Obvious History: How Arnold Schwarzenegger made a million dollars laying bricks

In collaboration with @velvetcokeObvious History is a weekly series which unearths forgotten moments in pop culture’s past, where the famous and the fascinating collided.

Long before Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed his way onto the big screen with his beefy weapons of mass destruction, he had a booming bricklaying business. It did so well, in fact, that Schwarzenegger became a self-made millionaire before Hollywood knew, or could pronounce, his name.

In 1968, he moved to the U.S. with little more than a few hundred dollars and a Herculean dream. Together with his bodybuilding friend, Franco Columbu, he hatched a get-rich-quick scheme. The then 21-year-old thought that, in between sessions pumping iron at Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, the two could maintain their meathead physiques by laying bricks. “Franco’s talent was to be a bricklayer, a very skilled bricklayer, and learned that in Italy and in Germany,” Schwarzenegger told Tim Ferriss.

The initial plan was to undercut competitors by offering their services at a much lower cost. When nobody was hiring them, the pair decided to rebrand themselves as European bricklayers, and began to charge European prices. They put an ad in the L.A. Times calling themselves “European bricklayers and masonry experts.” He hired a team of bodybuilders—the “laziest bastards” who wanted to work out while getting a tan for their next bodybuilding competitions.

It didn’t take long for the phone to start ringing off the hook. “Literally a week later, we had the big earthquake in Los Angeles,” he continued. “The chimneys fell off the apartment houses and all this stuff.”

“Franco and I were busy for two years rebuilding chimneys and fireplaces and patios and walls,” Schwarzenegger said in an April 2000 interview. The cash began to flow and Schwarzenegger redirected the surplus into a mail order business for workout equipment, further expanding his diverse portfolio of business ventures.