Treadmills Were Meant to Be Punishment

If you're one of the 51.8 million people in the U.S. who use a treadmill for exercise, you know there’s pain for your fitness gain. On your next 30-minute jog, as you count down the final seconds, ponder whether the hard work made you a better person. Two hundred years ago, the treadmill was invented in England as a prison rehabilitation device. It was meant to cause the incarcerated to suffer and learn from their sweat, and it would mill a bit of corn as a bonus. William Cubitt, a civil engineer, invented the treadmill — which was called a treadwheel then — in 1818. The machine was installed at Brixton Prison in London, where prisoners pressed down with their feet on steps embedded in the wheel, which moved it. Picture it like the sport of log-rolling, only the log-like wheel was fixed in place. The treadmill was hooked up to a subterranean machine that ground corn. As many as 24 prisoners could use the machine at one time, standing side-by-side along the wheel. They slogged along for 10 hours a day in the summer and a mere seven in winter. At the end of the 18th century, the British began reforming their prisons and the treadwheel was removed. Over time, the device’s benefits were promoted and it evolved into the modern treadmill. So, the next time you're working up a sweat on the treadmill, just don't have to go back to your cell when it's over.