William Staub is best known as the man who invented the home treadmill. His son Gerald has reported that he has recently died, at age 96. Gerald added that William was still using his own treadmill, up to two months before his passing. Staub revolutionized the world of home exercise thanks to his treadmill, a machine that was previously reserved for physicians only.
As a mechanical engineer, he first released his treadmill towards the end of the 1960s. His very first machine was an orange belt that spanned over 40 steel rollers. The motor was covered in gray and the device came with orange dials, where the users could see how long they had been running and that they could use to set the speed. When Staub first developed the machine, it had less to do with health and more with convenience. He felt many people would love to go out for walks and runs, but were often hampered in doing so because of the weather, or any other excuse.
Interestingly, when Staub first developed his treadmill, he didn’t take part in any form of exercise himself. However, that all changed after he read the book “Aerobics,” by Dr. Cooper in 1968.
“Dr. Cooper said if you ran a mile in 8 minutes and did it four to five times a week, you would always be in a good fitness category. He said even I – no excuses – I can afford 8 minutes. That’s what excited him about it.”
Staub decided that he would enable people to break through their excuses and be empowered to have those eight minutes each day partaking in exercise. This was the main idea behind his treadmill, as he believed that having a machine at home would stop people from coming up with excuses. Of course, some 50 years later, many of us have treadmills gathering dust, while we come up with excuse after excuse not to use them, but the intention was certainly there.
From the moment Staub developed his first treadmill, the market began to grow. He was a true pioneer in his field and enabled people all over the country to finally take ownership of their own health. His machines were affordable and sales rose dramatically.
“By the mid-1980s the company he formed to manufacture them, Aerobics Inc., was selling 2,000 treadmills a year to a nation increasingly eager to work up a sweat in the rec room. By the mid-90s, sales reached 35,000 a year.”
Naturally, as soon as sales began to rise, other companies started to pay attention and to develop their own treadmills. Competition became fierce and new ideas had to be developed. This is the point at which Staub’s sons became involved in the business, initially by developing a handlebar-mounted on-off switch.
“My father said, ‘Well, why would you want to do that?’. My brother said, ‘To make it easier for people.’ And my dad said, ‘But it’s an exercise device.’”
However, the idea did go through and Staub son’s started to take over the company. It became a private equity firm and production was moved abroad. Unfortunately, competition turned out to be too fierce and a file for bankruptcy was made. Although the Staub brothers did try to restart the company, their efforts were not successful.
To the end of his days, Staub remained a man of routine. He always counted calories and never deviated from his healthy diet and exercise regime. Although his wife and one of his children died very early in his life, he lived to be 96 himself and is followed by 14 great-grandchildren.