A treadmill is a device generally for walking or running while staying in the same place. Treadmills were introduced before the development of powered machines, to harness the power of animals or humans to do work, often a type of mill that was operated by a person or animal treading steps of a treadwheel to grind grain. In later times, treadmills were used as punishment devices for people sentenced to hard labour in prisons. The terms treadmill and treadwheel were used interchangeably for the power and punishment mechanisms.
More recently, treadmills are not used to harness power, but as exercise machines for running or walking in one place. Rather than the user powering the mill, the machine provides a moving platform with a wide conveyor belt driven by an electric motor or a flywheel. The belt moves to the rear, requiring the user to walk or run at a speed matching that of the belt. The rate at which the belt moves is the rate of walking or running. Thus, the speed of running may be controlled and measured. The more expensive, heavy-duty versions are motor-driven (usually by an electric motor). The simpler, lighter, and less expensive versions passively resist the motion, moving only when walkers push the belt with their feet. The latter are known as manual treadmills.
The first consumer treadmill for home use was developed by William Staub, a mechanical engineer. Staub developed his treadmill after reading the 1968 book, Aerobics, by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper. Cooper’s book noted that individuals who ran for eight minutes four-to-five times a week would be in better physical condition. Staub noticed that there were no affordable household treadmills at the time and decided to develop a treadmill for his own use during the late 1960s. He called his first treadmill the PaceMaster 600. Once finished, Staub sent his prototype treadmill to Cooper, who found the machine’s first customers, which included sellers of fitness equipment.
Staub began producing the first home treadmills at his plant in Clifton, New Jersey, before moving production to Little Falls, New Jersey.