Corvallis’ Fitness History

OAC Football, 1930s

The practice of physical fitness – indeed, the concept of “physical fitness” – has an interesting history. From W.K. Kellogg’s efforts to reform the American diet in the hope that whole grains would prevent masturbation, to the 1970s advice to exercise until you “feel the burn” followed by the 1990s discovery that “the burn” was just a rapid lactic acid buildup damaging your muscle cells, our understanding of exercise science has continually grown.  Now with our 21st Century fitness practices…or whatever it is kids are doing these days, one might wonder how the universities are contributing to this body of knowledge. 

More specifically, does Corvallis, home of Oregon State University, have a role in the history of fitness?  Other than the negative role it has played by way of the 1958 invention of the modern Maraschino cherry  (without which many fewer sundaes would have been eaten and many fewer Manhattans would have been drunk)?  Yes, yes it does.

In 1916, Oregon Agricultural College (later Oregon State College and later still OSU) created one of the first organized fitness programs for its students.  It’s a measure of how differently we view fitness today that this was two generations after the college was formed, and more than twenty years after they began playing intercollegiate sports.

In 1924, OAC formed the Oregon Nutrition Council to collect information about nutrition and to share it with the public.

In 1928, Henry C. Burns at OSC learned how to prevent and treat White Muscle Disease with proper nutrition, specifically the use of selenium and Vitamin E.

In the 1930s, when yoga was known to most Americans only in magazine cartoons of men in turbans standing on their heads, Laura McAllister was teaching it at Oregon State College, and publishing research into its measurable health benefits.

Of course, to this very day, OSU’s Department of Pharmacy, Department of Psychology, School of Life Sciences and College of Public Health and Human Sciences continue to conduct research that benefits our understanding of physical fitness.

However, if all the statistics, big words, and pages of pedantic writing bog you down, just swing by one of OSU’s climbing rooms, visit the track, tennis courts, swimming pool, or even just sign up for one of their many Phys. Ed. classes and you will certainly learn more about the state of physical fitness at the University.

By John M. Nurt