Victorian Exercise Machines- They’ve Been Clogging Up Living Rooms For Over 100 Years

The purchase of home exercise equipment is always a mistake. Unless you are lucky enough to have a separate room in which to keep your gym equipment, it will always become a clothes dryer and/or a spider web magnet.

I was horrified when my charming husband came home from Cash Converters a couple of years ago with a rowing machine. I pointed out that the reason that it had ended up in the second-hand shop was that some man who had thought to get fit in front of the TV never used the machine and was eventually forced by his wife to get rid of it. I banned the rower from the house and predicted that it would be back at Cash Converters within 6 months. It sat forlornly, developing its own eco-system next to the washing line. After being used less than a handful of times, it was returned to the store to torment some other wife in a pattern to be repeated hundreds of years into the future. I absolutely said, “I told you so.”

Now, I was paging through an old edition of Country Life Magazine (January 8th 1897) and I was delighted to find an advertisement for home exercise equipment for the Victorian gentleman. The copy on the advert sounds remarkably like the infomercials that sell exercise equipment today. I am particularly partial to the claim that its benefits make it “priceless”. And while the wooden structure and leather saddle look more appealing to me than the tacky plastic machines of today, I am quite sure it caused Victorian wives to sigh and shake their heads knowingly.

I have never seen anything like Vigor’s exercise machine in South Africa. I surmise this is because as the hopeful migrants packed up their belongings for a new life in the colonies, the negotiations ended something like this:

“Darling, we can take the pianoforte, the grandfather clock, the 1-tonne oak sideboard, the croquet set, the polo ponies and 3 of my best crinolines but so help me, if you even think about carrying the Vigor’s across the ocean, you will be doing so on your own.”

The more things change…


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