Joseph H Pilates (1880-1967) was born near Dusseldorf, Germany. A sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, he dedicated his entire life to becoming physically stronger. In his youth, Pilates studied and became proficient at body building, diving, skiing, and gymnastics. By the time he was 14, he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts.
In 1912, Pilates moved to England where he earned a living initially as a boxer, circus performer, and self-defense trainer of English detectives. After World War 1 broke out two years later, he was designated an “enemy alien” and was interned with other Germans at a camp in Lancaster and later on the Isle of Man. Pilates became a nurse in the camp and trained other internees in physical fitness exercises he developed. He was widely credited when none of the inmates succumbed to an influenza epidemic that killed thousands of others in England in 1918.
After the war, Pilates continued his fitness training programs in Hamburg, Germany, where he honed his methods with the city’s police force. In 1926, disenchanted with working with the German Army, Pilates emigrated to the United States. On the ship to America, Pilates met his future wife Clara. Upon arrival, the couple founded a studio in New York City. Joe and his wife personally supervised their clients at the studio well into the 1960’s. Since its introduction to American culture, The Pilates method has maintained a steady and devout following.