At the age of 5, Noe tells us in his booklet, "a severe attack of spinal meningitis left me in a delicate condition. In my early youth, a siege of double pneumonia developed into chronic lung trouble. For years I was sickly and weak, spending all I could earn for medicine and doctor bills." Oh, it's a sad story.
While pining away, Noe says he read about a 45-year-old man who regained his health through regular exercise, so he set out to do the same, by purchasing a set of dumbbells. He soon discovered a problem with this approach: "During this period I was a salesman for a large corporation," he relates, "and my carrying these heavy dumbbells around with me created considerable joking and ridicule on the part of the other salesmen and hotel clerks." Well, no wonder. Who carries dumbbells in their luggage?
So Noe came up with his own, more portable, gadget — a pair of wooden handles clamped to a strip of rubber — which he called Noe's Graduated Exerciser. I'm not sure, exactly, what the "graduated" part of the name means. But you grabbed each end and pulled it, and Noe writes that this device, "primitive as it was, proved capable of doing all the things that the other, costlier exercisers failed to do, and more." In fact, in just 16 months, Noe claimed that his weight jumped from a puny 139 pounds to a robust 172, his chest expanded by 8 inches, and his waist size dropped from 31 to 28 inches.
And so a thriving mail-order business was born. In the first year alone, Noe claims he sold 7,000 of these gadgets at $3 each, along with an illustrated booklet that showed weaklings like me how to use them. The booklet contains photographs of Noe himself, apparently taken in his own home at 739 N. Auburndale, tugging and pulling every which way.
If he had known people like me would be reading his booklet half a century later, Noe might have come up with a different name for the main part of his Exerciser. I giggled like a schoolboy when I read Noe's advice about "putting on two strong rubbers" for an extra-tough workout, or advising, "If you have long arms, add another rubber." But that's just me. Sorry.
Besides building muscles, Noe claimed his Exerciser could cure constipation, rheumatism, and even something called "weak lungs." The booklet proclaims that it offers "prosperity, health, and happiness to men, women, and children." Why, he tells us that one day he gave one of his gadgets to a fellow with a paralyzed arm: "He used the Exerciser six months, and now he is playing ball, and also has a job that pays him a living wage." No, he is not talking about me.
Noe apparently did okay with his device. In 1930, he made himself president of the R.H. Noe Company, naming his wife, Maude, as secretary-treasurer, and opened offices at 90 South Second Street. The company lasted until 1942. During the war years, he must have faced hard times, with rubber rationed and most able-bodied men in the service, and during this time the city directories show him working as a "business specialist."
But after the war, he picked up again, and he began to call his gadget an Xerciser, which he continued to produce for a half century. Noe died in 1974, still living on Auburndale all those years, and Memphis lost a most interesting citizen, if you ask me.