Feature

Ed Pauls, 1931–2011

The man who invented the NordicTrack

Ed Pauls was running through freezing Excelsior, Minn., on a particularly cold winter night in the early 1970s when he came up with an idea. Instead of risking his life pacing along dark, icy roads, he thought, he’d build a machine that let him exercise in the warmth of his home. That machine, the NordicTrack, would go on to make him a fortune and play a key role in the home fitness craze of the 1980s.

Pauls, a mechanical engineer and an avid cross-country skier, sought a device that would replicate both the motions and the physical duress of skiing, said The Washington Post. Early iterations had actual skis and boots, but Pauls soon pared his machine down. The finished product, made up of “wood slats, pulleys, and wires,” looked more like a “castle-dungeon torturing mechanism” than an exercise machine.

Pauls never intended to sell the device, said The New York Times, but a friend talked him into marketing it for cross-country enthusiasts. Its original name, the Nordic Jock, was nixed by his wife, Florence, who said “he would lose half his potential customer base, women.” Business was slow to begin with, but sales picked up after Bill Koch, Olympic silver medalist in 1976, endorsed the machine.

The NordicTrack was quickly embraced by “nonskiers looking for an aerobic workout,” said the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Pauls placed ads in general-interest magazines boasting that it was “The World’s Best Aerobic Exerciser.” By 1986, when Pauls sold the company for $22 million, it had sold 500,000 units and become “a major competitor in a growing fitness craze.”

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