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15 NOVEMBER 2008

From Machines That 'Work' on You to Machines That You 'Work' on

"The Swedish physician Gustav Zander's institute in Stockholm, founded in the late nineteenth century and stocked with twenty–seven of his custom–built machines, was the first "gym" in the sense that we know the word today. His mechanical horse was an early version of the Stairmaster, a contraption for cardiovascular fitness designed to imitate a "natural" activity. His stomach–punching apparatus evokes contemporary "ab–crunching" machines. What makes Zander so important, for anyone trying to trace the Cybex family tree, is what happened when his machines, created in a European cultural context, immigrated to the US in the early twentieth century. They are prototypes of the workout equipment now ubiquitous in American life.
...
By the early twentieth century, extensive collections of Zander machines could be found at elite health spas such as Homestead in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and at private institutes such as the one Zander set up near Central Park in New York. Access to these health machines was a mark of status at the turn of the century. Health spas and gymnasia were not subsidised by the state as they were in Sweden, and the American working class would not have been able to afford the fees required to receive Zander treatments. Nor were the working class thought to need such treatments; their "hearty" bodies were not yet impaired by the sedentary habits of affluent modern life. In mechanised workouts, white–collar Americans pumped up their own superiority. By declaring that "fitness" equalled a perfectly balanced physique, rather than the ability to perform actual physical tasks, body power was shifted from labourers to loungers."

(Carolyn de la Peña, 2008, Cabinet Magazine)

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TAGS

2008apparatusbodycontraptioncorporeal • Cybex • exercise apparatusexercise machine • fitness • fitness equipmentgymgymnasiumhealthideal formkeep fit machinerymassage away lumps and bumpsmechanicalphysiologyphysique • spa • Swedentoning machinestreatment • workout • workout equipment • Zander

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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