Treadmills Were Invented to Punish Prisoners (and We Totally Get Why)

It’s probably safe to say nobody really loves the treadmill. It’s more than a little monotonous. There’s a serious lack of scenery. And is it just us, or does the machine seem to make time move slower?

In this video, we take you through the surprising origin story of the treadmill. If you’re not a “dreadmill” fan, you’ll totally relate: The now-ubiquitous gym machine was invented in 1817 to punish prisoners. The evil mastermind English engineer responsible was named William Cubitt, and his version looked more like a StairMaster than the treadmill we love to hate today. Cubitt allegedly thought that prisoners (who spent as many as six hours a day on the torture device) would be physically and emotionally punished by such exhausting yet pointless work. By 1895, treadmills were considered so brutal that it was assumed prisoners who were made to walk on them would never dare commit another crime.

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After several decades, the machines eventually came to health care facilities, where they were used as lab equipment to test people’s heart health. The treadmill didn’t make its way into our homes or gyms until the 1970s. By then, running had finally taken off as a fitness craze and a (somewhat) favorable pastime; and another engineer, this one named Bill Staub, created an affordable, home version of a lab treadmill. Within a couple of decades, Staub had a thriving business and then several competitors. By 2008, more than 50 million Americans used a treadmill for exercise. Nearly 19 million say they use a treadmill at least 100 times per year. Check out the video above for even more fun facts about the wild history of the treadmill, then share with your favorite treadmill-hating gym buddy.

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