November 11, 2009

The Early Evolution Of The Treadmill In Prison

After I was done writing this post, I realized that I strayed from my original purpose. I intended to write about the history of the treadmill. Instead, I found myself focusing more on the use of treadwheel at the prison system centuries ago. It was new to me. The Hubpage site states that the history of the treadmill started during the Roman and Greek eras. It was more focused on the treadmill from a health perspective and as a cardio invention. This was the type of information that I looked for. But as soon as I read that it started in prison, I became curious.

Origins & History of the Treadmill

Did you know that a few centuries ago the treadmill, which was referred to as the treadwheel those days, was very popular? However, it wasn't for personal achievements at all. It was rather a form of punishment in prisons early in the 1800's. This is where the treadwheel spewed out. As you may have figured out already, these early treadmills, or treadwheels as I should call them, looked nothing like the modern treadmills which are still evolving. The prisoners were forced to use it and had to walk for miles on it. It was clearly a form cruelty and torture and served no purpose and without any benefits.

If you are interested to learn about prisons and the punishments during the early 1800's. There are many other good sites about punishment in prisons in the early 1800's in Europe and the US. Most of them are about prison's punishment and the atrocious system, but of them have a brief mention about the treadwheels.

I have seen only very few images of the treadwheels that were used in prisons. It was hard to find them. I've seen the photograph in several sites though. You can also learned more from some of the sites where I got the images from, except the science site which is a picture library site. The category on this site is about the punishment and very depressing. So just be aware that if you go there, you might be disturbed by other images (which are not related to the treadwheel). You can find lighter subjects from the main page (click the icon on the top left).

As for the National Archive site, you may want to check out this page as well:

National Archive -Why were Victorian Prisons so tough?

The images from bottom to top are from:

Gravel Roots

** I lost the information for the original site for this illustration. But there is another site with the same image, just a smaller one from the Lancaster Castle movie site. There is also a trailer for the movie. By The Way, it is an interesting site.

Lancaster Castle - Crime and punishment

The National Archives Learning Curve - Prisoners on a treadwheel at Pentonville Prison 1895

*Problem with the link above? Use the link below:
*Learning Curve - Prisoners on a treadwheel at Pentonville Prison 1895

Science & Society - Image Preview


Ileana said...

You state that the treadmill/treadwheel "was clearly a form cruelty and torture and served no purpose and without any benefits."

It certainly was torture, but I'm not sure you can say there was no benefit. Certainly the authorities at the time thought there was a benefit as they were used to power machinery. The National Archives cite you link to says:

"Unlike the treadmill, which was used to power machinery in the prison, the crank simply turned paddles in a box of sand."

Another site describes prisons in Sydney, Australia:

"There were two treadmills in Sydney and they were used to drive mill wheels for grinding grain into flour. Residents could bring their grain along to have it ground at these convict-powered mills. The NSW Government charged a fee for this, so the joint goals of revenue-raising and deterrence are not unique to speed cameras...."

Many prisons today also put prisoners to work, although I think they're paid very low wages.

Daphna said...


Thank you for your additional input and information. Also for spending your time reading about it and make notes on my blog. It's good to read another person's perspective.

Either way, I don't know if it was a proper punishment for those who committed horrific crime/s such as genocides and torturing. Perhaps, they deserved s harsher sentence. That's something to think about.

Again, thank you for your feedback.

Anonymous said...

Great post! My Great x 4 Grandfather was a convict in Tasmania and was punished several times by having to walk on the treadwheel for simple offences such as being absent from lodgings. Seems a little harsh to me. I'd never heard of it before and I thank you very much for all the information and links. :)