William Staub, who took the treadmill—that ubiquitous piece of exercise equipment that is loved and loathed by millions—into homes and gyms, died Thursday at his Clifton, NJ, home. He was 96 and had been spied on a treadmill as recently as two months ago. Staub, a mechanical engineer, built and marketed his first treadmill in the late 1960s—40 steel rollers covered by an orange belt, a gray cover over the motor, and orange dials to determine time and speed. Staub envisioned it as a tool for people who wanted to run or walk outside but didn't because of inclement weather, less-than-ideal circumstances, or creative excuses, his son says.
At the time, the treadmill was almost exclusively used by doctors, adds Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a health and fitness pioneer who used the machine to perform stress tests. Staub, who didn't exercise at the time, read Cooper's 1968 book Aerobics, which espoused the health benefits of exercise. The book mentioned a treadmill, and Staub wanted to develop it commercially so people could run indoors. "The treadmills we were using were very expensive, but there wasn't one on the market for the masses. And that's why he said, 'We need this,'" Cooper says. "I encouraged it. I said, 'If you can develop a treadmill that could be used in a home or an apartment it would be a slam dunk.' And it was."