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B.J. was son of Daniel David Palmer (or "D.D."), the founder of chiropractic. The Palmer family of six resided in the back of a grocery store that D.D. operated. In 1885 D.D.'s wife became sick and died, after which D.D. remarried numerous times. When D.D. had settled with a new wife, he moved the family to Letts, Iowa, and he worked as a schoolteacher and a magnetic healing, developing chiropractic. Palmer claimed that he cured a deaf man, Harvey Lillard, who was a janitor by trade, by manipulating his spine. Palmer also claimed he cured a person of heart problems by spinal manipulation.
When D.D. had discovered chiropractic, he felt the desire to keep it secret for fear of others stealing his ideas. Eventually, patients and his wife convinced him to teach chiropractic. D.D. was reluctant to allow B.J. to learn chiropractic, but eventually gave in and allowed B.J. to study under him. B.J. was reported to have been serious about his studies and responsibilities within chiropractic. He was one of the first in the mornings in the infirmary, and one of the last to leave. D.D. was quite a restless soul and left more than once to try and start a new chiropractic college elsewhere. B.J. assumed control of the school that his father had founded in Davenport, Iowa. As a result of his development and promotion of the profession, B.J. became known as the "Developer" of chiropractic.
B.J. Palmer was born on September 14, 1882 and had three sisters. He apparently had a strict childhood. On May 30, 1904, Palmer married Mabel Heath, and they both worked as chiropractors and instructors at Palmer College. Mabel Heath Palmer had a heavy load of students and taught mostly anatomy classes. B.J. Palmer ran his research clinics in Davenport for 16 years and eventually became convinced that upper cervical spine was the key to health. He coined the new method "Hole-In-One" (HIO) as known as Upper Cervical via Toggle Recoil application. Subsequently, he modified the PSC (Palmer School of Chiropractic) curriculum to reflect his new ideas. Palmer advocated the use of Neurocalometer and x-ray machine.
On December 12, 1906, son David Daniel Palmer was born to B.J. and Mabel Heath, and would be the couple's only child. In keeping with his educational efforts for the profession, he became known as "The Educator." They had an estranged relationship for a number of years when David Daniel decided to attended University of Pennsylvania and later its Wharton School of Business. David explained that he knew that he would one day be in charge of the school, and wanted an education in business to allow him to better manage the college. He also graduated from Palmer as a Doctor of Chiropractic.
B.J. Palmer also became involved in a number of technological advances in his region of Iowa. He owned the first automobile in the area, and he would use it when he made house calls. In 1922, Palmer purchased a local radio station, WOC (AM) (whose call letters stood for "Wonders Of Chiropractic"), and began using it to market chiropractic, as well as to broadcast farm, sports and weather reports. Ronald Reagan, future President of the United States and actor, was given his first broadcast job by Dr. Palmer to broadcast sports for WOC. A second station in Des Moines, IA, WHO, ("With Hands Only") was purchased in 1930. Television stations were later added under the same call letters.
Following with the extensive world travels that was the trend in the 1920s, B.J., Mabel, and son David traveled through most of Asia. He later wrote a book called 'Round the World with B.J.' that would detail those trips and the people they met. He also published and read some of these stories in the Palmer School's newspaper and on WOC radio station.
B.J. Palmer brought many different smaller businesses to the campus while he was president. He opened a printery, a bakery, a automotive service station, a woodworking facility, and a number of others. Instead of paying someone else to produce products, if he felt he could sustain them on the campus, he brought it there.
Mabel Heath died in 1949 from stroke complications. B.J. had a home in Sarasota, Florida where he spent some of his time in the later years of his life. He died in 1961 due to intestinal cancer. His son, David Daniel Palmer, assumed the role of President of Palmer School of Chiropractic after his father's death.
B.J. and Mabel Palmer Residence
The house that B.J. and Mabel Palmer lived in is located at B.J. Palmer House at 808 Brady Street, Davenport, Iowa. It contains many of the souvenirs collected on their tours of the world. The Palmers added on a porch addition surrounding the original house in the 1920s to help hold their extensive collection.
Questioned involvement in father's death
The allegations that B.J. had hit his father with a car during the homecoming parade followed B.J. Palmer for the better part of a generation had its beginnings on August 27, 1913. The highly controversial 2008 book Trick or Treatment states that in 1913 B.J. Palmer ran over his father, D.D. Palmer, at a homecoming parade for the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. Weeks later, D.D. Palmer died in Los Angeles. The official cause of death was recorded as typhoid. The highly controversial book Trick or Treatment remarked "it seems more likely that his death was a direct result of injuries caused by his son." There was speculation it was not an accident, but rather a case of patricide. They had become bitter rivals over the leadership of chiropractic. B.J. Palmer resented his father for the way he treated his family, stating that his father beat three of his children with straps and was so much involved in chiropractic that "he hardly knew he had any children". D.D. claimed that his son B.J. struck him with his car. Chiropractic historian Joseph C. Keating, Jr. has described the "patricide" interpretation of the event as a myth and "absurd on its face" and cites an eyewitness who recalled that D.D. was not struck by B.J.'s car, but rather, had stumbled. He also says "Joy Loban, DC, executor of D.D.'s estate, voluntarily withdrew a civil suit claiming damages against B.J. Palmer, and that several grand juries repeatedly refused to bring criminal charges against the son." D.D. Palmer died October 20, 1913. One cause of the rumors was the competition between the schools (Palmers and Universals).
- Joseph C. Keating, Jr.. Chronology of RADIOPHONE STATION WOC, 1922-1932
- Dennis Peterson, Glenda Wiese (1995). "Pathway to identity for a new healing art". in Russel W. Gibbons. Chiropractic: An Illustrated History (1 ed.). Mosby. pp. 528. ISBN 0-80167-735-1.
- Keating, Joseph (April 23, 1993). "Dispelling Some Myths About Old Dad Chiro". Dynamic Chiropractic. http://www.chiroweb.com/mpacms/dc/article.php?id=42251. Retrieved 2009-07-29.
- Dennis Peterson, Glenda Wiese (1995). Russel W. Gibbons. ed. Chiropractic: An Illustrated History (1 ed.). Mosby. p. 88. ISBN 0-80167-735-1.
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