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A Brief History of Chiropractic

September 18, 1895 It was a hot and dusty afternoon in Davenport, Iowa. Relaxing in his favorite chair after several busy hours of seeing his patients, Dr. Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer sat reading a book. He overheard a very loud conversation between his deaf janitor, Harvey Lillard, and one of his friends out in the hall of the Ryan Building. D.D. joined them in the hall and inquired of Harvey as to how he had lost his hearing. Lillard related that he had been so deaf for the past 17 years that he could not hear the sound of the wagon wheels on the street or the ticking of a watch. It had all started 17 years earlier when he had been working in a closet under the stairway. While working in a cramped, stooping position, something "gave" in his back, and he immediately became deaf.

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D.D. Palmer
Founder of Chiropractic

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Harvey Lillard
First Chiropractic Patient

D.D. examined the man’s spine and found what appeared to be a misaligned vertebra. "Is this the cause of the hearing loss?" he wondered. For 30 minutes D.D. tried to persuade Mr. Lillard to allow him to replace the spinal bone by hand. Finally, with Harvey’s permission, D.D. placed him face down on a bench in his study, put his hands over the misaligned spinal bone, and carefully thrust along the man’s spine. Lillard got up, walked over to the open window, and turned to Palmer with a smile. After 17 years he could hear again.

Palmer began to research and refine the art, science, and philosophy of this new system, and in 1898 founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa.

At first D.D. thought he had discovered a cure for deafness, but, as he later wrote, "Shortly after this relief from deafness, I had a case of heart trouble which was not improving. I examined the spine and found a displaced vertebra pressing against the nerves which innervate the heart. I adjusted the vertebra and gave immediate relief. Then I began to reason if two diseases, so dissimilar as deafness and heart trouble, came from impingement, a pressure on nerves, were not other diseases due to a similar cause?" Individuals with all kinds of health problems, headaches, epilepsy, sciatica....the list went on and on. Soon people were traveling far and wide to experience Dr. Palmer’s new discovery.

D.D. Palmer did not practice in the morning. One account tells of 91 patients seated in the healer’s reception room waiting for one p.m., the appointed hour for D.D. to start his practice. As patients would come into his office, each would take a customary number from a hook. As the assistant would call out numbers, the patients would go into D.D.’s room for chiropractic adjustments. In the beginning patients were adjusted lying face downward on the floor, as no adjusting tables had been developed. ( It was said that many patients left with sore noses, jaws and occasionally a bloody nose for lack of comfortable chiropractic tables) The patients were in the adjustment room for only a brief period of time, usually about half a minute.

One of Palmer’s early patients was Reverend Samuel Weed, a Presbyterian minister and scholar of Hebrew and Greek. When Rev. Weed’s daughter returned home carrying her crutches in her hand after seeing Dr. Palmer and walking again without aid for the first time in over a year, he was finally prodded to see Palmer. D.D. explained to Rev. Weed that he had discovered a new method of health care for which he had no name. Further, he indicated to his new friend, he wanted a name from the Greek language.

Reverend Weed suggested three or four different names. Palmer looked them over and finally decided to combine two Greek words: "ciro" (key-row) and "praktoV" (prack-tose). Combined they formed "chiro-practic", meaning literally, "done by the hand".

In 1902, D.D.’s son, Bartlett Joshua (B.J.), trained by his father and one of the first graduates of the new Palmer School, took over the day to day operation of the college while his father traveled west starting chiropractic colleges in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles. For the next 59 years B.J. Palmer lead the young profession and became known as "The Developer of Chiropractic". Through years of research and discovery, B.J. contributed many of the early innovations to spinal analysis and chiropractic technique, along with authoring 39 volumes of chiropractic philosophy. Under the direction of B.J. Palmer the profession grew to number in the thousands and their patients in the millions!


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B.J. Palmer
Developer of Chiropractic


Adapted from writings of Dr. Ted Koren


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