Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mystery Artifact Revealed: Exercising Your Mind!

This artifact seemed to have a lot of our followers stumped, although our followers seemed to really exercise their brains over the last 24 hours or so!  A last-minute surge in guesses included, in no particular order:

  • Machine for making wagon wheels
  • Pasta spinner/dryer
  • Part of a butter churn
  • Machine to separate the hulls from the seeds of peas or beans
  • Inside of a kerosene lamp
One of our loyal followers, Jess C., gave the artifact a full functional analysis before making her guess:

"Hmm. A thing that gets bolted down and spins. The weirdest thing is that although it's not much bigger than a hand mixer, it's apparently meant to be used with both hands at the same time. There are bolts, so it wants you stay put while you have both hands occupied. Oh, or feet, maybe? That would make more sense, even though the handles aren't exactly foot-friendly. So ok, you now have both hands free to... to do what? Feed something into it? Or around it? Maybe a belt or chain goes around it. Ah-ha! It is a washing machine agitator. You sit and pedal and it drives a bigger wheel that shakes your laundry around the tub. And your hands are free to wring or scrub items as needed."

While Jess's guess was well-reasoned, it was still a little wide of the mark.  The machine is actually a Victorian-era exercise machine, designed to be secured to a table so that the user could work the handles and lean against the balls as they rotated.  (Ouch!)  It's similar to the 'ab roller' designed by Swedish physician Jonas Gustaf Wilhelm Zander and shown below.

Dr. Zander, and his American counterpart Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, were proponents of exercise and nutrition to create a healthy lifestyle.  The exercise movement of the late 19th century was in part a response to a new class of white-collar workers leading a much more sedentary lifestyle than their ancestors.  By the turn of the century, gymnasiums and sanitariums full of exercise machines were located in cities across the United States, although some of the machines looked more like medieval torture devices!

A review of the New York City Zander Institute in an 1895 edition of the New York Times echoes this sentiment:
" . . . a large and handsomely fitted room  . . . lined with machines, gives 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 ...."
While we may look at these images with skepticism today, abdominal toning machines similar to our artifact were being used until quite recently . . . 

  . . . as this advertisement from a 1970s J.C. Penney's catalogue shows.  

Of course, we could ask what future generations think of our current fitness fads as well.  For example, how well do you think the Shake Weight will endure in years to come?

What current exercise gizmos are you crazy about?  Which do you think are just plain crazy?  Let us know in the comment sections below!

1 comment:

  1. The machine in the drawing actually doesn't look much different from the crazy cable machines in modern gyms! But I can only imagine what future museum-goers will have to say about the Shake Weight, Bowflex, Ab Roller, and Thighmaster.