What Gym Equipment Was Originally Designed to Punish Prisoners?

If you are one of the millions of Americans who use a treadmill to exercise, then you know that it can be very painful. As you count down the seconds to your next session, ponder if the exercise made you a better person.

A hundred years ago, the prison treadmill was used to rehabilitate inmates. It helped them learn how to exercise by mixing water and corn.

William Cubitt, a civil engineer from Millwrights, created the treadmill in 1818. He became famous for his work on The Crystal Palace, which was under construction at the time.

Following in the footsteps of early industrial design, Cubitt created a wide wheel for his version of the treadmill. Inmates could use the wheel to move it, which presented them with the next step.

Imagine a log-like wheel was placed in the middle of the treadmill. It was connected to a subterranean framework that ground the corn.

Treadmills Were Originally Used as Torture Devices for Prisoners

In 1817, William Cubitt built the longest continuous staircase in the world to combat crime and prevent prisoners from running away, which became known as the treadmill. The purpose was to torture prisoners.

The paddlewheel was designed to keep up with the demands of convicts, who were often forced to climb for several hours a day. The purpose was to break their wills.

One of the prisoners said that he spent months on the wheel. Since he was well-known to the guards, he was able to climb the stairs without any difficulty.

Unfortunately, the tread wheels were abolished in Britain in 1898 following the Prisons Act.

The Design of Treadmill for Prisoners

The design of the treadmill allowed it to accommodate up to 24 inmates. Due to the amount of time they spent on the exercise, some of them slogged through the summer months.

The introduction of the treadmill coincided with the reforms carried out by the British during the 17th century. Before the system was reformed, some prisons gave the inmates nothing to eat.

Prisons started providing luxuries, which led to the rise of crime. To offset the luxuries, labor was necessary.

The recruitment of new inmates was also prevalent in prisons. Many of these young criminals were sent to establishments that specialize in recruiting new inmates.

The long hours on the treadmill were depressingly long. However, it soon became a punishment device instead of a work machine. Inmates could still exercise by mixing water and corn.

Due to the various advantages of the treadmill, it became very popular in various jails across the country. Some of the celebrities who used it included Oscar Wilde.

Which Prison Started Using Treadmill?

The first prison to use a prison treadmill was established in 1833 at HMP Woodgate. Within two years, it had three more. However, by 1827, the facility had already been abandoned.

In the US, many people wondered what to do with their criminals once they’re released. If they worked, what would they do with their lives?

In the US, the idea of using a prison treadmill was considered sinful. In 1827, a group of Boston lawyers argued that the exercise device did not benefit the inmates and could not be rationalized.

In 1822, a new type of prison facility was opened in New York. Through a program known as collective industry, hundreds of inmates worked to turn the prison into a productive facility.

Inmates were instead referred to as highly productive workers due to the shortage of laborers outside the prison walls. These individuals were instead working on making various objects, such as furniture and clocks.

The idea of using a prison treadmill eventually reached other countries. However, the use of the device was discontinued in the US due to concerns about its effects on the open market.

In 1913, a patent was filed for a device that could be used for training exercises. A mechanical engineer named William Staub then started manufacturing home fitness machines such as the PaceMaster 600.

Since the invention of the treadmill, it has evolved to become the most popular piece of exercise equipment in the country. Despite its cruel and sometimes painful characteristics, the device is still very useful for people who want to improve their health.

When was Treadmills Invented, Used, and Abolished?

Sir William Cubitt, an English engineer, developed the labor system to reform prisoners. He believed that it would help them develop productive habits in prison.

As part of their rehabilitation, prisoners were trained to operate a 19th-century treadmill by climbing stairs connected to a massive wheel. This exercise was considered a useless but challenging task.

Inmates would climb mountains on long shifts. The harsh conditions, combined with poor diets and inadequate sleep, often led to injuries.

In 1818, the first prison treadmill was installed in England. The first New York City facility used one in 1822.

In 1909, Hugh Macatamney wrote about a prison treadmill in New York that had a bell that constantly sounded. The inmates would start each shift and would continue doing the exercise for several hours.

Although Macatamney noted that the exercise was used for food, historians believed that the inmates were just doing the wind exercise.

Following the installation of the machines, prisons across the country were used to spread terror among inmates. In 1824, a prison guard named James Hardie said that the devices helped tame the rebellious inmates.

In the US, prison wardens stopped using the machines to perform other tasks, such as picking cotton. In England, however, the use of the devices was discontinued during the late 19th century due to how they were used.

One of the earliest victims of the treadmill was Oscar Wilde, a British author who was sent to prison in 1895 for his sexual orientation. He reportedly spent up to six hours a day on the machine.

Decline of Treadmill Usage in Prisons

Over time, the concept of the treadmill becoming a cure for the crime was questioned. In 1882, an article advocating the use of electricity to improve the efficiency of prison exercise was published. The authors of the article noted that the inmates didn’t like the way it worked.

A review published in 1885 highlighted the death of a Durham Prison inmate who suffered from heart disease after being on the treadmill for a long time. The article noted that the facility had a high mortality rate.

As the use of electronic devices became increasingly restricted during the 19th century, the focus on rehabilitation shifted to education and not on punishment. By 1901, only 13 prisons in Britain still had treadmills.

Despite the cruel nature of the device, which became outdated in Britain, it was still widely used in the US.