History of the Vibrating Exercise Belt: Didn’t Work Then, Doesn’t Work Now


If you’ve ever ridden the Carousel of Progress,
currently located at Walt Disney World, you’ll come across a scene in the 1940’s in which
John’s daughter, Patty, is using an old vibrating exercise machine to shed a few inches
before her big Halloween party. As John points out, it doesn’t actually
work and never did. What is that machine, where did it come from,
and who invented it? The vibrating belt exercise machine not only
predates that 1940’s scene of the Carousel of Progress, it predates all of the scenes
from the Carousel of Progress. In fact, to find its origin we have to go
back to the 1860’s, specifically the 1860’s in Sweden. This is Dr. Gustav Zander. He was born in Stockholm in 1835 and he eventually
grew up to become a physician. By the time Zander was in medical school the world had felt the ripple effects of the industrial revolution. Advances in technology had changed the way
developed nations manufactured products, farmed the land, and otherwise grew as a society. And while it was the tail end of the revolution,
machines were still these novel additions to everyone’s lives. So it was no surprise that the idea of progress
through machinery would make its way to the field of medicine. Zander was one of the pioneering doctors of
what he would call “Mechanotherapy”. That very revolution that brought upon a wave
of new machines also meant that less and less people were working outdoors, and that meant
that they weren’t getting regular exercise. Zander came up with a number of machines that
were designed to help people get that exercise they were missing. In 1865 he put those machines into what he
called the Mechanico-Therapeutic Institute. Now these machines fell into one of two categories. The first and more prominent group were the
active machines. These were machines that the user would manipulate
themselves with their own muscles. To put it simply, they were in many ways just
like the kind of exercise machines you might see at a gym today. So, you know, Zander didn’t get it all wrong. That second group of machines were passive
machines. They worked in a similar way to the active
machines, but instead of the user manipulating it themselves, a steam or gas engine did the
work for them. Zander, as well as plenty of other doctors,
believed that by stimulating the muscles externally, they’d receive the same benefits that a person would otherwise get doing the exercise themselves. Now while we know these machines today as
a sham that promised an easy way to lose weight, that wasn’t originally the intention. Dr. Zander designed the machines with the
idea of them being used by people with either injuries or disabilities that would otherwise
prevent them from exercising normally. These passive machines were looked at as a
last resort for someone who couldn’t naturally keep fit or otherwise use the active machines
to exercise.. Zander would eventually bring 67 of his machines,
23 of them passive and using a five horse-power steam engine, to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition
in Philadelphia, where they were put on display in the Machinery Hall and ended up winning
a gold medal from the fair judges. Like many of the new inventions shown off
at the world’s fair, Zanders machines were seen as an example of how mechanical progress
would make life easier. These machines would grow in popularity in
Europe and then eventually the United States, but their complexity meant that they were
relegated to fitness spas as opposed to the homes of individuals. Nearly 50 years later in 1925, they saw a
resurgence in popularity when newer electrical versions were displayed at the Electrical
and Industrial Exposition at the Grand Central Palace in New York City. The country was in the midst of the roaring
twenties. The economy was booming, art was flourishing,
and technological progress, including the spread of commercial electricity, was making
the lives of Americans easier than ever before. So why shouldn’t it also make their workout
easier too? The allure of passive exercise began to take
hold. These machines were no longer considered tools
for the injured to exercise, but instead tools for anyone to exercise. Devices such as the Savage Health Motor claimed
that the vibrations from the machine would “oxidize surplus fat” as well as strengthen
and tone up muscles and vital organs. There was even a smaller version called the
Thor Portable Juvenator which cost $39 and could be clamped to a door frame and used
on the go. Beyond exercise, the vibrating belt machine
was sold with the promise of fighting maladies, including everything from rheumatism and sciatica
to high blood pressure and “practically everything else of the sort.” It was a cure-all, and like most cure-alls
it actually cured nothing. Unfortunately like many cure-alls, that appeal
of an easy fix made it popular. The popularity was so far reaching that it
was even reported in 1927 that President Coolidge had adopted the use of it and replaced his
Iron Horse machine. In a clever move to get ahead of perhaps the
growing realization that these machines didn’t really do anything, advertisements for them
began to point out that they had to be used regularly along with a reduction in caloric
intake in order to work. It was deceptively brilliant. If you followed those instructions then you’d
lose weight from eating less and think the machine worked along with it. If you didn’t follow those instructions,
well, then it was your own fault for it not working. Not the machine’s. Like other exercise trends, and well, other
trends in general, the vibrating belt machine would fall in and out of popularity over the
following years. The 1930’s brought the great depression,
and so for many people their concerns were more about getting enough food to eat than
making sure their organs were toned enough. And while John in the Carousel of Progress
was level-headed enough to recognize that it didn’t work in the 1940’s, the machine
continued to pop in and out of popularity up until the late 1960’s. By then the Walton Belt Vibrator was among
the more popular brands and the post-WW2 economic and manufacturing boom meant that companies
would place more of an emphasis on personal ownership of the devices rather than using
them at a gym. This time around the focus was on spot reduction,
or the idea that if you used the machine on a specific area of the body that the weight
loss would occur right there. However in 1963 the FDA finally investigated
the weight loss claims made by Walton and found that the labeling and documents for
the machine were misleading. Walton was forced to re-word their promotional
materials for the machine, and suddenly ads for the device no longer promised to help
you lose weight. Of course advertisers being advertisers, they
still did what they could to imply it. Not to mention at that point the machine was
about 100 years old, so it wasn’t really necessary to advertise what it was supposed
to do. People knew already. Luckily today we’re all really smart and
can easily see through bogus advertising and that’s why there was never another cheap
get-fit-quick exercise machine after the Walton Belt Vibrator. Just kidding. Even today, devices are sold with the promise
of letting technology do the hard work for you in that journey to lose weight. The Sport Elec. The Ab Force. Some of these products even use the same concept
of vibration to sell the idea of breaking down fats and losing weight. Ultimately it seems to be within our human
nature to seek out easier ways to do things, and technology is a persistent aid in that
journey. And to be fair, that’s because it works
most of the time. Technology has made it easier for us to communicate,
to learn, to relax, and yes, even to stay in shape. However at the end of the day, on that last
point, we still have to put in the work. We can’t just shake it away. Didn’t work then. Doesn’t work now. Consistent at least.

36 Comments

  1. 1

  2. Brilliant

  3. Was like how does this connect to Disney. 🙂

  4. "it's a great big beautiful tomorrow" at the end of every Rob Plays. 🥴

  5. Obviously fake news. My vibrating machine works great. Lost 12 pounds in a month using it. Walt used one too. Just a fun factoid. How else did he stay in such tip top shape. Had to. Since he froze himself his doctors got him on the vibrating exercise machines so he could be unfrozen and still be able to live after not moving for so long. Great Invention. #Education

  6. SCIENCE!

  7. You, Rob Plays, are one of the hidden gems of YouTube.

  8. Loved this vlog!

  9. 7:09
    Wii Fit has entered the chat

  10. I love the carousel of project highlights! It’s my fav WDW attraction. Who knew I could love history lessons so much! Your channel is truly one of the best out there, thanks Rob!

  11. Oh Patty, are you going to the Halloween party tonight? Oh yes! And I’m hoping to lose a few more inches by then since I’m going with that dreamboat, Wilfred. Wilfred? What a slug

  12. Luckily today we're all really smart

  13. I used one those machines as a part of an inventions of yesterday exhibit. The thing made me nauseous so I guess it would have worked if it intentionally made people too sick to eat.

  14. I HAVE ONE OF THESE IN MY HOUSE!

  15. honestly i've always wondered about this one…

  16. To the audiences in 1964/1965, this reference would have been really clear but it’s so old now that I’m sure most people haven’t seen one. Good stuff Rob!

  17. OMG I’m so happy I found your channel a few weeks ago. Great information you shared Love your type of videos thanks for sharing

  18. Gotta love how you take the most random thing and make a Disney connection. Pure genius, thanks man.

  19. the prologue and the promise of false advertising (it’s consistent, at least)

  20. Never understood why it would

  21. I adore Rob's videos that have more of a lose connection to Disney and are more just interesting historical trivia. This one and the rose gold video, both very interesting and informative!

  22. Now that you touched on the Centennial, do you think you can talk about the historical figures from the expo scene in American Adventure and what they did at the expo?

  23. I love this kind of content. Keep it coming!

  24. Excellent video! 👍

  25. My grandpa had one. I used to put it on my legs and it would eventually make them itch if you used it too long.

  26. How did you go the entire video not mentioning the shakeweight

  27. I'm surprised you didn't cite the "Shake weight" as one of the modern scam exercise gizmos.

  28. This is really interesting didn't know it dated back that far

  29. "We're all really smart and can easily see through bogus advertising."

  30. My aunt had one of these in her basement when I was a kid, she let me play around with it.

  31. Exercise is the one thing that you can safely assume will never be automated.

  32. Normal videos: history of jiggly belt thing
    Me: ignores

    RobPlays: History of Jiggly Belt Thing FROM CAROUSEL OF PROGRESS
    Me: DISNEY? watches

  33. I suggested this on the "Hoochie Coockie" video you did 😀

  34. Now I know, finally. Thanks for great videos and for not shoving a Skill Share or password protect down my throat.

  35. Interesting and informative video! Love the clip of the prologue and the promise

  36. I saw this on Rocket Power.

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