Chiropractic History

The Palmer Family

The founding fathers of Chiropractic

Daniel David Palmer
Bartlett Joshua Palmer
David D. Palmer


The first recorded chiropractic adjustment was performed on September 18,1895, by Dr. Daniel David Palmer, a Canadian-born teacher and healer. Dr. Palmer was, at the time, studying the cause and effect of disease. His patient was Harvey Lillard, a janitor working in the same building as Dr. Palmer in Davenport, Iowa. Mr. Lillard, who had complained of hearing problems for over 17 years, allowed Dr. Palmer to examine his spine. Dr. Palmer discovered a "lump" on Mr. Lillard's back and suspected that a vertebra might be out of place. With an admittedly unrefined, even crude technique, Dr. Palmer repositioned the vertebra with a gentle thrust. After several such treatments, much of Mr. Lillard's hearing was restored.

This dramatic beginning caused much excitement, and soon exaggerated claims surfaced from activists and chiropractic zealots. Even Dr. Palmer himself thought at first that he had discovered a cure for deafness. As these "miracle" stories became common place, the controversy surrounding chiropractic began. Because chiropractic challenged the traditional medical concept of health at the time, a campaign was begun to discredit and eliminate the profession. This campaign is in some respects still active today.

One of Dr. Palmer's patients, a minister, is credited with attaching the name "chiropractic" to the art and science of manipulation. He took the Greek words for "hand" (cheiros) and "done by" (pracktos) and put them together to spell chiropractic, meaning "done by the hand."

Through the end of World War 11, chiropractic became truly controversial under the primary leadership of Bartlett J. Palmer (B.J. Palmer), the son of the profession's founder. He administrated the largest chiropractic college at that time, owned radio and TV stations, traveled extensively, and even hosted three U.S. Presidents - Coolidge, Hoover and Truman - at his home. Regardless of how history will judge B.J. Palmer, of this one can be certain - without B.J. Palmer, chiropractic would most certainly not have survived the early ruthless attempts to discredit its healing ability.

And survive it did. Chiropractic has rapidly grown to be second only to medicine as the largest primary health care provider in the western world. Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, grew from 24 students in 1906 to 3,100 in 1923. Today, there are more than 23 chiropractic institutions throughout the world, including colleges in the United States, Australia, Japan, England and Canada. Current enrollment at chiropractic institutions now exceeds 10,000 enthusiastic and dedicated students.

Since Dr. Palmer's first primitive chiropractic adjustment, the art and science of chiropractic has progressed significantly. Today, advanced diagnostic procedures, sophisticated equipment, scientific research, and the growing acceptance among other health care professionals makes chiropractic a popular health care choice.