The modern history of anabolic steroids dates back to 1930´s: first anabolic steroid (androstenone) has been isolated in 1931 in Germany and three years later synthesized by Croatian-Czech chemist Leopold Ruzicka working in Switzerland. Isolation of testosterone followed the next year and first clinical trials with the hormone (specifically with administration of testosterone propionate and methyltestosterone) had been conducted in 1937. It was immediately apparent that the group of hormones is likely to have some anabolic and androgenic properties, although this thesis was repeatedly questioned until as late as 1970´s.
First non-medical users of anabolic steroids were top Olympic athletes. In a today legendary encounter, the physician of US weightlifting team, John B. Ziegler, met his Soviet counterpart during a competition in 1954 in Vienna. The Soviet doctor revealed (after couple of drinks) to Ziegler that his team is using testosterone for better results.
Ziegler, himself a weightlifting enthusiast and friend of Bob Hoffman and John Grimek (two bodybuilding legends) then went on to help develop the first commercially available anabolic steroid intended specifically for performance enhancement, Dianabol, produced by Ciba pharmaceutical company. It became very soon obvious that steroid use requires discipline and supervision. Some of Ziegler´s weightlifters developed serious health-complications after using many-times higher-than-recommended doses. They also lost to the Soviets at 1960 Olympics in Rome despite being on Dianabol, although the US team won the two previous Olympics, where Soviets were using testosterone.
Although Ziegler later regretted introducing steroids to USA, at this time it was already too late to stop them from spreading first into professional and then to amateur sports, especially power sports in general and bodybuilding in particular.
First, testosterone-derivates became the daily bread of some Californian bodybuilders. Because these guys were clearly bigger than the rest and it was just a matter of time until most other athletes followed. We are still talking about the period, when anabolic steroid use was fully legal. Soon thereafter, these hormones fell in the spotlight of doping agencies and were banished (but not eliminated) from all major competitions (as for bodybuilding, this ban has never really been enforced, creating a unique situation with virtually whole sport on a banned substance).
In 1990, the US congress passed a law listing anabolic steroids as Schedule III Controlled Substance, making mere possession of steroids a crime punishable by prison sentence (later, prohormones had been added to the list) and other countries followed suit, albeit enacting much less draconic measures.