When America’s Fat Men Celebrated Excess

In the mid-1800s, a “Fat Movement” gained momentum when affluent people who didn’t have to work and could afford to eat copiously, began gaining weight. Self-proclaimed “fat men” in major cities across the country gathered together in clubs, with names like New England Fat Men’s Club, the Jolly Fat Men’s Club and the United Association of Heavy Men of New York State. They held annual events that included picnics, excursions, and of course, dinners, and anyone who weighed less than 198 pounds would have to watch from the sidelines. While some people decried the mental and physical degeneration that they alleged was caused by obesity, others pointed out the good nature and lack of criminality among fat people. Townspeople looked forward to the summer meetings, and children would gather at the railroad station as guests arrived. They enjoyed watching the oversized members walking the streets, exchanging their secret hand clasp and listening for the secret password. Being fat started to decline around the 1920s when obesity became a major problem and the medical community began to understand its negative health effects. At least for a little while during the end of the century, it was a fat man’s world.