Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Germany in 1880. A sickly child, he suffered from Asthma, Rickets, and Rheumatic Fever. At an early age he was fascinated by the ideal Greek man who balanced mind, body, and spirit. Pilates or “Contrology” as Joe actually called it, has its roots in his personal experience. Determined to heal himself from his ailments, he gained inspiration from Anatomy books and the movement of animals he watched in the woods. His passion to cure himself led him to study many types of movement including yoga, boxing, diving, and gymnastics.
In 1912 Joe lived in England and was a defense instructor for the Scotland Yard. When WWI broke out in 1914 , he was placed in an internment camp where he fine tuned his method and was able to successfully rehabilitate injured soldiers by removing the springs off their beds and using them to exercise their fragile bodies. It was the origin of first piece of Pilates apparatus.
After the war, Pilates returned to Germany but was uncomfortable with its political and social conditions, it was then he made his decision to emigrate to America. In 1926,on his voyage across the sea, he met his future wife, Clara. Together they opened the first Pilates studio in a former boxing gym, right here in NYC, at 939 Eighth Ave. His gymnasium attracted the professional dancers (that had rehearsal in his building) actors, business men, and normal people alike that would willingly subject themselves to his authoritative prodding in hopes to be transformed by Uncle Joe.
Joe lived to a robust age of 87 with a straight spine and the body of a 50 year old. Clara continued to run the studio until her death in 1977. Pilates often said, “People won’t understand the brilliance of my work for 50 years.” While it is absolutely true that many don’t know his name, they know and are changed by his method. Joe’s dream of a world of people doing Pilates has finally come true, even if they never knew he existed.
I must be right. Never an Asprin. Never an injured day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier.
– Joseph Pilates