Pilates History



Joseph Pilates was born near Dusseldorf, Germany, on November 30, 1880, and developed an early interest in physical health and body conditioning. He was a frail child who had asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. In order to cope with these ailments, Mr. Pilates became dedicated to understanding methods of sustaining health and fitness. 

Joseph Pilates moved to England in 1912 and trained detectives, as well as military police instruction in self-defense. During World War I, Mr. Pilates was interned as an “enemy alien” with other Germans in Lancaster, then the Isle of Man. He became a nurse during this time, training other camp internees to keep physically fit with his unique exercises that used spring resistance. Joseph Pilates was given credit when none of the individuals he trained succumbed to an epidemic of influenza, which killed thousands of others in England during 1918.

After being released from the intern camp, Joseph relocated to Hamburg for a period of time, where he gave classes to the police force in his method of body conditioning. Joseph Pilates then decided to emigrate to New York City for a new life, as well as the opportunity to train Max Schmelling, the renowned German boxer who became famous in America. Mr. Pilates first taught classes in Contrology when he opened a studio, a first, in the early 1920s.


In New York City, Mr. Pilates gave instruction to a variety of people: working men and women, circus performers, boxers and health enthusiasts. As the reputation of the man and his classes began to grow, celebrities and such notable choreographers as Martha Graham and George Balanchine learned of Contrology. Realizing the remarkable benefits of Mr. Pilates’ method of body conditioning, Balanchine and Graham would refer dancers to Mr. Pilates’ classes to sustain strength, flexibility and rehabilitating injuries. Joseph Pilates’ system of body conditioning continued to develop with his designs of specific exercise equipment.