Treadmills were originally torture devices, meant to break the mind, body, and spirit of English prisoners.
Two hundred years ago, the treadmill was invented in England as a prison rehabilitation device. It was meant to cause the incarcerated to suffer and learn from their sweat.
Groups of prisoners were forced to walk 6 hours a day, pumping out water, milling corn powering the mills, thus the term “tread-mill.”
Treadmills evolved into a mechanism for punishment to prevent poor people from committing crimes to take advantage of the necessities in jail.
Britain banned treadmills in 1989, seeing their punishment no longer useful.
An 1885 British Medical Journal article called “Death on the Treadmill,” chastized Durham Prison for the treadmill-induced death of a prisoner with heart disease. Its overall high death rate—one fatality a week—prompted the conclusion that “[t]he ‘mill’ is not useful, and has proved itself occasionally injurious.”
Having banned treadmills in 1828 to adopt a “collective industry” where prisoners became factory workers, America revamped the treadmill as an exercise machine.
It resurfaced in 1913 with a U.S. patent for a “training-machine.” In the 1960s, the American mechanical engineer William Staub created a home fitness machine called the PaceMaster 600. He began manufacturing home treadmills in New Jersey. (He used it often himself, right up until the months before his death at the age of 96.)
As this article points out, treadmills are the top-selling training equipment in the US but still come with all the baggage (injuries and boredom) that prisoners endured in England.