History of J. H. Pilates

History of J. H. Pilates (9.12.1883 - 9.10.1967)

Joseph H. Pilates was born in Monchengladbach, not far from Düsseldorf, Germany.  His father was a price-winning gymnast from Greece and his mother a naturopath. Joe was a weak and sickly child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever.  He overcame his physical problems by practicing an exercise routine consisting of yoga, gymnastics, boxing, martial arts and recreational sports. At the age of fourteen he had developed into such a strong young man that he was used for anatomical drawings.

In 1914 Joe Pilates was living in England as a performer and boxer. When World War 1 broke out he was placed under forced internment with other German nationals. There he taught his fellow detainees the ideas and exercises he developed over twenty years of self study.  It was there he began devising the exercises known as “matwork” or exercises done on the floor.  He called the system CONTROLOGY”.  His program was so successful that he and his fellow internees survived the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic which killed thousands of people.  A few years later he was transferred to another camp were he worked as a nurse/caretaker to the internees who were sick and injured.  Here he began developing equipment to help rehabilitate his “patients” by using bed springs hooked up to the bed frames to create resistance and movement for the bedridden.  The war ended and Joe returned to Germany where he continued to develop his work by teaching clients and training the police force in self defence and conditioning.

In 1927 Joe Pilates emigrated to the United States.  On the voyage he met his future wife Clara who was a nurse.  Together they settled in New York City and established their first studio at 939 Eighth Avenue  sharing the address with the New York City Ballet. By the early 1960s, Joe and Clara could count among their clients many New York dancers. George Balanchine studied "at Joe's," as he called it, and also invited Pilates to instruct his young ballerinas at the New York City Ballet.  Besides dancers he worked with athletes and actors and soon the general public began to benefit from the Pilates method. 

While Joe Pilates is the figure we know behind the method today, his wife Clara incorporated his concepts and ideas that helped ill and injured clients.  Her gentle style and special modifications of exercise runs through the method today.  It is likely that because of Clara that Pilates is recognized as a positive form of movement based exercise that can be modified for any level of fitness and health.

Joe and Clara continued teaching the method and training others into the 60’s. Their first students went on to teach the method and open studios in the U.S and Europe, and the most prominent include: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Jay Grimes, Ron Fletcher, Maja Wollman, Mary Bowen, Carola Treir, Bob Seed, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Lolita San Miguel and Mary Pilates, Joseph's niece.

Joe wrote two books about his philosophy of health and exercise. Your health, came out in 1934 and Return to Life, in 1945.

Joseph Pilates died in 1967, in New York.  He remained a devoted advocate of his method until the time of his death at 84 years old. Clara continued teaching until 1970.  She died in 1976.

In 2009 Lolita San Miguel visited Monchengladbach. On May, 2011, after two years of effort and a successful fund-rising campaign, Ms. San Miguel accomplished her goal and a Memorial Plaque was placed under a Linden tree at the exact location of the house where J. Pilates was born.

  • "I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world should be doing my exercises. They'd be happier."


  • "Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit."


  • "If your spine inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young."


  • "After 10 sessions you feel the difference. After 20 sessions you see the difference, and after 30 sessions you have a brand new body."


Created by MKS & Online Presence by P. Kouvelos