Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Germany around 1880. He had rheumatic fever, asthma and rickets as a child and was by a weak respiratory system. In order to improve his own health he began exploring ways to strengthen his body and his mind. He participated in boxing, fencing, wrestling and gymnastics, as well as exploring yoga and Zen meditations.
Joe was in England touring with a boxer when World War I broke out. He was held as a resident alien in an internment camp near Lancaster for the duration o the war. While in the camp he took it upon himself to lead his fellow detainees in a daily exercise program. According to Joe, when the influenza epidemic broke out, none of the inmates who followed his regimen got sick.
Joe was given a job of an orderly at a hospital on the Isle of Man. He was put in charge of 30 patients and worked with them everyday to exercise whatever they could move. Joe's exercises helped his patients get better faster and helped them to fend off the secondary infections that killed so many people in similar circumstances.
Manually working out 30 patients every day was exhausting so Joe came up with the idea of attaching springs to the patient's bed and thus the first Cadillac was born. Now his patients could work themselves out under Joe's supervision.
When Joe was released from the camps, he left Germany on a boat for America and met his soon-to-be-wife Clara on the passage over. Clara was a nurse who became a true partner for Joe, working beside him in the studio everyday and taking care of any clients Joe didn't want to work with.
When Joe and Clara arrived in New York in 1926, they rented a small studio in the same building as the New York City Ballet on 8th Ave. and started teaching what Joe named "Contrology." Joe worked with clients from all walks of life but he made a strong impression on the dance community and many injured dancers were referred to Joe for rehabilitation.
Joe was an inventor who was always working on developing new exercise equipment. He designed the Universal Reformer, the Wunda Chair, the Cadillac, the Ladder Barrel, the Spine Corrector and many other wonderful inventions.
Joe's studio was destroyed by fire in 1967 and he died soon after that from complications of smoke inhalations. His wife Clara carried on the work until her death in 1977.
*Excerpts taken from Balanced Body's training manuals