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7 Highly Questionable Vintage Exercise Devices

Society’s knowledge of exercise and fitness has grown exponentially since the early 20th century, when strongmen boasted of eating 24 eggs and three pounds of bacon for breakfast. Then again, the enduring popularity of infomercial abdominal devices indicates we’re still prone to using dubious pieces of equipment if installment payments are offered. Here are a few contraptions that, while well-intentioned, may have been more hazardous than helpful to one’s health.     

1. The Relax-A-cizor

The best fitness machine imaginable would involve seeing results while putting in absolutely no effort whatsoever. That was the primary selling point of the Relax-A-cizor [sic], an electrical stimulation device fitted around the stomach that promised to melt away belly fat. “It’s effortless!” promised print ads. “You REST!” (And for the easily confused: “Not a bicycle or chair.”)

While reducing adipose tissue in the absence of exertion was tempting, the U.S. government was less enthused: after being on the market for decades, Relaxacizor, Inc. suffered a permanent injunction in federal court from selling any more of the units. In the 1970 finding, Judge William Gray admonished that the device’s unpredictable currents (delivered via damp electrodes) were unsafe and could conceivably cause “headache, hernia…loss of consciousness…diarrhea…” and that it “may be capable of causing a miscarriage.” More than 400,000 units were sold before Gray halted sales.   

2. The Molby Hammock

Less an exercise device than a human rotisserie, the Molby Hammock assured users it would “make your spine young!” Hung by the feet and neck, purchasers would enjoy relaxed spinal nerves with no nervous system “tension.” Sold throughout the 1920s, the Molby seemingly pre-dated the concept of tort lawsuits and mass litigation—though it may have fueled a rise in chiropractors.  

3. Velcro Home Jogger  

A gift from clever Japanese minds circa 1995, the Velcro Home Jogger was a stepper-style platform made of Velcro that “caught” the soles of its matching sneakers, creating resistance as the user tried to extricate their feet from the adhesion of the two surfaces.

4. Twist ‘N Tone

Perched atop this giant, adult-supporting turntable, 1970s fitness enthusiasts could contort their core to stimulate—well, something. Dynamic Classics, the company that produced this and other equipment, was unclear on what exactly the Twist ‘N Tone could accomplish. Reporter Landon Hall, who purchased one on eBay for an Orange County Register article, described it as “two pieces of plastic, with one rotating on top of the other. It looks like a TV dinner tray without legs.” A personal trainer that Hall consulted asserted that anything the device purported to do could be done standing on a floor—for free.

5. Leather ‘N Lead Bracelets

Bodybuilding icon Joe Weider of Muscle and Fitness fame was in a perfect position to monetize the popularity of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970s.  As Weider had helped with Arnold’s training and gotten him a role in his first movie (by claiming that Arnold was a German Shakespearean actor), perhaps Arnold felt a debt of gratitude when agreeing to endorse his lead-stuffed bracelets. Promising to turn “every arm movement into an instant arm builder,” the gaudy fashion accessory sold as a pair for $14.95. If your biceps didn’t “ooze 100% more power…and look ferocious,” the ad copy promised, you could return them for a full refund. 

6. The Gymno Frame

A kind of stopgap for aspiring gymnasts who were wary of breaking their necks, the ‘30s-era Gymno Frame looks like something you’d find in the traction ward of a hospital—where users might conceivably end up. The Frame assisted in cartwheels, somersaults, and other head-over-heels maneuvers. Photographed in British football clubs, the contraption never appeared to make it stateside.  

7. The Health Jolting Chair

Sold in the 1880s and free of any pesky laws governing medical claims, the spring-equipped Jolting Chair assured prospective buyers that it “preserves health, cures diseases, and prolongs life.” Curative effects include relief from “constipation…melancholia...” and anything resulting from “lack of nerve force.” A lever on the chair would seem to indicate some kind of gyration or movement, suitable even for those “crippled from paralysis.” 

Sadly, these claims could not be substantiated. The Jolting Chair was one of the many devices that led to the Federal Trade Commission finding their own nerve force and forcing advertisers to back up their claims beginning in 1938.

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You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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