It’s been a long day of driving. Your back’s a little stiff from sitting all day and so is your leg from holding that gas pedal down for hours. You put your bags down, take a hot shower and climb into bed thinking to yourself how you could use a nice massage to ease your aches and pains. So, you grab a couple of quarters and put them in the little box on the nightstand and let the bed gently massage you to sleep.
This is what a typical day would be like for you if you were traveling on the road between 1960s and 1980s and staying in mid-priced hotels along the way to wherever it was you were going. And you have Mr. John Joseph Houghtaling (pronounced HUFF-tay-ling) and his little invention called the Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed for that relaxing massage that gave you such a good night’s sleep.
He was born to a telegraph company lineman in Kansas, Missouri on November 14, 1916, and as a result of his dad’s line of work, John Houghtaling and his two sisters moved around the Midwest a lot when he was young. John’s gallivanting ways didn’t change much as he grew older, either. During World War II, he joined the U.S. Army as a gunnery instructor and went on to serve in the United States Army Air Corps in England, flying over 20 missions with the 452d Bombardment Squadron aboard a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.
After his enlistment, he worked a number of odd jobs here and there, once as a bellman at a hotel and then as a salesman pitching everything from cookware to remote-controlled lawnmowers. One of the other things he sold was a vibrating bed with the motor and the frame sold as a single unit.
While out on a service call one evening, Houghtaling noticed that the vibrating motor was the vital part of the bed, while the frame and the rest of the bed made the whole thing clumsy, so he decided to improve upon it by inventing a unit that could attach to any bed.
Working out of his basement in Glen Rock, New Jersey, Houghtaling experimented with hundreds of different motors before he found one that was light enough to be attached to the box springs of any bed, yet still produced the perfect level of vibration that gave you “tingling relaxation and ease”, as his invention would later promise on its labels. He put a quarter in the box, the same type used for radios and televisions at the time, and it vibrated the bed for 15 minutes. Voila! – the Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed was born.
In the mid-60’s there were 250,000 Magic Fingers installed throughout the country. By the 1970’s, over a million could be found in rooms all over North America and Europe raking in over $10 million in monthly gross revenue.
However, by the end of the decade, Magic Fingers began to seem old-fashioned and because of its relationship with seedy hotels, Magic Fingers began being seen as sleazy. By the 1980s theft of the coin boxes became a common occurrence and other in-room entertainment options became available and Magic Fingers slowly fell out of favor. Houghtaling saw this as a sign and decided it was time to retire. He sold the rights to the Magic Fingers name. The new owner decided to focus on Magic Fingers’ personal use in homes rather than hotel and motels.
Nevertheless, Magic Fingers remained a staple of American pop culture even after the device began disappearing from motels. Who can forget when a beer exploded in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles thanks to a little help from the Magic Fingers? Then there’s that scene in an episode of The X Files when FBI agents Mulder and Scully relaxed to the Magic Fingers tingling and relaxing pulsations.
By the time of Mr. Houghtaling’s death at the age of 92 on June 17, 2009, there were only a handful of hotels, mostly out in the Western part of the U.S., that still had Magic Fingers Vibrating Beds available for their guests; in spite of that, however, all five of his surviving children had Magic Fingers units installed in their homes.
Nevertheless, there is still good news. If you’re feeling a little nostalgic for the days when you used to be able to massage your aches and pains away after a long day out on the road, Magic Fingers can still be purchased today from a company called American Entertainment, Inc. out of Bremerton, Washington for about 320 quarters.
We hope this article didn’t rub you the wrong way and took you back to some of the kitschy cool fun of the American road trip. And speaking of kitschy cool, the next time you’re out on the road and feel the need to relax refresh and refuel, why not make that stop a Stuckey’s stop at one of our locations near you? Inside you’ll find lots of delicious pecan candies, including our new 10 oz. pecan log roll that taste just as good as you remember. And don’t forget to pick up some candy or other Stuckey’s merchandise for the folks back home. You might as well buy two of those pecan log rolls while you’re at it. You know the first one isn’t going to make it home.
Can’t find a Stuckey’s location near you? Then let Stuckey’s find you by going online and having our signature Stuckey’s pecan log rolls or other sweet treats delivered right to your door. Visit us now at stuckeys.com to learn more.
Whether your next road trip is by car or by rail, it’s not really a road trip without taking Stuckey’s along. From our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls to our mouthwatering Hunkey Dorey, Stuckey’s has all the road trips snacks you’ll need to get you where you’re going.
For all of the pecany good treats and cool merch you’ll need for your next big road adventure, browse our online store now!
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