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  • Writer's pictureZanelle Awinyo

The Treadmill & it's Cruel Past

Have you ever wondered why the treadmill was created?

Who would have thought of a machine so bizarre that makes you move while going nowhere? Sounds like torture right? That's exactly what it was meant to be.

In the 1800’s, treadmills were originally created to punish English prisoners. At the time, the English prison system was brutal; with execution and deportation generally being the most common punishments of crime. However, the few that got sent to jail spent days in solitude in inhumane cells.

Social movements led by philanthropists, religious groups and sometimes celebrities- like Charles Dickens, strived to change the horrible conditions and help reform the prisoners. Entire prisons had been remodeled once their movement succeeded and new forms of rehabilitation, such as the treadmill were introduced.

Sir William Cubitt, an English engineer, invented the original treadmill in 1818. Prisoners would step on 24 spokes of a large paddle wheel- and as the wheel turned they had to keep stepping up or risk falling off. The rotation of the wheel made gears pump out water, crush grains or power mills, which is where the name ‘treadmill’ originated from.

Not only being a better alternative to execution; the treadmill was also seen as a fantastic way of keeping prisoners active and in shape. It’s estimated that on average, prisoners could spend up to six hours a day on treadmills, which is equivalent to climbing 5,000-14,000 feet (roughly Mount Everest’s halfway point!!)

The treadmills didn’t lose their popularity because of this- and within a decade, more than 50 English prisons had established their own treadmills and a similar amount was rising in America. The use of the treadmills lasted for almost a century until the late 1900’s, when they were banned for being excessively cruel.

Not too long after, in 1911, a treadmill patent was registered in the United States and by 1952 the forerunner of today’s modern treadmill had been created.

When the jogging craze hit countries in the 1970’s, the treadmill was thrust into the spotlight as an easy and convenient way to improve fitness. It’s past has been forgotten but people continue to use it on a day to day basis.

And that’s a free fact you now know.


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