Behold the Steampunk Home Exercise Machines from the Victorian Age

The pan­dem­ic has result­ed in a lot of peo­ple rein­vent­ing their fit­ness reg­i­mens, invest­ing in pricey items like Mir­ror and Pelo­ton bikes to turn homes into home gyms.

Per­son­al­ly, we’re sav­ing our pen­nies until some Etsy sell­er repli­cates the mechan­i­cal ther­a­py sys­tems of Dr. Gus­tav Zan­der (1835–1920).

From the mid-19th cen­tu­ry through WWI, these machines were at the fore­front of gym cul­ture. Their func­tion is extreme­ly sim­i­lar to mod­ern strength train­ing equip­ment, but their design exudes a dash­ing steam­punk flair.

If the thing that’s going to help us work off all this sour­dough weight is going to wind up col­o­niz­ing half our apart­ment, we want some­thing that will go with our max­i­mal­ist thrift store aes­thet­ic.

We might even start work­ing out in floor length skirts and three piece suits in homage to Zander’s orig­i­nal devo­tees.

His 27 machines addressed abs, arms, adductors—all the great­est hits—using weights and levers to strength­en mus­cles through pro­gres­sive exer­tion and resis­tance. Spe­cial­ly trained assis­tants were on hand to adjust the weights, a lux­u­ry that our mod­ern world has seen fit to phase out.

Just as 21st-cen­tu­ry fit­ness cen­ters posi­tion them­selves as life­savers of those who spend the bulk of the day hunched in front of a com­put­er, Zander’s inven­tions tar­get­ed seden­tary office work­ers.

The indus­tri­al soci­ety that cre­at­ed this new breed of labor­er also ensured that the Swedish doc­tor’s con­trap­tions would gar­ner acco­lades and atten­tion. They were already a hit in their land of ori­gin when they took a gold medal at Philadelphia’s 1876 Cen­ten­ni­al Exhi­bi­tion.

The flag­ship Ther­a­peu­tic Zan­der Insti­tute in Stock­holm expand­ed, with branch­es in Lon­don and New York City.

The New York Times described the lat­ter as giv­ing the “unini­ti­at­ed observ­er an impres­sion of a care­ful­ly devised tor­ture cham­ber more than of a doc­tor’s office or a gym­na­si­um, both of which func­tions the insti­tute, to a cer­tain degree, fills.”

Sure­ly no more tor­tu­ous than the blood let­tingblis­ter­ing, and purg­ing that were also thought health­ful at the time…

See more of Dr. Gus­tav Zander’s exer­cise machines here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Amaz­ing Franz Kaf­ka Work­out!: Dis­cov­er the 15-Minute Exer­cise Rou­tine That Swept the World in 1904

Walt Whitman’s Unearthed Health Man­u­al, “Man­ly Health & Train­ing,” Urges Read­ers to Stand (Don’t Sit!) and Eat Plen­ty of Meat (1858)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. This month, she appearsas a French Cana­di­an bear who trav­els to New York City in search of food and mean­ing in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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