Pages from History: 
by Robert Noah Calvert

The Massage Chair

David Palmer is the San Francisco practitioner who created the world’s first massage-specific chair, the High Touch Massage Chair, in 1986. I remember visiting the factory in Santa Rosa, California, with David just a few months before its debut to see the prototype. David was excited about how the chair would revolutionize touch therapies, allowing anyone to get worked on without taking off their clothes, and to receive a full-body massage at nearly any location. His dreams have come true. Today we find the massage chair being used wherever one’s imagination may take them.

The original High Touch Massage Chair, which debuted in 1986, High Touch Massage Chairwas created by David Palmer and manufactured by Living Earth Crafts. The photo shows the chair in its folded-up position, which allows it to be carried much like a suitcase, complete with handle and carrying strap.

Massage Chair, circa 1989An early attempt at using metal instead of wood, circa 1989. This model did not fair well, due to its poorly designed locking mechanisms that made the chair very unstable and unsafe.The Massage Bar

The Massage Bar, created in 1993 by Cary Cruea of Seattle, Washington, utilizes a separate desktop face cradle attached to the countertop. The desktop face cradle was created about 1990 and was designed for doing massage where a chair was not available.

Massage Chair, circa 1999

The latest development in massage chairs, circa 1999, this one from Golden Ratio Woodworks and the mind of owner John Fanuzzi. Many chairs look and act like this one, using high-tech tubing, quality vinyl and offering an easy-to-assemble set-up and easy-to-carry break-down. The Oakworks chair uses powder-coated aluminum and allows many adjustments.

The retail cost of that first chair was $385. With nearly a dozen manufacturers today and prices ranging from a low of $239 to a high of $551 (average $418) the chair costs about the same as a massage table.

The evolution of the massage chair since 1986 has been considerable in terms of the materials used to make them, the added features like wheels, covers and instructional videos (the first chair had no diagrams or photos on how to assemble it), the safety of transporting and adjusting a chair, and the stability and quality of the overall product.

Most notable has been the change from primarily wooden materials to high-tech metals and plastics, while the vinyls and under-padding have also improved with new technology. The range of adjustments on today’s table make the original look like a one-dimensional unit, even though the High Touch Massage Chair had a face rest, and seat, arm and leg adjustments. Today’s chairs have extensive face-cradle adjustments, and several models can take the client from a sitting position to a horizontal posture that is almost supine.

The chair has also spawned other related inventions, such as the desk-top face-cradle designed to attach to the top of a desk while the client is seated on an ordinary stool. (There’s also the new mobile massage tool for home use that provides a face-cradle at the end of your bed, supported with a metal support under the box springs and mattress.)

The massage chair has indeed been one of the most influential new tools for the practitioner since it was first introduced, and has contributed toward an expansion of the career opportunities in the industry like no other tool now on the market. David Palmer is still going strong, teaching his method of giving a session on the chair-right next to a large number of others trying to capture the market of those who want to learn how to use a massage chair and market its uses into today’s fast-paced world. Because with a massage chair, where you do massage is now as far-reaching as your own imagination.


Robert Noah Calvert is the founder and CEO of MASSAGE Magazine. The material for this column comes from two sources: the World of Massage Museum’s collections and Calvert’s book, The History of Massage published in February 2002 by Healing Arts Press.

Pages from History: 
by Robert Noah Calvert

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