Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1880. Little is known about his early life, but he appears to have been a frail child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. His drive and determination to overcome these ailments led him to become a competent gymnast, diver and skier.
In 1912 Pilates lived in England working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor. He was interned with other German nationals during the First World War. During this time he developed his technique of physical fitness further, by teaching his fellow internees. During the latter part of the War, he served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man where he worked with patients unable to walk. He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patients’ limbs, leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the ‘Cadillac’. Much of his equipment, although slightly adapted, is still in use today in many Pilates Studios.
Pilates emigrated to the USA in the early 1920s, opening a ‘body-conditioning studio’ with his wife Clara in New York in 1926. The studio featured much of the Apparatus designed to enhance his rehabilitation work. It soon became very popular, particularly with the dance community, as it offered a chance to improve technique or recover from injury. Word spread quickly and many celebrities of the day visited his studio. These included dance legends such as George Balanchine and Martha Graham, as well as actors.
In 1932 Pilates published a booklet called ‘Your Health’ and followed this with another called ‘Return to Life Through Contrology’ in 1945. His method was passed on after his death in 1967 at the age of 87. His method of exercise was called Contrology. It was only after his death that it became known as Pilates or the Pilates method.
With Thanks to the Pilates Foundation for this information