John Houghtaling, inventor of the Magic Fingers bed, dies at 92

On Wednesday, John Joseph Houghtaling, the inventor of the Magic Fingers bed, died in Fort Pierce, Florida. He was 92.

In their time, Houghtaling's Magic Fingers beds were a goldmine. While the vibrating bed idea had been around for centuries, Houghtaling found a way to make them pay. His Magic Fingers system, the result of years of development, was easy to install and easy to use. Houghtaling sold the machines to representatives for $25 apiece; the reps, in turn, installed and serviced them for $45 or, more often, a share of the profits. At their peak, a quarter of a million machines were in service across the United States. With average weekly revenues of $2, they generated approximately $2 million a month.

Given their later reputation, it seems worthwhile to mention that there isn't really anything particularly sleazy about Magic Fingers beds. Basically designed to provide relaxation for weary travelers, the vibration system offered fifteen minutes of mild massage in return for a measly quarter. And the beds became a common reference point in American popular culture. As one obituary notes, the vibrating bed caused a beer bottle to explode in the movie "Trains, Planes and Automobiles" and made an appearance on the "X-Files."


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