In memoriam: Fitness pioneer, Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones dies at 80

Arthur Jones, whose invention of Nautilus selectorized-type exercise equipment offered a more targeted approach to strength training, opening up the concept to non-body builders and changed the idea of a strength workout, died Aug. 28 of natural causes at his home. He was 80.
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Arthur Jones, whose invention of Nautilus selectorized-type exercise equipment offered a more targeted approach to strength training, opening up the concept to non-body builders and changed the idea of a strength workout, died Aug. 28 of natural causes at his home. He was 80.

Jones was born in Arkansas in 1927 and grew up in Seminole, Okla. He had a successful career as a pilot, before his enthusiasm for physical fitness led him to develop the Nautilus exercise machine system in 1970. The equipment was the first to utilize the principle of variable resistance to develop muscles and build strength.

The invention is credited with pioneering the physical fitness movement, taking it out of the locker room and into health clubs, hotels and office buildings. The equipment became so ubiquitous that President Ronald Reagan reportedly used it during rehabilitation following his 1981 gunshot wound.

"Arthur Jones was the founder of modern-day exercise," Greg Webb, a Nautilus vice president of product development, said in a statement. "He had an incredible ability to create the interface between man and machine by incorporating biomechanics into exercise equipment."

His success placed Jones on the Forbes magazine list of The 400 Richest Americans. In 1986, he sold his interest in the company and brand.

News reports say Jones was a colorful figure in Central Florida in the 1980s. He developed a compound that is now the Jumbolair Aviation Estate near Ocala where he imported baby elephants from Zimbabwe, flying them there personally on a Boeing 707. Other exotic animals such as a gorilla and alligators, crocodiles and rattlesnakes ran free on the grounds.

He also embarked on a second endeavor in the exercise field with MedX, a company that developed rehabilitation equipment for people with spinal cord injuries and back pain. He sold that company in 1996. Said Jim Flanagan, MedX's vice president of sales, who worked with Jones there from 1971 to 1996, in a company statement: "I hope that Arthur Jones' contributions in the fields of fitness, sports medicine, exercise physiology and orthopedic rehabilitation will be recognized and appreciated."

Said Jones' son, William Edgar Jones, in an Associated Press article, "He should be remembered as a man of extreme intelligence, extreme independence and probably one of the most unrecognized and unawarded inventors that ever existed.”

Besides his son, Jones is survived by two daughters.

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