Treadmill is currently the highest sold and used exercise equipment all over the world. It’s a machine which enables you to run in a certain pace with it in the same place and thus helps you to sweat off your extra fat. But, very few know how this treadmill became this much popular as an instrument of physical exercise. The dark and twisted past of treadmill will interest anyone who is having a little bit interest for history.
Apparently, treadmill was invented for using in grain mill by a British Engineer Sir William Cubitt in 1818. Due to the immense labor it takes to work in a treadmill, it soon got selected as a method of punishment for the Victorian prisoners punished with hard labor. The treadmill then looked a lot different than what we see today. It was like a steep staircase, each having more than usual alleviation from another and connected to a wheel by chain. So, the punishment was to climb up a never ending staircase remaining in the same place. The work done to paddle the staircase transformed into kinetic energy and rotated the wheel. Thus, it was used for pumping up water or grinding corn.
At least 40 convicts could work altogether in a treadmill. It was used on both men and women but in different places designated for each gender as it was totally prohibited to inter act with each other inside prison. However, it was the most disgusting thing about treadmill that, it was equally used on both male and female prisoners to punish. But, within a few days it proved to be too fatal for female prisoners as it took immense energy to maintain balance and keep on working. So, exhaustion would take over and miss stepping on the stair would cause a severe fracture in the back or leg. It was then criticized acutely. However, the persons in charge of prison opted to keep it. Their side of speech was treadmill takes huge labor to work on and thus more helpful to make the prisoners understand the value of hard work and achieve moral redemption.
But, not only female but male prisoners were also equally terrified by this heinous punishment. Schedule for working in treadmill was from seven in morning till five in the afternoon. In between this long period, prisoners could rest only twice – once during breakfast for one hour and again during diner for two hours. Every single prisoner had to perform 864 steps and was then substituted for 288 steps, which was about twelve minutes. Meanwhile the prisoner sent in rest would return to the treadmill to continue stair climbing for another 864 steps. But, the purpose on which the authority selected treadmill for punishment, moral rectification, would hardly happen as the work on treadmill required a group of convicts to work together for a long time.
The room of prison where treadmill was situated was called as “Wheel House”. How terror might the “Wheel House” bring to the prisoners mind, the prison authority liked it over anything. Their report to higher authority would spontaneously praise the use of treadmill as a method of punishment. Stating it as a useful way of bringing discipline and order amongst the common prisoners, they used to request for more of its appliances in the coming days to punish prisoners. One of the renowned prisons of Victorian era was the “Preston” prison where treadmill was mostly used. There are several reports can still be found in the archive filed by the then prison wardens of that periods about using treadmill as a method of punishment. How surprisingly time changes! The most feared punishment method is the most acclaimed exercise method now a day.