Pilates, Joseph H.

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Pilates, Joseph H. Gender: M
Joseph Hubertus Pilates
born on 9 December 1883 at 00:30 (= 12:30 AM )
Place Gladbach, Germany, 51n12, 6e28
Timezone LMT m6e28 (is local mean time)
Data source
BC/BR in hand
Rodden Rating AA
Collector: Scholfield
Astrology data s_su.18.gif s_sagcol.18.gif 16°37' s_mo.18.gif s_aricol.18.gif 06°05 Asc.s_vircol.18.gif 26°23'


Physical fitness trainer of German origin, inventor of the Pilates method.

His father Heinrich Friedrich Pilates was a prize-winning gymnast. Joseph was a sickly child and suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, and he dedicated his entire life to improving his physical strength. Besides skiing frequently, he began studying body-building, yoga, "kung fu", and gymnastics. By the age of 14, he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. Pilates came to believe that the "modern" life-style, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health. He ultimately devised a series of exercises and training-techniques and engineered all the equipment, specifications, and tuning required to teach his methods properly.

Pilates was originally a gymnast, diver, and bodybuilder. He had an unsteady lifestyle, but settled down in Viersen for two years with his first wife Maria, with whom he had a daughter named Helene, called Leni and born 30 November 1905 in Gelsenkirchen. After his wife's death he moved to England in 1912, he earned a living as a professional boxer, circus-performer, and self-defense trainer at police schools and Scotland Yard. Nevertheless, the British authorities interned him during World War I along with other German citizens in an internment camp, first in Lancaster Castle where he taught wrestling and self-defence, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before their internment. It was here that he began refining and teaching his minimal equipment system of mat exercises that later became "Contrology". He was then transferred to another internment camp on the Isle of Man. During this involuntary break, he began to intensively develop his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise, which he himself called "Contrology." He studied yoga and the movements of animals and trained his fellow inmates in fitness and exercises. It is said that these inmates survived the 1918 flu pandemic due to their good physical shape.

After the war (WWI), he returned to Germany and collaborated with important experts in dance and physical exercise such as Rudolf Laban. In Hamburg, he also trained police officers. He married his second wife Elfriede on 10 October 1919. When he was pressured to train members of the German army, he left his native country, disappointed with its political and social conditions, and emigrated to the United States, where his uncle William Meyer, his brother Frederick and his sister Helen already lived. His wife stayed behind and died 1931 in Düsseldorf, as Joeseph stated when he became a US citizen later, on 7 February 1935.

Joseph went to America a first time on a ship called the Albert Ballin on 6 October 1925, returning to Germany 60 days later.

On 14 April 1926 Pilates migrated to the United States on board of the ship Westphalia, arriving 27 April in New York. On the same ship was also his future third wife Anna Clara Zeuner. It is not clear whether they ever were legally married. The couple founded a studio in New York City, in the same building as the New York City Ballet, and directly taught and supervised their students well into the 1960s. His method, which he and Clara originally called "Contrology," related to encouraging the use of the mind to control muscles. It focuses attention on core postural muscles that help keep the human body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and of alignment of the spine, and strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles.

Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devout following in the local dance and the performing-arts community of New York. His exercise regimen built flexibility, strength and stamina. Soon after it became known that ballerinas were attending the Pilates gym on 8th Avenue, society women followed.

Joseph Pilates wrote several books, including Return to Life through Contrology (1945) and Your Health (1934), and he was also a prolific inventor, with over 26 patents cited. Joe and Clara had a number of disciples who continued to teach variations of his method or, in some cases, focused exclusively on preserving the method, and the instructor-training techniques, they had learned during their studies with Joe and Clara.

Joseph Pilates died on 9 December 1967 at the age of 83 in New York, from lung emphysema (he was a strong cigar smoker). His wife Clara died in 1977.

After his death a legal fight arose about the use of the brand Pilates. In 2000 a US court decided that is had become a generic term like yoga or ballet. Since then, everybody is free to use this name for a training technique without a license.

(Sources: Wikipedia, [1] and [2])

Link to Wikipedia biography



  • Social : Begin Travel 14 April 1926 (left Germany for New York)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.
  • Social : Acquired Citizenship 7 February 1935 (US citizen)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.
  • Death by Disease 9 October 1967 in New York (lung emphysema)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.

Source Notes

Forum user Liriodendron sent data and link to published birth certificate, suggesting addition to ADB: [3]. Sy Scholfield had previously consulted with ADB about the handwriting on the certificate.

Sy Scholfield quotes birth certificate published on the German Pilates Association website [4], and same data in a book quoting the Mönchengladbach city archives for a birth time of 12:30 a.m.: "Hubertus Joseph Pilates wurde am 9.12.1883, nachts um 0.30 Uhr, in einem heute nicht mehr existierenden Haus in der Waldhausener Str. 20 in Mönchengladbach als zweites der insgesamt 9 Kinder des Ehepaars Helena und Heinrich Friedrich Pilates geboren." ["Das Pilates-Lehrbuch" by Verena Geweniger and ‎Alexander Bohlander (Springer, 2012), p. 7].


  • Vocation : Education : Researcher (physical fitness)
  • Vocation : Healing Fields : Counselor/ Therapist (physical fitness)
  • Vocation : Writers : Textbook/ Non-fiction (physical fitness)
  • Notable : Famous : First in Field