Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in 1880 in Germany, in Mönchengladbach, near Düsseldorf. He, like so many others at that time destined to excel in physical performance, was initially a boy of rather frail physical structure. Worried about the possibility of contracting tuberculosis, he devoted himself hard to the practice of Body Building, obtaining excellent results, so much so that at the age of 14 he was asked to pose for the creation of anatomical maps of the human body. The study of anatomy and muscle development thus became an object of study and an integral part of his adolescence.
The young Pilates during his stay in Germany, in addition to the studies mentioned above, he devoted himself to skiing, diving and all kinds of athletic disciplines. In 1912 he moved to England where he embarked on a career as a self-defense instructor for the local police school, as well as cultivating an interest in boxing and acrobatics in a local circus. When World War I broke out, Joseph Pilates was interned for a year in Lancaster along with other compatriots. During this period he did not lose heart and organized his own training and that of his fellow prisoners, thus refining his principles on health and body building.
He was able to boast when in 1918 an epidemic flu killed thousands of British but none of those who underwent his physical training contracted the killer flu. Later J.H. Pilates was transferred to the Isle of Man where he found a completely different reality from the one he had previously lived in Lancaster: soldiers who had been damaged by battle, enticed by disease, immobilized for some time. So he decided to get busy building machinery that could serve the rehabilitation of those people (this gave him the idea to build the first prototype of the Cadillac). He returned to Germany in the early 1920s where he continued to design equipment for body rehabilitation, some of these equipment are still in use today.
Beyond his creative commitment, his profession led him to Hamburg to work for the local police as a physical trainer for recruits and the entire police force. During this period he met Rudolph von Laban, creator of the Labanotation (one of the most famous forms of written ballet recording in the world), who incorporated part of the Pilates work into the setting of his teaching. Later, other important figures of dance took the Pilates method as a reference for their basic training. The Pilates method entered the world of dance establishing a relationship destined to last until today.
In 1925 the teaching of the Pilates method became important for the German government, which invited him to personally follow the training plan of the new German army; Pilates decided it was time to leave for the United States of America, and that's what he did ... During the trip he met a young nurse named Clara, who would later become his second wife. There is no news regarding his first wife. Arrived in New York, Pilates opened a studio and began to code his technique; the first part of this technique was focused exclusively on Mat Work, that is a series of exercises performed free body on a mat ("mat"). This program was codified in a book called Contrology, the original name that he himself coined for his technique.
The work, however, was not reduced to the codification of the exercises but extended to the improvement of particular tools. In fact, at the time of his captivity in England, Pilates applied springs to patients' beds with the aim of helping them to regain and maintain muscle tone while they were still bedridden. As a result of this idea, the Universal Reformer and Cadillac were born, the machines that still form the central part of the Pilates method. During his work other tools were invented as well as other exercises for the Mat Work. Pilates continued to train at his studio until his death in 1967 in New York; his New York studio was taken over by Romana Kryzanowska, a Pilates student and teacher of the method for decades.