DIVERSIFIED PRODUCTS CORPORATION
From an idea to create a new design for a barbell set, came the creation of the largest fitness products manufacturing company in the world here in Opelika. Health-Disc Inc. was founded by Forrest (Fob) H. James in 1961 after he discovered a new concept for manufacturing barbells developed by a weightlifter/inventor who lived in Mobile, Alabama.
In the early 1960’s the country was becoming health conscious. Recognizing the new interest given to weight training for sports and the public’s increased awareness of the importance of good health; Fob James saw an opportunity to promote the ease of weight training in the home. Unlike the rusty, noisy, cast iron barbells this new barbell was clean, relatively quiet to use, did not mar the floors and was attractive in appearance. No longer was it necessary to join a health club or work out in a cold, damp basement. Now weight training was available to you at any time night or day.
So, in 1962, with the help of a small group of local financial backers, the company name was changed to Diversified Products Corporation and the first manufacturing plant was established in Opelika, Alabama. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of weight sets would be produced and sold under various private labels for Sears, Roebuck & Co., J. C. Penney, Montgomery Ward, K-Mart and others and the brand names DP, Health-Disc and Orbatron became known to every youngster wanting to train with weights.
Following the concept of “fitness training in the home” the company continued to develop products for easy mass marketing and home use with the creation of its Product Design and Development Group in 1965. In the years between 1962 and 1998, when the company went out of business, Diversified Products or “DP” became the largest manufacturer of physical fitness products in the world with plants in Opelika, California, Canada, Mexico, and Swansea, Wales. At the height of it’s success the company employed over 2,800 employees in more than 1,300,000 square feet of facilities and manufactured barbell sets, weight benches, weight systems, treadmills, bicycle exercisers, rowing machines, basketball goals and backboards, and numerous other products. The development of this new plastic enclosed weight material called “Orbatron” led the company into new products for lamp manufactures (lamp base weight ballast) and the production of marine anchors. More than 30 U.S. and foreign patents were granted to the company for the development of its unique products. The company even produced the exercise device for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that flew on the Apollo 11 moon flight with Neil Armstrong and other space flights that followed.
During its years of success DP sold to every major retailer of fitness equipment in the United States and consistently received awards from numerous retailers for design, quality and service to their customers. The company gained the endorsement of several well-known sports figures including Opelika’s own Billy Hitchcock, a professional baseball player who later became manager of the Atlanta Braves. Also endorsing DP products were Bart Starr, the great Green Bay Packers quarterback, Margaret Court, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, and one of the greatest golfers of the time, Gary Player. Bruce Randall, a former Mr. Universe and Washington Redskins strength coach for many years served as special representative promoting DP fitness products.
The first officers of the company were: Fob James, President, Elridge Cockrell, V. P. of Operations, Cal James, V. P. of Sales, Ira Silberman, V. P. of Product Design & Development, and Ray Henderson, Secretary & Treasurer.
In 1978, Fob James left the company to successfully run for Governor of Alabama, a position he held from 1978 to 1982. He was re-elected Alabama’s governor again in 1994. Following Fob’s departure, his brother Cal James became President of the company and remained in that position until 1991.
DP’s success is attributed to the many outstanding employees over the years who brought international recognition to the company by their commitment to making DP the largest and best physical fitness manufacturer and to our city, the “Barbell Capital” of the world.