

Contributed by Gordon Anderson

Farmer Burns - Letter to New Student

Lessons in Wrestling & Physical Culture

The famous Farmer Burns Mail Order Course
Scanned direct from a 1912 set of lessons

Contributed by Gordon Anderson

Download Entire Set of Lessons

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