Daniel David Palmer

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Daniel David Palmer
Daniel David Palmer
BornDaniel David Palmer
7 March 1845
Port Perry, Ontario
Died20 October 1913
Parent(s)Thomas Pahlmer, Katherine McVay

Daniel David Palmer or D.D. Palmer (March 7, 1845 – October 20, 1913) was the founder of chiropractic. Schoolteacher, apiarist, magnetic healer and chiropractor, Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer was born in Audley, Ontario, in 1845 and emigrated to the United States. At the end of the 19th century when D.D. Palmer came on the health-care scene, medicine was in a state of disarray. Many alternative healing practices were founded in this era. D.D. reasoned the body had an ample supply of natural healing power transmitted through the nervous system. If a single organ was sick, it must not be receiving its normal nerve supply. That led to the premise of spinal misalignment, or subluxation, and from there to a procedure for adjusting the vertebrae. Known as The Discoverer of chiropractic and as The Founder of the chiropractic profession, D.D. Palmer performed the first chiropractic adjustment on Sept. 18, 1895, in Davenport, Iowa. He founded Palmer School and Cure (now Palmer College of Chiropractic) in Davenport in 1897. He founded additional chiropractic schools in Santa Barbara, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Oklahoma City, Okla. He died in 1913. He was posthumously named a distinguished Fellow in the Palmer Academy of Chiropractic in 2006.


Palmer was born in Audley, Ontario,[1] to Thomas Palmer and his wife Katherine McVay.[2][3] At age twenty he moved to the United States with his family. Palmer held various jobs such as a beekeeper, school teacher, and grocery store owner, and had an interest in the various health philosophies of his day, including magnetic healing, and spiritualism. Palmer practiced magnetic healing beginning in the mid-1880s in Burlington and Davenport, Iowa.

Palmer worked as a magnetic healer in Davenport, Iowa. His office was located in the South Putnam Building of the Ryan Block, at the intersection of Second and Brady Streets. While working, he encountered the building's janitor, Harvey Lillard, who Palmer discovered had a palpable lump in his back. Lillard's hearing was severely impaired and Palmer theorized that the lump and his hearing deficits were related. Palmer then treated Lillard and claimed to have successfully restored his hearing,[4] a claim which was influential in Chiropractic history.

This account of how the first adjustment came to be would later be countered by Harvey's daughter who recounts a different interaction between the two men, as told to her by her father. She claims that Palmer overheard Harvey telling a joke just outside his office, and joined the group to catch the end of it. Upon hearing the punchline, Palmer heartily slapped Lillard on the back. A few days later Lillard remarked that his hearing had improved since the incident, inspiring Palmer to pursue vertebral treatment as a means to cure disease. [5]

His theories revolved around the concept that altered nerve flow was the cause of all disease, and that misaligned spinal vertebrae had an effect on the nerve flow. He postulated that restoring these vertebrae to their proper alignment would restore health.

"A subluxated vertebra ... is the cause of 95 percent of all diseases ... The other five percent is caused by displaced joints other than those of the vertebral column."[4]

By 1902 the school had graduated 15 chiropractors. In 1906, Palmer was prosecuted under the new medical arts law in Iowa for practicing medicine without a license, and chose to go to jail instead of paying the fine. As a result, he spent 17 days in jail, but then elected to pay the fine. Shortly thereafter, he sold the school of chiropractic to his son, B. J. Palmer. With the help of an arbitration committee, the deal was settled for $2,196.79, various books, and some specimens from the osteological collection. As soon as the sale of the school was finalized, D.D. Palmer went to the West Coast, where he helped to found chiropractic schools in Oklahoma, California, and Oregon.

The relationship with his son B.J. was tenuous and often bitter, especially after the sale of his school. Their subsequent disagreements regarding the direction of the emerging field of chiropractic were evident in D.D. Palmer's writings. Even the circumstances surrounding his death were postulated to be attributable to B.J. Court records reflect that during a founders day parade in Davenport in August 1913, D.D. was marching on foot when he was allegedly struck from behind by a car driven by B.J. Others insisted he was struck by B.J.'s vehicle. He died in Los Angeles, California on October 20, 1913. The official cause of death was typhoid fever, though some believe it was the consequence of his injuries. The courts exonerated B.J. of any responsibility for his father's death. Chiropractic historian Joseph C. Keating, Jr. has described the attempted patricide of D.D. Palmer 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.[6]

Osteopathy and Chiropractic[edit]

In 1870 Palmer was '"probably" a student of metaphysics, became a student of science in 1890 while practicing magnetic healing and after "discovering" chiropractic in 1895 attempted to merge science and metaphysics.[7] In 1896, D.D. Palmer's first descriptions and underlying philosophy of chiropractic was strikingly similar to Andrew Still's principles of osteopathy established a decade earlier.[8] Both described the body as a "machine" whose parts could be manipulated to produce a drugless cure. Both professed the use of spinal manipulation on joint dysfunction to improve health; chiropractors dubbed this manipulable lesion "subluxation" which interfered with nervous system whereas osteopaths dubbed the spinal lesion "somatic dysfunction" which affected the circulatory system. Palmer drew further distinctions by noting that he was the first to use short-lever manipulative techniques using the spinous process and transverse processes as mechanical levers to spinal dysfunction/subluxation.[9] Soon after, osteopaths began an American wide campaign proclaimed that chiropractic was a bastardized form of osteopathy and sought licensure to differentiate the two groups.[8] Although Palmer initially denied being trained by osteopathic medicine founder A.T. Still, in 1899 in papers held at the Palmer College of Chiropractic he wrote:

"Some years ago I took an expensive course in Electropathy, Cranial Diagnosis, Hydrotherapy, Facial Diagnosis. Later I took Osteopathy [which] gave me such a measure of confidence as to almost feel it unnecessary to seek other sciences for the mastery of curable disease. Having been assured that the underlying philosophy of chiropractic is the same as that of osteopathy...Chiropractic is osteopathy gone to seed."[7]

Palmer's beliefs and philosophy[edit]

As an active spiritist, D.D. Palmer said he "received chiropractic from the other world"[10] from a deceased medical physician named Dr. Jim Atkinson.[11]

According to B.J. Palmer, "Father often attended the annual Mississippi Valley Spiritualists Camp Meeting where he first claimed to receive messages from Dr. Jim Atkinson on the principles of chiropractic."[12][13]

In his book, The Chiropractor (published posthumously, 1914), Palmer described the situation:

"The knowledge and philosophy given me by Dr. Jim Atkinson, an intelligent spiritual being, together with explanations of phenomena, principles resolved from causes, effects, powers, laws and utility, appealed to my reason. The method by which I obtained an explanation of certain physical phenomena, from an intelligence in the spiritual world, is known in biblical language as inspiration. In a great measure The Chiropractor's Adjuster was written under such spiritual promptings." (p. 5)"[13]

He regarded chiropractic as partly religious in nature. In a letter of May 4, 1911 he said:

"... we must have a religious head, one who is the founder, as did Christ, Mohamed, Jo. Smith, Mrs. Eddy, Martin Luther and other who have founded religions. I am the fountain head. I am the founder of chiropractic in its science, in its art, in its philosophy and in its religious phase."[10]

In his 1914 book, the first chapter expanded on his religious views of chiropractic: "The Moral and Religious Duty of a Chiropractor".[13]

"... nor interfere with the religious duty of chiropractors, a privilege already conferred upon them. It now becomes us as chiropractors to assert our religious rights." (p. 1)
"The practice of chiropractic involves a moral obligation and a religious duty." (p. 2)

Later in the book he distanced himself from actually renaming the profession to the "religion of chiropractic" and discussed the differences between a formal, objective religion and a personal, subjective ethical religious belief. (p. 6) He reaffirmed that chiropractors have a religious and moral duty, and ended the first chapter by stating:

"By correcting these displacements of osseous tissue, the tension frame of the nervous system, I claim that I am rendering obedience, adoration and honor to the All-Wise Spiritual Intelligence, as well as a service to the segmented, individual portions thereof -- a duty I owe to both God and mankind. In accordance with this aim and end, the Constitution of the United States and the statutes personal of California confer upon me and all persons of chiropractic faith the inalienable right to practice our religion without restraint or interference." (p. 12)

Like other drugless healers of the era, Palmer practised as a magnetic healer prior to founding chiropractic. Palmer sought to combine magnetic, scientific and vitalistic viewpoints as a drugless healer. In his first text The science of chiropractic: its principles and adjustments published in 1906, Palmer recalls:

''In 1886 I began as a business. Although I practiced under the name of magnetic, I did not slap or rub, as others. I questioned many M.D.s as to the cause of disease. I desired to know why such a person had asthma, rheumatism, or other afflictions. I wished to know what differences there were in two persons that caused one to have certain symptoms called disease which his neighbor living under the same conditions did not have...In my practice of the first 10 years which I named magnetic, I treated nerves, followed and relieved them of inflammation. I made many good cures, as many are doing today under a similar method."[14]

He met opposition throughout his life, including locally, and was accused of being a crank and a quack. An 1894 edition of the local paper, the Davenport Leader, wrote:

"A crank on magnetism has a crazy notion that he can cure the sick and crippled with his magnetic hands. His victims are the weak-minded, ignorant and superstitious, those foolish people who have been sick for years and have become tired of the regular physician and want health by the short-cut method ... he has certainly profited by the ignorance of his victims ... His increase in business shows what can be done in Davenport, even by a quack."[15]

Like his son, Palmer was against vaccines:

"It is the very height of absurdity to strive to 'protect' any person from smallpox or any other malady by inoculating them with a filthy animal poison." -- D.D. Palmer[16]
"The Palmers espoused anti-vaccination opinions in the early part of the 20th century, rejecting the germ theory of disease in favor of a worldview that a subluxation-free spine, achieved by spinal adjustments, would result in an unfettered innate intelligence;..."[17].

Philosophy of the palmers has always been handed down from generation to generation with mostly a consensus on the totality of the original premis. Until recently DD's 6th Generation Nephew, JW Palmer (currently enrolled at the Parker University, Dallas Tx) has challenged DD's original theories, causing a feud of sorts with-in the chiropractic community. To this day the feud continues between the "straights" and "mixers", some adopting the position of JW's, and others DD's original premis... reference Dr. Carl Blaylor, (PhD. Chiropractic history/philosophy), Sinnott's chiropractic philosophy, Chapter 30.


The 2008 book Trick or Treatment states that in 1913, B.J. Palmer ran over his father, D.D. Palmer, during a homecoming parade at 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 fever. The book Trick or Treatment indicated "it seems more likely that his death was a direct result of injuries caused by his son." There was speculation that it was not an accident, but instead a case of attempted 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".[18] D.D. Palmer's attending physicians were persuaded to change their opinions about the main cause of death.[19] D.D. claimed that his son B.J. struck him with his car.[20] Chiropractic historian Joseph C. Keating, Jr. has described the attempted patricide of D.D. Palmer 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.[6] He also says that "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."[6]


The following quotes are from D.D. Palmer's book, The Chiropractor's Adjuster (also called The Text-Book of the Science, Art and Philosophy of Chiropractic). The book was published in 1910 by the Portland Printing House Company of Portland, Oregon, and reprinted in 1966 by his grandson, David D. Palmer, 1966.

  • Dis-ease: "The kind of dis-ease depends upon what nerves are too tense or too slack."
  • Chiropractic for intellectual abnormalities: "Chiropractors correct abnormalities of the intellect as well as those of the body."
  • Life and Religion: "I have answered the time-worn question — what is life?": "The dualistic system — spirit and body — united by intellectual life — the soul — is the basis of this science of biology"
  • "There can be no healing without Teaching ..."
  • "There is a vast difference between treating effects and adjusting the causes."


  • The Chiropractor's Adjuster (also called The Text-Book of the Science, Art and Philosophy of Chiropractic), Daniel David Palmer, Portland Printing House, 1910 (reprint: 1966).
  • The Chiropractor (Los Angeles: Beacon Light Printing Co., c1914).


  • Some time after his death, Palmer was mistakenly believed to have been born in Port Perry, about 30 km north-east of Audley. This information remains widespread today. Palmer did live in the town at some point, and appears to have received much of his schooling there. Today there is a statue of Palmer in the eponymous Palmer Park, which simply states he was "raised" there. Some of the confusion surrounding Palmer's early life can be seen in examples like Joseph Keating's "D.D. Palmer's Lifeline", which includes statements that "DD's father, Thomas Palmer, is born in Port Perry" in 1824 - but this was before the town existed. The same author would later correct the record in "The Palmers and the Port Perry Myths".
  1. ^ http://www.palmer.edu/media-newsroom/expert-sources/. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Arculus 2004, pp. 4-5.
  3. ^ "Ancestry of Daniel David Palmer". Wargs.com. October 20, 1913. Retrieved October 14, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Palmer D.D., The Science, Art and Philosophy of Chiropractic. Portland, Oregon: Portland Printing House Company, 1910.
  5. ^ Jarvis, William T. "NCAHF Fact Sheet on Chiropractic (2001)". www.ncahf.org. NCAHF. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Keating, Joseph (April 23, 1993). "Dispelling Some Myths About Old Dad Chiro". Dynamic Chiropractic. Retrieved July 29, 2009.
  7. ^ a b Leach, Robert (2004). The Chiropractic Theories: A Textbook of Scientific Research. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins. p. 15. ISBN 0683307479.
  8. ^ a b Ernst, E (May 2008). "Chiropractic: a critical evaluation". Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 35 (5): 544–62. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2007.07.004. ISSN 0885-3924. PMID 18280103.
  9. ^ "98_04_13~1.PDF" (PDF). Retrieved October 14, 2010.
  10. ^ a b D.D. Palmer's Religion of Chiropractic - Letter from D.D. Palmer to P.W. Johnson, D.C., May 4, 1911. In the letter, he often refers to himself with royal third person terminology and also as "Old Dad".
  11. ^ Keating J. Faulty Logic & Non-skeptical Arguments in Chiropractic
  12. ^ L. Ted Frigard, DC, PhC, Still vs. Palmer: A Remembrance of the Famous Debate, Dynamic Chiropractic – January 27, 2003, Vol. 21, Issue 03
  13. ^ a b c The Chiropractor. Books.google.com. p. 5. Retrieved October 14, 2010.
  14. ^ Palmer, DD, BJ. (1906). The science of chiropractic; its principles and adjustments. Iowa: Palmer School of Chiropractic.
  15. ^ Colquhoun, D (Jul 2008). "Doctor Who? Inappropriate use of titles by some alternative "medicine" practitioners". The New Zealand medical journal. 121 (1278): 6–10. ISSN 0028-8446. PMID 18670469. Archived from the original on June 15, 2009.
  16. ^ Busse JW, Morgan L, Campbell JB (2005). "Chiropractic antivaccination arguments". J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 28 (5): 367–73. doi:10.1016/j.jmpt.2005.04.011. PMID 15965414.
  17. ^ Gleberzon, Brian (September 2013), "On Vaccination & Chiropractic: when ideology, history, perception, politics and jurisprudence collide", Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 57: 205–13, PMC 3743646, PMID 23997246
  18. ^ Singh S, Ernst E (2008). "The truth about chiropractic therapy". Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. W.W. Norton. pp. 145–90. ISBN 978-0-393-06661-6.
  19. ^ Siordia L, Keating JC (1999). "Laid to uneasy rest: D.D. Palmer, 1913". Chiropr Hist. 19 (1): 23–31. PMID 11624037.
  20. ^ Stephen Barrett; Samuel Homola (1969). "At Your Own Risk: The Case Against Chiropractic - The Iowa Grocer's Dream". Chirobase.

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