Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Empress Alexandra’s Gymnastic Apparatus 1897

A reader, who had commented on my July 27th post on ‘Doctors in the Palace’, reminded us of a letter Alexandra wrote to her brother.

In Petra Kleinpenning’s book ‘The Correspondence of Empress Alexandra of Russia with Ernst Ludwig’, on January 14th, 1897 Alexandra wrote “…And untrue … from the Volksblatter Jan 24. A room for gymnastics has never been arranged – a sort of improved Ruderapparat I have got, but only used it last winter, as the Dr. recommended it for my leg …”

A ruderapparat is a rowing machine and I have discovered two advertisements c1900s (below)

While Alexandra did not use the machine in 1897 due to pregnancy, I do not know if she exercised with it in subsequent years. There were two rowing machines bought in 1896, one placed in the Winter Palace. Where was the other kept? I have not identified any in my photographs as yet. I am curious though if a rowing machine was in the Alexander Palace or Peterhof.  Did Nicholas also use it for exercise? 


  1. I don't have any answers to your questions, but thank you very much for showing us these advertisements.


  2. Joanna,
    I've a couple of books about the Titanic and both it and its sister ship the Olympic had exercise equipment including a rowing machine and stationary bicycles, the rowing Machines look different but it had me wondering if there were made by the same company or if there were many companies around at the time who made equipment like the rowing machine.

  3. Thank you Ghostie. I hadn't thought to search in English as the archive document was in Russian and Alexandra's letter, although in English, used the German name. Dr. Horne had bought the machine and was reimbursed so I do not know the company he used. His xrays are held in Boston but I haven't searched as yet if his archives are extant.

    I was fascinated to see what it may have looked like!

  4. Joanna.
    I did a little research on rowing machines and found this:
    Chabrias, an Athenian admiral of the 4th century BC, introduced the first rowing machines as supplemental military training devices. "To train inexperienced oarsmen, Chabrias built wooden rowing frames on shore where beginners could learn technique and timing before they went on board ship."
    Early rowing machines are known to have existed from the mid-1800s, a US patent being issued to W.B. Curtis in 1872 for a particular hydraulic based damper design. Machines using linear pneumatic resistance were common around 1900—one of the most popular was the Narragansett hydraulic rower, manufactured in Rhode Island from around 1900–1960. However they did not simulate actual rowing very accurately nor measure power output- Wikipedia.

    And two web sites:

    I don’t know if they’ll answer any of your questions, but maybe there might be something useful in them ;)

  5. Thanks Ghostie. I don't understand why the doctor would recommend a rowing machine to help Alexandra with her legs. I thought rowing exercised the upper body and did put strain on the heart. Why would the leg back and forth benefit benefit her problem? She could have done normal leg exercises on a mat.

  6. To that I would say, that the Doctors of the day ( much like the ones now ) didn't always know how to treat a patient. Even specialist don't have the answers & quiet often a doctor will send you off to see one of them at the cost of a small fortune!