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Brief History

Joseph Pilates originated and evolved this exercise regime with his wife and partner Clara over the course of their lives. Pictues of the team can be seen by clicking here . There are some small clips of Pilates Pilates classes in the selection.

Pilates was born in Monchengladbach in Germany in 1883 - his birth certificate was published in the Polestar Cologne 2008 Conference Brochure.

pilates birth certificate

He lived his early life in Dahlener Strasse 79, Monchengladbach, Germany. You can see the location in Google Maps by clicking here


Pilates was in England at the onset of the Great War (1914-1918) and was interned in England. Pilates was interned in camps (similar to prison camps) in Lancaster Castle and the Isle of Man - probably Knockaloe Manor Farm. You can see a views og the Lancaster Castle Camp by going to this link; below the first set of photographs from 1914 are the words "Soldiers arrive at Lancaster Castle Station whilst others parade along Caton Road. The old wagon works, on Caton Road, had been used to accommodate the 5th Battalion. Later in 1914 it became an internment camp for aliens, mainly Germans.".
Pilates assissted patients, some bedridden, regain their strength in the camp's hospital, by using pulleys, springs and straps with the hospital beds. He later said "I thought why use my strength? So I made a machine to do it for me." Here we see the forerunner of the equipment Pilates would use in the USA at his studio. Pilates was released from Internment at the end of the war. It says much for Pilates moral fibre that he appears to have survived internment in such a positive way. Whilst encacerated by the British Pilates worked and evolved his thoughts on a comprehensive exercise methodology, which became known as Contrology, and thus developed many of the Plates mat work exercises we used today.


Panikos Panayi's book Prisoners of Britain: German Civilian and Combatant Internees During the First World War is one of the few academic books/monographs to examine the effect on detainees.
Dr Oliver Wilkinson reviewing the book states:

"Therein Britain is confronted with an uncomfortable view of its history. Panayi argues that the internment of Germans in Britain was central in the development of persecution in the 20th century, the British indulging in what he describes as a process of ethnic cleansing which saw perceived enemies identified, discriminated against, attacked, incarcerated and eventually eliminated through mass deportations at the wars end. In this view the processes of persecution that were established and legitimated by belligerents in the First World War pave the way for bloodier events in the 20th century. "


Pilates married Elfriede, his second wife, on 10/10/1919 in Westphalia, Germany. For the next seven years they lived in Hamburg. Where Pilates trained the Hamburg Military Police, worked on Contrology and the invention of specialist exercise machines, and and helped private clients. Pilates visited America in 1925 to discuss patents on his specialist exercise machines with attorneys in New York. In 1925 or 1926 it is believed that he was asked to train elements of the German Army and some believe this prompted his decision to leave Germany for America.


In his US Citzenship application - a facsimile is shown below. Pilates states that he was married to Maria, with whom he had a child Leni Friedrich in 1905, and that Maria died in Germany in 1913. On 10th October 1919 Pilates married Elfrida in Westphalia, Germany. Elfrida was born in April 1879 in Dortmund, and died in 1931 at Dusseldorf both in Germany.

pilates citzenship appliaction

Pilates and Clara (Anna Clara Zeuner) crossed from Hamburg in Germany to New York USA on the SS Westaphlia; leaving from Hamburg on the 14 April 1926.


Pilates had seen the German economy suffer dreadfully since his return to Germany.

The German economy, as represented by the state of its currency, in the period 1919 to 1923 was poor and getting unbelievably worse. At the end of the First World War there were 8.91 Mrks per Dollar rising to 60 Marks per Dollar in the first quarter of 1921. After the allies demanded reptriation payments, the London Ultimatum, hyperinflation was triggered in November 1921 there were 320 Marks per Dollar; rising to 800 Marks per Dollar by December 1922. When Germany could not meet the requirements of the London Ultimatum French and Belgium troops occupied the Ruhr Valley to ensure repatriation was paid in goods - coal. By November 1923 there were 4,210,500,000,000 Marks per dollar.


As Pilates left Germany the political situation appeared better than for many years; although there were small extremist parties to the political left (Communists) and right (Nazi's) that were creating unrest.
Germany in 1924 had experienced some economic recovery, stability and relative prosperity. In 1925 the Weimer Government seemed more acceptable to Germans with the election of the conservative Hindenbeg as President.
Hitler had been released from prison
a few days before Christmas 1924 from Landsberg Prison. Volume 1 of Mein Kampf was published in Germany in July 1925 and volume 2 in 1926. Extremist parties, communists to the left and Nazi's to the right, were struggling for votes. Extremist attacks on minorities had reduced. In 1925 the Nazi party had 27,000 members (German population was then around 60 million); in 1926 35,000 members, in 1927 75,000 members and in 1929 108,000 members - sourcs johnclare,net. The Wall Street Crashin 1929 and the Great Depression that followed were not predicted in 1926.


Pilates and Clara (Anna Clara Zeuner) crossed from Hamburg in Germany to New York USA on the Westaphlia leaving Hamburg on the 14 April 1926 and arriving 27 April 1926 at New York. Details of the Westafilia and the voyage can be found by clicking here. For those interested in trivia on a previous voyage in 1926 the Westaphlia under Captain Carl Graalfs rescued 20 men from the floundering freighter S.S.Aklaid. On that voyage the Westafilia had on board 248 passengers. The Wetaphlia passenger Manifest show Pilates and Zeuner in separate parts of the ship. With Pilates giving his next of kin as Elfriede Pilates, 32 GelsenKirchen, Rhein-Elbeestr ; and Clara Zeuner her next of kin as her father Carl Zeuner and mother Betty Hinterberger. The adress given is difficult to decipher but appears to be Stoorkstr 13, Kaiserslautern. The distance between Kaiserslautern and GelsenKirchen is about 329 kilometres from Google Maps

Pilates & Contrology


Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education, Monograph by J H Pilates, (ISBN 096149378X, 9780961493783), First Published 1934.
Pilates athletic and fitness doctrines were revolutionary. In this book Pilates details his observations and conclusions about people's approach to physical fitness. Some of the personal philosophies may need to be read with an understanding of the viewpoint of the early 20th century.

Return to Life Through Contrology , Joseph H. Pilates and William J. Miller, (ISBN-13: 9781928564904) First Published 1945
This book details the exercises, poses, and instructions fundamental to the matwork developed by Joseph and Clara Pilates. In particular the original 34 mat work exercises that Pilates taught to his students. The book expounds the Pilates' concepts of a balanced body and mind, and draws from the approach espoused by the early Greeks.


Pilates called his exercise strategy Contrology. In his own words Contrology is: "It is the conscious control of all muscular movements of the body. It is the correct utilization and application of the leverage principles afforded by the bones comprising the skeletal framework of the body, a complete knowledge of the mechanism of the body, and a full understanding of the principles of equilibrium and gravity as applied to the movements of the body in motion, at rest and in sleep."

Pilates Principles

In his books the Pilates' did not set out the principles of the exercises we do now. These have been evolved by later instructors, some taught by the Pilates'. So within the Pilates community there is a lively discussion as to how many principles there are, for example Stott Pilates has five and ### has six, the ordering of the principles, and the words used to describe movements/concepts. But at the core of all good Pilates instruction are these priciples.

Central to Pilates, and the stability of your torso, is core strength. As you progress with your Pilates your core strength will increase, this will cause your torso to be properly stabilised, correcting posture and relieving pressure on the back.


You can watch Pilates on the Michael Douglas Show Season 6, Episode 107 - January 31, 1967. You can try and watch the episode using the "WATCH NOW" button, however, our Avira anti-virus software was very unhappy and dumped the download - good luck if you try.

There are many articles on the Pilates some of the most fun are detailed below: