Treadmills are the largest category of exercise equipement sold. Although popular today as home and gym fitness equipment, treadmills were originally used to harness the power of animals or humans and was introduced as a punishment in prisons.
In the first Centuray A.D. the Romans used treadmills to move heavy objects. A large wheel, used a bit like a hamster-wheel, was attached to a crane and was “60 times more efficient than the purely man-powered construction methods previously used by the Ancient Egyptians to build the pyramids.”
The Treadmill as Muscle
The treadmill was a pre-industrial source of power for machinery. There were three major designs used to power a shaft with the wheel-type dominant until at least the 13th Century. Horizontal belts were used in the 18th and 19th Centruys to power boats with horses and operate mills, churns and grindstones with domestic animals.
The Treadmill as Punishment
British engineer Sir William Cubitt applied the treadmill technology to the penal system in 1818 and it was used in prisons as both forced labour grinding corn and pumping water, and as a form of punishment until it was abolished in 1898.
Treadmills for Exercising
In 1913 a treadmill was patented as a training machine. This treadmill had many elements of the modern version including a belt, the ability to be folded up, noise reduction and the inclusion of incline adjustment. Early models were manually operated however, and it wasn’t until 1952 that a motor was attached to a treadmill. This motorised treadmill was used in a cardio stress test to help diagnose heart and lung conditions and diseases.
The Pace Master 600 was the introduction of the treadmill as a commercial product. Today treadmills are used in medical facilities, sports clubs and gyms, Biomechanics Institutes, orthopedic and shoe shops, Olympic training venues, emergency services training sites, NASA, and of course, at home.
Research into treadmills is currently looking into omni-directional treadmills as a contribution to virtual reality experiences.