It seems nowadays the new fitness trend is pedometers. From the Fitbit and Fuel band, to the Jawbone and Pebble not to mention the countless apps that are available for your phone, they are everywhere and do a lot more than just track walking. The idea of the pedometer however is not a new one at all.
One of the greatest minds to have lived, Leonardo da Vinci, sought to track the distance a Roman soldier walked all the way back in the 15th century. He drew plans to develop a device and viola! the first pedometer was recorded.
The next piece of pedometer history is a little more muddled. Some credit Swiss watch makers who made watches that were motion sensitive and self winding with inventing the mechanism that would be used in later pedometers to record steps. Some credit the French with the first timepiece that Thomas Jefferson later tinkered with as having created the first pedometer. No matter what though, it is well known that Thomas Jefferson did show an interest in recording and measuring steps and did indeed create the first pedometer in the U.S.. Whether it happened by adapting a French watch, or by his own creation will remain a mystery since he did not patent any of his inventions.
Below is an excerpt from Padover’s The Complete Jefferson, P. 969-970 and a letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison on May 3rd 1788:
“I send your pedometer. To the loop at the bottom of it, you must sew a tape, and at the other end of the tape, a small hook … cut a little hole in the bottom of your left watch pocket, pass the hook and tape through it, and down between the breeches and drawers, and fix the hook on the edge of your knee band, an inch from the knee buckle; then hook the instrument itself by its swivel hook, on the upper edge of the watch pocket. Your tape being well adjusted in length, your double steps will be exactly counted by the instrument, the shortest hand pointing out the thousands, the flat hand the hundreds, and the long hand the tens and units …”
Thomas Jefferson introduced the American public to the pedometer and some even called them “Tomish Meters”. Popularity for the pedometer did not take off in the United States until the 1930’s and even then it was only popular with long distance walkers which eventually gave way to it being marketed as a “Hike-o-meter”. Fast forward thirty years to 1965 in Japan, a man named Y. Hatano put forth a pedometer called the “manpo-kei” which in english translates to 10,000 steps meter. By 1985 research by Hatano himself was widely accepted as to showing that 10,000 steps a day was the proper energy output for a person to balance their caloric intake to maintain a healthy weight.
Pedometers have come a long way from Jefferson and Hatano’s time. In those days the device needed to remain vertical and a tiny pendulum made up of a lead ball swung within the device with each step and then one would multiply that by two (a step for each foot) to obtain a total. However, problems arose with recording when things like a rocky or uneven path was walked or the person bent down and threw off the pendulum. Todays pedometers use what is called an accelerometer that measure movements in three ways. Up/Down, Forwards/Backwards and Left/Right which is constantly checked on every second. A computer evaluates whether the movements captured resemble a step and a calculation is made. There is still room for error with modern pedometers but accuracy is usually within about five percent.
And now a crude, but visual journey of the pedometer: