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Who was Joseph Pilates?

Joseph Pilates is the founder and inventor of the worldwide well-known Pilates method. He was born in 1883 in Mönchengladbach in Germany and was a sickish child suffering from asthma, rachitis and rheumatic fever. Determined to overcome his physical disadvantages, he learned different types of sports, studied anatomy, and Eastern body techniques.

In 1912, Joseph – also simply called Joe - worked as a self-defence instructor for the Scotland Yard in England. When World War I broke out, he was interned as an “enemy alien” on the Isle of Man. During his captivity he insisted that his fellow captives and injured soldiers should take part in a daily exercise routine. For the injured patients who were too weak to get out of bed, he constructed the first pieces of equipment by using spring resistance on the metal beds. This allowed the bedridden men to rehabilitate and strengthen their bodies.

When Joseph Pilates returned to Germany, he worked as a boxing teacher and also took part in boxing competitions. In 1922 he requested a patent at the central patent office in Berlin for an apparatus to “improve the foot and leg position”. Around the same time, he went to Hamburg and began training police officers. He was also collaborating with dancers and other experts in physical exercise. In 1924 he requested another patent for a “body training apparatus” that later would become the Universal Reformer. 

1926 he emigrated to the USA. On the boat to New York he met his future wife and teaching partner Clara Zeuner. They were to spend the rest of their life together. One year later, they opened up the first Body Contrology Studio on Eight Avenue at 56th Street in Manhattan. Joe built the equipment apparatus himself. They became well-known in the New York professional dance scene and many injured dancers came to them for rehabilitation. Prominent people like actresses and models came to exercise at the studio. The press started to write about his method.

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In 1945 his book “Return to Life through Contrology” was released. It was a book which in detail described his mat exercises. The interest for his method increased and there were articles in Dance Magazine, Sports Illustrated, New York Times and Washington Post to name a few.

Lolita San Miguel und Kathy Grant were educated by Joe Pilates and they are the only people who were certified by him. 

Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the Lennox Hill Hospital in New York as a consequence of an emphysema. His wife Clara und his student Romana Kryzanowska continued the work with the Manhattan studio. 



Three decades after his death, his method becomes world famous. Today millions of people around the globe are practicing Pilates. Many famous athletes, dancers, models, actors – as well as business professionals, housewives, and retirees have joined the practitioners. 

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