The Cadillac by Javier Perez Pont
The “Cadillac”, as we know it today, is the result of several previous inventions by Joe Pilates. Apparently the name comes from a comment, made by a client ,upon seeing the apparatus for the first time in the original Studio. Its original name was either “The Table” or “Massage-Table and Bed”.
The Cadillac, unlike other apparatus, changed through the years and I would say that it originated in response to particular needs: the need to economize space, to combine concepts from other apparatus (Reformer, Mat, Beds, Chairs and others) as well as to combine key features of each one of his inventions: apparent simplicity, independence in and of themselves, inexpensive and practical. It is interesting to note that there is an analogy between these characteristics and Joe’s personality.
In order to understand how this apparatus was “created” we must keep historical events straight and discard the incorrect and widely accepted idea that the cadillac was born in Great Britain when he worked as a nurse, in the Internment Camps, during the First World War.
In “Hubertus Joseph Pilates.The Biography”, published 3 years ago, I demonstrated that this idea was totally uncertain. I provided several reasons, the main one being the impossibility of getting springs, of any dimension, in the Internment Camps. The beds had no head boards, they were only mattresses on the floor, rolled up during the morning and set aside to make space in the rooms. At the hospitals in the Internment Centers, only the mattresses of the chronically ill who needed to be off the floor due to temperature reasons, were raised. It is also highly improbable that he worked as a nurse in these camps.
Keep in mind that in his 1924 patent of the Universal Reformer the use of springs is suggested but not used yet.
There is a historical evolution of Joe’s genius that produced different models of beds all the way to the most complete version of the Cadillac an apparatus resulting from of two decades of experimentation.
The main idea in all the beds previous to the Cadillac and also in it, is that a person could exercise on them. From reading his book (” Your Health” ) written in 1934, looking at his bed patents and drawings as well as reading his pamphlets and watching his films you can understand what the bed meant to Joseph Pilates.
In short, to him, a bed was a mattress where a person could rest and exercise.
The second original idea was that on the bed a person could exercise without the aide of any kind of resistance or weights, in other words a person could do the Mat exercises.
Up until then he had not created anything particularly special apart from the genius idea of combining, in a single unit, the possibility of ergonomic rest and and exercise. The two concepts by themselves and combined were revolutionary at that time (in the 20’s and the 30’s) and they are even today.
His idea (for the bed) was simple, economic and practical at the same time. These are qualities that we see in all his inventions. He tried to revolutionize the concept of bed building but was not very successful as he himself explains in his book “Your Health”. However he never gave up trying, an other personal quality of the master.
The result of these two original concepts is the “Bed or Couch” for which he requested a patent on June 20th, 1930 (approved on September 13, 1932). He not only requested the patent in his new country (USA), the following year, he also proudly requested the patent in: Germany, France and Great Britain. Around that same time he filmed himself on the terrace of a building showcasing what could be done on the bed. Also from that same period of time there are some pictures of the Bed with an adjustable canopy which he called “Pilates V-Sun Bed Couch”. Two versions of the same invention.
During the next years he not only had one in his own home,he also had one in his Studio in the “Special Room” used for clients with special needs. He advertised and talked to certain companies in order to mass produce the apparatus however, he was not successful.
Through the years this Bed/Gym apparatus saw several improvements and add ons.Between 1930 and 1948 many changes were made to the beds. On April 19, 1948 he made a request for a new patent of an exercise bed.
What are the changes in the new Bed? Joe cleary understood that the use of resistance was at the core of his exercise method. This was clear back in 1924 with the German patent of the Reformer and even before in the first invention he patented, the Foot Corrector.
Springs are critical to Joseph Pilates exercise Method and make it universal. Before the springs were added his bed invention could not be used by people who could not move freely. With the springs, the person using the bed became independent from the teacher and vice versa. The teacher no longer had to do the work of the springs. With the aide of the springs anyone, using the bed, was able to discipline, control and develop their physical condition on their own. Not only were people using the bed getting physically stronger they also had to use their mind to control the springs.
The use of springs was not new to Joe, he was already using them on the Reformer, Chair, Foot Corrector and possibly other apparatus we do not know of. Now, he added springs to his new invention as well as a headboard where he attached springs, straps, bars with springs and pulleys in order to increase its functionality.
Joe made several models of beds with different names. There are different photos, with no dates on them, of different types of beds. For example there is one with a headboard on top and
an other with the headboard below. They all had different names. There was also a bed in the shape of a V and yet an other with a fixed mat.
In 1944 he mentions a “Rehabilitation exercises on Massage Table” and in a film with Romana Kryzanowska he says: “Romana on Massage Table“.
In 1948 he requested a patent for yet another bed, it’s basically the same as the first one but this time it’s made out of metal and has an adjustable frame, at one end, where springs and other pieces could be attached similar to previous models of the bed. He calls this one the “Double Frame Bed”. The patent for it was approved on October 9, 1951. This new bed was made from aluminum and polished chrome and was easy to transport only weighing 22 kg.
As I pointed out in the Biography, that same year (1948) Joe filmed exercises being performed on that bed with the idea of running the ad on TV. I doubt that ever happened but it does show a lot about his intention and personality.
The names Joe gave the beds varied depending on the variations, modifications adjustments or simple marketing . In 1947 he refers to the “Vbed“, 1948 he re-names it ”Vbed. Bed exercises”.
Four years after the second patent in 1952, Joe tried to commercialize the bed and even printed pamphlets to market it under the name: “The Automatic Posture Pilates Bed”. Jose Ferrer, the famous actor, like several other actors and clients, owned one and had one in his dressing room
Around that time, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the exact date, there is a film with a young woman and a boy exercising on the “Bednasium”, one of the names Joe gave the bed a name I suspect Joe liked the best. At the end of that particular film you can see the young boy exercising in a bed scaled to the needs of his size demonstrating it could be used by all ages.
I mistakenly wrote in the Biography, that the final version of the Cadillac did not happen until the end of the 50’s or the beginning of the 60’s. However, there are pictures from October 8th. 1951 where the Cadillac appears in its final version. This makes me think that the final version was ready by the end of the 40’s.
All the attempts to commercialize the bed from the 50’s onwards shared the concept of universalization that Joe wanted to see in his apparatus and his Method: economic, light and occupying minimum space in a house (Wunda Chair, Bed and a Home Reformer).
There is an article, possibly from 1955, where the “Bednasium” is announced and another article from from between 1952-1955 where he uses the slogan “Novel Bednasium corrects posture”.
In 1959 he talks about the ”Rehabilitation of V Bed + Bath Tub“ and shares his experiences in the bath tub. Very interesting.
On March 17th, 1959 Joe gets an answer from Dorothy Pascal to a letter he had sent her for the marketing of his “V-shaped bed”.In June 1959, People Magazine published an article with several photos showcasing the benefits of the “Pilates Relaxor Bed”.
Definitely, the “Cadillac” as we know it today is a compilation of all his beds, perhaps not the best but possibly the most complete of all the beds he invented. It would have been great to see the complete bed collection.
The “Cadillac” as such was never patented as an apparatus, however, the other beds were. I dare say that this was due to the fact that it was an invention that came when Joe was tired and older and like he said: thousands and thousands of dollars spent in protecting his inventions and with very little commercial success.
During the 40’s he had great hopes of commercializing some of his apparatus with the help of his brother Clemens Friedrich, Fred, through the Atlas Equipment company in n Saint Louis. From what we know, the enterprise was never very successful.
What can we say about the original Cadillac’s that Joe used? They were made of wood and tubes and had a great number of pieces that could be added to adjust and modify. Many of these are no longer in use today.
My personal opinion is that it was one of the many complementary apparatus at the “toy house” as Clara called the Studio. A complement to that ingenious and irreplaceable Universal Reformer.
Javier Pérez Pont
Traducción: thanks to Lali Diaz McDonald