While browsing local vintage boutique Retro 101, I stumbled upon packaging that would catch anyone’s eye – manly muscles in a contradictory happy, yet formidable pose. Whatever was in the box, it had to be mine. So goes the power of marketing. Mad Men, eat your heart out.
The Whitely Super Jiffy Gym looked promising. Best guess was with the invention of plastics, came the Super Jiffy Gym – a simplified version of the springed “chest pull” popularized by cartoons…you know the one that Tom and Jerry get tangled up in. Or was it Daffy Duck…
Now I too, could create an array of perfect Grecian poses with my new, vintage Jiffy Gym. Were the trunks required too?
But once taken out of the box, I could barely move it. It wasn’t quite the elastic band you might get from the physical therapist. No. The tension was somewhere between a strap to hold elephants at bay and a rock.
Verdict? The Jiffy Gym was a dud. Could use it to hang plants. The packaging was mesmerizing, however and a little research was in order. It appears Whitely Gyms offered a large array of classic home gym equipment throughout the 1960’s and early 70’s, bizarre precursors to the fitness props and home gym toys of today.
Turns out, Whitely Gyms of Hackensack, NJ, was owned by AMF Incorporated. AMF Incorporated was founded in 1900 New York, as the American Machine & Foundry Company Inc. The company manufactured automated machines for the tobacco industry.
AMF, Inc. expanded the automated machinery into all kinds of industries, including the one they would ultimately be known for, the automatic pin-spotter. Yes, as in bowling. The war delayed the introduction of the pinspotter until the late 1950’s when it revolutionized tenpin bowling and touched off a boom in the sport. Kingpin was born.
Involvement with bowling led AMF into a broad range of sports and fitness equipment during the 60’s and 70’s including; tennis racquets and skis, golf clubs, inflatable balls, scuba gear, (my Jiffy Gym) and other recreational products such as snowmobiles, bicycles, yachts and even Harley Davidson motor cycles.
From jump ropes, gym bars, bands, balls and pulley trainers, AMF’s Whitley Company offered it all. The funny thing is, these same gym gadgets are constantly being reinvented every decade, purporting to be new, safer, more convenient, modern, and perhaps greener.
The Whitely line of home gym equipment quietly went away in the 70’s, only to be rediscovered now and again in vintage shops and yard sales by cultural fitness anthropologist such as myself. The Jiffy Gym is a shining reminder of how little has changed in American fitness, not to mention the influential power of good advertising. Afterall, I did buy it.