Origins Of The Monolift

Create: 05/12/2007 - 11:22
Paul Kelso offers an account of how the monolift came into powerlifting.

In the thread asking how many had walked out 1000 lb squats, the question of the introduction of the Monolft came up. I said '93-'94, W. Williams and Bob G said earlier. Everybody was right. Here is a simplified scenario. By early 1993 there was a prototype model, and it was used in several meets. Madden discussed using the machine with Rich Peters for a late '93 Hagerstown met, but Rich thought the machine dangerous, that the jack was badly located and the machine capable of tipping. Some of the Peters bashers won't like him getting credit, but the two men redesigned the machine, moving the jack to the side at Peters' suggestion. This design was tested at Hagerstown and used at the '94 NASA National - and became the production model the game came to know.

Another contributor thinks it may have come on the scene even earlier:

Paul take a look at page 8 P/L USA Mar 93. It shows a monolift being used in Nov 92. It think it goes back further than we realize


Submitted by BobG (not verified) on
We were all wrong. The monolift was used at the wnpf worlds in Nov 92

Submitted by Paul Kelso (not verified) on
I wonder if someone will find a date prior to that? Anybody know how to reach Madden? But, I am making a distinction between the prototype and the redesigned model that became standard.

Submitted by Jon Grove NGBB (not verified) on
I believe the first meet to ever use Ray Madden's Monolift squat rack was the 1992 APF Teenage and Master Nationals hosted by the late Dean Glitt in Columbus, OH. I lifted in this competition and it was in March of 1992 (I think). Madden had a "booth" set up outside the event showcasing both of his new products, the Monolift squat rack AND his Monolift bench. The Monolift bench was actually designed first and the squat rack followed; the bench never made it to competition. The lifters were skeptical about the Monlift at first and most just walked out their first attempts. As the meet progressed, guys were beginning to either stand up and take a step sideways to conserve energy or actually use it as it was designed. Most everyone thought it beneficial that weekend.

Submitted by former Mrs. Madden (not verified) on
Married to Monolift – It’s all about the competition “The Original Monolift”, as most of you know it, was designed exclusively by Ray Madden and none other. I may take credit for starting the company, running the business and marketing it, (as even he has conceded that without me there would have been no Monolift Corp.) but as for the design, it was strictly his brainchild to begin with. Actually, it was a spin off of his first patented piece of equipment, the self-spotting bench press. The patent was carefully worded and enjoined the design, application and concept of the “swinging arm mechanism”, allowing for us to piggyback on this design and apply it to subsequent inventions. The design for the bench press was an ongoing work-in-progress from its concept back when he was a young man in his early 20’s (he’s 76 now). An extremely independent young man, who never wanted to have to rely on anyone else, he was inspired early on to design his own bench press with a self-spotting device that would allow him to train alone, without spotters and in this, he was uniquely qualified. Beginning as a crude, makeshift piece of home equipment, he patiently honed his design, improving his concept over the years until he had a model that he could set up in his garage. Eventually he developed a model with pivoting sides that opened out allowing for the bench to drop down for use, and readily store away flat against the wall afterward. By the time I first met him, back in August of 1975, he had been used to working out alone all of his life and viewed this invention of his as merely an item of “personal convenience”. Shortly after we were married, he set up the new and improved folding mechanism in our garage and neighbors and friends who stopped by when he was working out, would comment on the ingenious design concept and all agreed that he “ . . . should get a patent on that thing”! At the time it didn’t seem like something we wanted to take on, as we were so busy raising kids we had 7 between us; up to 5 at home and one in a wheelchair) in our newly blended family and with him, a commercial airline pilot, only being home on weekends there just wasn’t time. One day we received a phone call from a young protégé, whom Ray had taken in to mentor, who had trained with Ray on the equipment in our garage, saying that since he (Ray) hadn’t shown any interest in getting a patent on the design, he (the SOB) was going to go ahead and take it out on his own. So before we knew it, the race to the patent office was on. Once we had started down that slippery slope, there was no stopping Ray Madden. Obsessive in everything he set his mind to, he threw himself into polishing off the design and spent all his spare time and energy trying to make his beloved bench-press marketable. We hadn’t planned to market it, only to obtain a patent to protect our interest, but with the hefty cost of retaining patent attorneys and legal & filing fees, etc, we felt pressured into making it worth the investment. Soon, it was ready and in 1990, when he was forced into retirement (pilots had to retire at age 60), he came up with the inspired name, “Monolift” and we incorporated. Partly as a means of channeling his excessive energy and enthusiasm, and partly to keep him from going through the inherent depression so many airline pilots experience when their careers come to a screeching halt at this age, but also because we had already committed so much to “Her Majesty – Monolift”, we plowed on. We hired a body builder/model and took photos for our ad, and started advertising in PLUSA. The initial response to our bench press was lukewarm and slow to catch on, but eventually we sold a few and those who bought it LOVED IT! Encouraged by their response, Ray set himself to the task of trying to take the safety concept of his bench press to other types of equipment. He had a genius, not only for engineering, but also for being able to observe an effort and pinpoint the pitfalls, then devise a mechanism to overcome that flaw. So, it was a natural transition from the self-spotting bench press, to the even more challenging self-spotting squat rack. It wasn’t long before he had a rough, but operable prototype and as anxious as he was to introduce it to the public, we argued about its readiness to be tested in competition. We had paid large sums to have analysis done on it to prove its strength and reliability, but it still didn’t seem to me to be ready for market. Ray’s younger son had come onboard and was working side by side with him building the benches (which was one of the big benefits, since they had been estranged for years prior to this) and now manufacturing the prototypes for the squat rack as well. They were a great team, working together with equal passion for the “cause” of Monolift. I had worked for attorneys prior to our marriage, and also had a background in art, marketing and advertising, so it was only natural for me to pick up the ball and run with it to market. It seemed like a perfect blending of talents, but there were problems all along with regard to delegating and micro-management, but since it was “Ray’s baby” no one else’s opinion seemed to matter. I blame a lot of the problems on what I have dubbed “The Left Seat Syndrome” . . . the cumulative effect of sitting in the Captain’s seat for 30 years where “The Captain’s word is LAW” and no one questions his decisions. Regardless, the strain on our relationship had begun long before that, but with all of the focus on “Monolift” there was nothing left for us. Eventually I came to view Monolift as “the other woman” and I had to either accept it or be left behind. I threw myself into coming up with a creative way of marketing our equipment without breaking the bank. We knew that if we got people to try it, they’d love it, but the question was: “How do you get a bunch of staunch traditional lifters, passionate about their sport to try something new and mechanical”? It was still in the awkward stage between “prototype and platform ready” when Ray and Dean Glitt, one of the first gym owners to purchase our bench press, got together and decided to try out the squat rack at the 1992 APF Teenagers & Masters Meet in Columbus, Ohio, where Ray first met Ernie Frantz, who would later try to interject himself into the business any way he could.** It seemed a little premature, but the lifters had a choice with regard to its use, and it would provide us with much needed feedback and so the decision was made above my disapproval to go ahead and try it. The overall reaction was favorable, but we came away knowing that there were some minor design glitches that had to be worked out. Soon after the adjustments were made to the design, Ray made arrangements to set it up and use it at the a Hagerstown meet, where it did not perform well and considering this setback, it went back to the drawing board once more. Ray had gotten lots of feedback from the lifters at that meet as well as from the meet director, Rich Peters, but it was most certainly not a collaborative effort to redesign the equipment according to any suggestion of anyone in particular. It’s amazing how quickly people will try to jump on a new concept that has potential and try to claim at least partial credit for it’s design. But all subsequent disputes aside; it was Ray Madden’s design from start to finish and no one else’s. I cannot believe that some duffus even wrote to this forum stating that “It was Ernie Frantz who invented the Monolift”! Duhhh! One day I picked up a copy of PLUSA and decided to list all of the major lifting federations (there weren’t nearly as many back then) and all of the upcoming national and world meets. I called the heads of each federation and introduced myself to them, discussed the merits, safety and reduced liability of featuring our equipment on the platform. Then I offered to provide them with as many pieces of equipment as they would need for their meet, deliver it, set it up and be there the night before for weigh-in, to introduce and familiarize each lifter with the proper use of the equipment as they presented themselves for weigh-in. I promised that we would have spotters there (Ray and his son, primarily) to assist in set-up, spotting during the meet and take down the equipment afterward (or sell it to them at a reduced rate, as it was now used equipment). All I asked in return was for the meet director to comp a room for us at the hotel & provide us a table to set up with our promotional materials and colorful logo T-shirts. It was an idea that took off at once. It cost them nothing and gave the meet directors an edge on the competition. And, more importantly to us, it gave lifters the opportunity to try the equipment and see what it could do. The first person I spoke to was Troy Ford, President of the WNPF, and he was very receptive, as were most of the heads of the organizations I spoke with. There may have been one, but I can’t recall anyone who turned down my offer. It was a “win/win” situation; The meet directors got to advertise their meet as featuring the latest innovation in safety equipment at no cost to them, the lifters got the advantage of using equipment designed to afford them more safety and therefore, achieve better total lifts, we got to have lifters from all over try out the equipment, who otherwise might never have been willing to do so, and we also made enough from the sale of our T-shirts to defray the cost of hauling the equipment to the meet and any other expenses we incurred. What we soon realized was an unexpected perk, was the advent of the ongoing “Great Monolift Debate” which afforded us all kinds of free press and amazingly continues today, despite the demise of the company! We met some wonderful people in this manner and while there may have been some nay Sayers and credit-wannabies along the way, we managed to get the equipment out there and (forgive this pun-unintentional) “raise the bar” on safety for generally, very appreciative lifters everywhere. Over the course of the years (from 1990 to 1995 or so) we forged some great friendships and had wonderful memories of our times together. It was an exciting ride, but it took its toll on our marriage and the effect of ongoing battles over how the company should be run, marketed and who should represent it, resulted in apathy on my part. I had lost interest in everything. One day at the last meet I ever attended, I was engaged in a discussion with a lifter who had reportedly been trying to knock off our design, when my husband came over and started yelling at me, belittling me in front of others and finally put his hypocritical arm around the offender whom he had privately villainised to others, and apologized for me! Another lifter standing by observing said to me as I ran out of the room, “So when are you going to leave the Bastard”? It was a defining moment for me. I realized that perhaps I was the only one who didn’t see how little he respected and cared for me. By the end of 1994, with the wind completely out of my sails, depressed and ambivalent, I finally conceded the company to my husband, knowing that he couldn’t possibly run it without me, as he had very poor judgment with regard to business. I had run interference many times to try to undo some of the results of those field-decisions, but now it didn’t even matter any more. So I left, taking only personal items and went off to lick my wounds in private. I lost all contact with former friends in the weightlifting profession, and had no say in anything that was done from that point on, even though I still owned 50% stock in the company. We had entertained offers to buy out the company; one in particular from Paramount Equipment Co. in California. But Ray insisted on getting every cent we had invested in the company, up front rather than settle for a smaller sum and royalties, so the deals fell through. Soon after, around 1996, Ray called to inform me that the company was broke, there had been no sale and that he was forced to close it or file bankruptcy. All else aside, I still trusted him and considered him to be honest, so I agreed to dissolve the company and after his attorneys had waited me out to where I had no resources left to fight back with for any settlement, I finally boxed up the corporate ledgers, stock certificates and original patents and shipped them off to him with a note saying that if this was what he was fighting so hard for, he could have it. I was just tired of fighting with him and I asked only that he send me what “in good conscience he determined my half of the company had been worth”. I received an overnight envelope containing the title to my 3 year old Jeep, that had been mine all along, and nothing more. So if he drained the money out of Monolift to keep me from benefiting, he was successful in that, but today I measure success a lot differently. I got nothing for all of my hard work, sacrifice and dedication, but I have learned not to trust in anything that is the work of man. Nothing is certain, and while Monolift was a great benefit to the industry/sport, it only destroyed us because it became the center of our focus. I never heard from Ray again after that letter containing the title, but I have to wonder how he sleeps at night. I understand he moved from his coastal home in central California, back to Pennsylvania and bought a home on a golf course there. I’m sure he is living large, but I’m also sure I’m much better off and free at last to live life without the oppression I had endured for almost 20 years. I may have nothing materially that I can call my own; I have taken back my maiden name, live in a rented little bungalow, finally sold my old Jeep last year with almost 200,000 miles on it to my secretary and bought a 2000 Jeep. I work long hours, running a property management/vacation rental business for the company owners who have displayed complete confidence in me over the last 4 years. It is good to feel valued and appreciated and has helped significantly to rebuild my self esteem. I am blessed to live in the most beautiful part of the country, the North Georgia Mountains, and though I have no insurance and frugally live from pay to pay with 2 cats and a rescue puppy, I have never been happier. I have worked as a victim’s advocate for battered and abused women and children in this community for over 6 years and serve continually on the board of directors for the local women’s shelter. I am active with the chamber of commerce and other service organizations that give me needed validation on a regular basis. I can honestly say, I have never had so little, nor been so content. I’ve learned some valuable lessons, none the least of which is “that whatever circumstance I find myself, therein to be content” and I get the privilege and honor of sharing this with many of the younger women I mentor, so it has been worth it all. I do miss the many wonderful supporters and friends in the power lifting community, and indeed have thought of running down to Atlanta & popping in to a meet some day just to see if I know anyone there, but it’s been so long, that I doubt anyone would remember me anymore. If you’re looking for Ray Madden or a chance to buy into the manufacture of Monolifts, I would expect that he’s sold off the rights to some to build the equipment and is still receiving royalties. Last I heard, he was living in Braddock, PA. You can always Google him, but he probably doesn’t do email or computers, so you’d have to call. Good luck with that! : ) Kindest Regards, Marylou "formerly known as Madden" **Ray had signed Ernie up as a distributor, but as he never acquired even one distributor under him or sold one piece of equipment, we had second thoughts about having done so & this after Ernie had just been indicted on distributing illegal substance charges. Later, acting entirely on his own, Ernie hired a marketing supervisor, tweeking the contract we had written up for him (Ernie) and enjoining Monolift to all of the terms Ernie had unilaterally set up with his new employee as if he had any right to do so. The first I knew of it, I got a fax from some guy I had never heard of, saying that he had been hired by Ernie Frantz of Monolift Corp. to handle all of the marketing and that from this point on, any and all ads and or correspondence would have to go through him! I quickly dispatched him and fired Ernie.

Submitted by Eric Stone on
Wow, interesting post. Jon, you should save that post for the archieves or something. I will add that, at least according to Ernie, after the company folded, Ray signed the patent over to Ernie. A couple others have verrifed this as well (Rickey Crain for one), although Ernie has never enforced the patent. I think it is technically still in effect. Rickey Crain told me that he is eventually planning on designing and selling a monolift himself, but was not going to do so until the original patent was officially expired (if it was from 92, I think patents are 17 years, so it would be up in 2009). Interestingly, Ernie still has a few of the original monolift advertisement flyers at his gym. Fred Hatfield is quoted on the back talking about how great of an advancement in safety it is. I should really grab one, scan it, and save it for historical purposes. Ernie also still has two of the original monolift squat racks as well as two of the original monolift benches at his gym. He still uses those original monolifts at his meets. He told me tried to use the mono-benches, but that the lifters didn't like it. I have used it myself. I liked it for benching by myself if I didn't have a spotter. It would actually be a great piece of equipment for comercial gyms if someone could market it correctly. For meets though, lifters didn't like how the racks swung back and forth, even with the bars in the racks. Of course, it was that swinging that allowed you to take the bar from the racks without a spotter. It seemed unstable though with heavy weights. Ernie never claimed to have invented the monolift, at least in my talks with him about it. He built a number of variations of the monolift throughout the years. I bought one used from Putt Houston that I have at my gym. It has a long jack that jacks up the monolift rather than pulling down the back of it like the original design (I don't like it as well coincidentally). And of course who could forget the infamous monolift from the 2000 WPC/AWPC Worlds in Vegas, with the built-in steel platform, weight trees, lights, and the "backwards" design that so many lifters had trouble with. You can see it in a number of pictures on the web from that meet and later other meets held at Ernie's gym. He actually recently sold that monolift to a guy in Texas. The thing was manmouth, I can't believe someone bought it. Ernie did have some good additions to some of the monolifts he built. The "rolling" bottoms of the arms of the monolift that I have on mine are really nice for moving the racks in and out without having to lift the bar up, although some lifters do not like how the bar can move side to side when they are setting up. The "backwards" design was fairly ingenious as well, at least in thinking of it from an audience perspective. There is nothing in front of the lifter to block the view for the audience. I know Kieran Kidder has commented that he'd love to have some for his WPO meets. From a "show" perspective, it really would be a great change, and I know a number of meets in Europe now use that design. The lifters do not like it because there is nothing in front of them to balance themselfs, and they tend to lose their balance. Outside of the addition of wheels that some monolift manufacturers have and the widening of the base for the wide-stance squatters, that basic original design is still used on most monolifts. It was and is an ingenious design most people can agree, even if they disagree with its use.

Submitted by Paul Kelso (not verified) on
Thank you Marylou "formerly,,," for your enlightening, and brave, backgound of these early events. There are several controversies in the game over who invented or started what. I am afraid I am responsible for kicking off the discussions about this subject, but I think it important that the record be made clear about milestone developments.

Submitted by formerly Mrs Madden (not verified) on
Thank YOU, Paul for giving me the opportunity to do so (and actually it was almost therapudic!) Perhaps it was TMI, but there were a lot of "loose ends" that needed tieing off. There are always two sides to every story and without this forum, I would never have had a chance to present mine. Thanks for listening. : )

Submitted by Rick Cornett (not verified) on
I used the Monolift at the 1992 TeenAge and Master Nationals in Spring of that year. I had a great day squatting 850 at 242 lb, 40-44 year old division. Ray told me that much weight hadn't been used on the Monolift, and this was the first meet it had been used in. I missed 875 for depth, and Ray was very delighted all went well with the Monolift. I then Squatted out of the Monolift in Birmingham, England in November of that same year, at the World Championships. All went well there for 4 days of use.

Submitted by FormerMsMadden on
The world of Powerlifting lost one of its staunchest proponents and contributors in June of 2010, with the passing of Ray Madden, inventor and “Father” of the Monolift, just one month shy of his 80th birthday. Few if any contributions to the sport have sparked more controversy than the Monolift Squat Rack, and yet 20 years after it’s introduction, the debate still rages. But there’s one thing upon which most would agree regardless of their position on its use in competition: The design and concept were both simple and ingenious and perhaps the biggest single innovation to the squat in all the years of competition. You don’t have to love it to acknowledge its advanced safety features. To those who would malign it, its inventor (“satan invented the Monolift”) or its application, we simply say: Perhaps that’s why they call it “Free Weight” . . . love it or leave it; the choice has always been yours.” As for me, I’m just proud of the genius of the man and his machine. Thanks for the ride and rest in peace, “Little Ruddy Ray, from Turtle Creek, PA”!