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Sept. 18, 1895: Is There a Chiropractor in the House?

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by Tony Long

September 18th, 1895: The first chiropractic adjustment is performed, and a new field of medicine is born, along with a healthy number of skeptics.

It was the age of the talented dilettante, and the world’s first chiropractor certainly qualified on that score. Daniel David Palmer, variously a beekeeper, school teacher and grocery store owner, dabbled in magnetic healing and mysticism on the side, while perusing the medical journals to keep abreast of developments in physiology. He began practicing magnetic healing during the 1880s, while living in Davenport, Iowa, but his big break came in 1895, when a deaf janitor with a back problem happily came his way.

Upon examination, Palmer located a lump in Harvey Lillard’s back. Palmer had already advanced the theory that spinal abnormalities caused most, if not all, diseases and conditions by virtue of disrupting normal nerve flow. When he performed an adjustment on Lillard, which involved the manual manipulation of the spine and surrounding joints, the man’s deafness vanished. Palmer knew he was onto something big.

Buoyed by this success, he founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic in 1897, which, by 1902, had unleashed 15 chiropractors on an unsuspecting world. The state of Iowa, meanwhile, was tightening up its laws regarding the practice of medicine without a license, and in 1906 Palmer took the fall.

Rather than pay a fine he elected to go to jail, but after 17 days of that, Palmer changed his mind and coughed up the dough. He then sold the school to his son, B.J., and lit out for the West Coast.

He established chiropractic schools in California and Oregon, as well as in Oklahoma.

Traditional medical practitioners tended to dismiss Palmer’s discipline. In a sense you couldn’t blame them, given Palmer’s sketchy past, his penchant for self-promotion and his habit of trumpeting chiropractic with a fervor approaching religious proselytizing. He also didn’t lack for brass. Here he is in a letter dated May 1911:

[W]e must have a religious head, one who is the founder, as did Christ, Mohammed, Jo[seph] Smith, Mrs. Eddy, Martin Luther and others who have founded religions. I am the fountain head. I am the founder of chiropractic in its science, in its art, in its philosophy and in its religious phase.

He also claimed to have answered the question, what is life?

It’s not hard to see why the more-staid docs wouldn’t be lining up to buy this guy drinks at the annual convention.

Palmer died in 1913, of typhoid fever. But chiropractic lived on and gradually shed most of its mystical, quasi-religious characteristics for a more holistic, yet science-based, philosophy. It remains, however, out on the fringe, and its effectiveness continues to be debated. Whatever chiropractic can or can’t do regarding the healing of disease, with an able chiropractor in charge spinal manipulation does appear effective in easing some forms of chronic back pain.

By |September 18, 2009|Media|4 Comments

About the Author:

Dr Wiens created the very first chiropractic information page on the web in Nov 1994. In 1995 he joined as chief designer. He lives in Canada.


  1. Dr Michael Beck September 19, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Happy Birthday Chiropractic! Looking forward to the next 114 years of making people healthy.

  2. Chiropractic Works September 28, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    I am grateful for Chiropractic and it’s existance. 114 years is a long time and a long road for any healing arts practice to do. I have experienced amazing healings through Chiropractic, and feel blessed to be able to pass it on now as a Chiropractor

  3. Beekeeping December 9, 2009 at 3:59 am

    I’m glad than even if Palmer have already died, chiropractic still lives on. Many people truly benefit in this. Chiropractic is a big help to many.

  4. chiropractor James Devine DC November 14, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    DD Palmer is gone, but his gifts live on. It is up to all of us in the chiropractic profession to spread the principles of chiropractic world wide.

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