The History of Treadmills – Taking the Dog for a Walk

So you want to take your dog for a walk, or perhaps you want to take him jogging with you – but it’s freezing outside. You’d like to get your exercise in today, when you have time, but is it really worth venturing out into the cold? Well, ok, we’ll put it off until tomorrow…or maybe when it gets warmer.

Challenge: need exercise, but don’t like the cold. Solution: exercise inside. But what about the dog? There’s not enough space for him to run around. Challenge: need to walk the dog. Solution: walk him inside. Inside?! How can you possibly do that? There is a way. You can use a treadmill.

Would you believe that people have been using treadmills since 1875? They weren’t originally designed for that use – but they were designed for animals.

The invention of the treadmill goes back to 1875

We’ve all heard the expression: Necessity is the mother of invention. The treadmill was no exception. The need was for mobile power. The invention was the treadmill. The first treadmills were an agricultural machine called “level power” treadmills. They were built in various sizes to accommodate various sized animals. The smaller treadmills were run by dogs and sheep to power attached fanny mills or butter churners. The bigger ones were run by horses to power threshing machines.

Fast-forward to 1952 and the first medical treadmill. It was invented by UW cardiologist Robert Bruce, called the father of exercise cardiology, along with UW staffer Wayne Quinton. Together, they developed the standard treadmill test to diagnose and evaluate heart and lung disease. Quinton later sold his interest to Stairmaster, who was subsequently bought by Nautilus.

Fitness equipment manufacturers work on their technology

The fitness equipment industry recognized the need for a smoother and more user-friendly treadmill. Several companies competed for the right to the best treadmills of its time. We’ll show you a few examples: 

  • Tunturi: Tunturi was founded in 1922 as a bicycle repair shop. In the late 1960s, they practically started the whole fitness equipment business with their legendary W1 exercise bike. Based in Finland, today they have the enviable reputation as being one of the leading and best-known manufacturers of high class fitness equipment, including exercise bikes, treadmills, steppers and rowers.
  • Aerobics, Inc: Also in the late 1960s, following up on Dr. Ken Cooper’s book Aerobics, Bill Staub noticed that treadmills were very expensive and were used mainly as medical testing machines. Staub, a mechanical engineer, built an affordable home treadmill. He sent Dr. Cooper a prototype, who was so impressed, he created the first few hundred sales through his referrals. In 1968, Dr. Cooper’s company, Aerobics, Inc, began full-scale production of PaceMaster treadmills. They’ve since grown from making a simple mechanically-controlled treadmill to their award-winning Pro Series, featuring computerized electronics and automated controls.
  • Woodway: Woodway’s history began in 1974, when Willi Schoenberger, a technical director in charge of planning a fitness center, noticed that the treadmill wasn’t very sound mechanically, and didn’t really meet human needs. He wanted to create a comfortable surface that didn’t interfere with the natural biomechanics of running or walking. His machine was well-named – from the German term “wald weg” or “way of the woods” – the feel of running on a soft pine needle-covered path in the forest. Licenses to manufacture Woodways were granted to Japan in 1983, and the U.S. in 1988. Woodway USA is now the primary manufacturer of Woodway Treadmills worldwide.
  • NASA: The U.S. space program saw the opportunity to make use of treadmills aboard Skylab. Their first model was merely a Teflon-coated plate that allowed the feet to slide as an astronaut ran in place with bungee cord tethers.
  • Trackmaster: Since 1978, long before most current treadmill companies began, Trackmaster built treadmills widely regarded as the absolute quality benchmark, being very tough and durable – great for fitness institutions.
  • Star Trac: Star Trac has combined computer technology with their treadmills. They invented the first treadmill to exchange workout data with Palm OS handhelds. This opened up all kinds of possibilities, like custom-made workout regimens, and soon, downloadable programs from their website along with professionally-designed workouts based on individualized fitness goals.

Now it’s time to walk the dog

Its obvious that the treadmill industry has your keep-fit program in mind. They want you to be healthy, and they’ve provided the means for you to do so. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association reports that consumers spend more money for treadmills than any other home exercise equipment. For example, treadmill sales in the U.S. alone shot up 10% in 1996, climbing to $725 million from $660 million in 1995. In 2001, there were over 43 million treadmill users, up 9% over the previous year.

There are other types of fitness equipment that can meet your needs, like motorized treadmills, recumbent exercise bikes or elliptical machines, but if you want good cardiovascular exercise, the treadmill is unsurpassed in providing the maximum benefit for your heart.

And now you can really walk the dog indoors. You can now get a double-wide treadmill – enough room for you and your jogging partner, or for you and your dog. Have a nice walk!

About The Author

Gareth Marples is a well published freelance writer providing tips and advice for consumers on the best treadmill reviews. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

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