This Week in History


D. D. Palmer, Founder of Chiropractic

For the week of Monday September 15, 2003

On September 18, 1895, chiropractic was born when Daniel David Palmer first adjusted a janitor’s spine. Commonly called “D.D.,” Palmer is respected as “the Founder” by chiropractors today.

Daniel David Palmer
Daniel David Palmer
© Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College Archives
D.D. was born in Port Perry, Ontario, on March 7, 1845. He spent his youth in Canada, but joined his family in Iowa in 1865. After trying other ventures, he began a career as a magnetic healer. This occupation attracted him because some healers had achieved great fame and fortune, and soon his business attained the same success. It was during his years as a magnetic healer that he developed his theory of chiropractic.

D.D. thought that disease and health were determined by the alignment of vertebrae, the bones that form the spine. If these were misaligned, what he called a subluxation, they could cause a pinched flow of energy in the nerves attached to the spinal cord, which he believed was the cause of many diseases. D. D. called his system chiropractic, a combination of the Greek words cheir (hand) and praktikos (practice) meaning ‘done by hand’, since he believed this is how re-alignments should be made.

One of the few photographs of D.D.Palmer giving an adjustment
One of the few photographs of D.D. Palmer giving an adjustment
© Palmer Foundation for Chiropractic History
In September 1865, D.D. met Harvey Lillard, a janitor who had been deaf for 17 years. Lillard explained that his deafness was sudden – while working, his back gave out and he lost his hearing. D.D. examined the man’s back and found that a vertebra was out of place. He believed that if this bone was re-aligned, Harvey’s hearing would return. D.D. did the adjustment, and the janitor’s hearing was restored. D.D. claimed that later on, he successfully treated a patient with heart trouble using the same technique. He theorized that if two diseases that were so different were due to pressure on nerves by misaligned vertebrae, all diseases must have the same cause and could be cured the same way. He believed the human body must be considered a machine – it functioned well when its parts were in the right places and badly when they were not.

D. D. died in Los Angeles, California on October 20, 1913, of typhoid fever. Even though his accomplishments were made in the United States, Daniel David Palmer is a person of national historic significance because he was born and raised in Canada, and because of the importance attached to his Canadian birthplace by chiropractors worldwide.

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