Many of the ideas that we associate with chiropractic were described before 1895, but 1895 was the year that Palmer tells us chiropractic came into existence.
Daniel David Palmer of Iowa, who opened the first chiropractic school there in 1897. The first chiropractic adjustment was on Harvey Lillard, a partially deaf janitor of the Ryan Building in which Daniel Palmer practiced. He had told Palmer that ‘when exerting himself in a cramped stooping position, he felt something give way in his back and immediately became deaf’. Palmer surmised that if his patient’s deafness 17 years before had been linked to this spinal accident, which he located at the fourth thoracic vertebra, then he could restore Lilliard’s hearing by reversing that process. Palmer set about the task. He tells us that he ‘racked it into position by using the spinous process as a lever and soon the man could hear as before’.
The word "chiropractic" was coined from Greek root words by Rev. Samuel Weed.
Early chiropractic bore similarities to osteopathy and was criticized as practising medicine without a license. Practicing medicine without a license led to many chiropractors being jailed. In 1906 Palmer was jailed for practicing without a license. However following intervention from a Wisconsin chiropractor, Dr Shegataro Morikubo, who argued strongly that chiropractic and medicine were distinct, the jury unanimously acquitted him, leaving Palmer's son Bartlett Joshua Palmer to take control of the Palmer School of Chiropractic and to fight on to sustain chiropractic as a separate profession. Bartlett Joshua began to accept the use of technology such as X-rays within chiropractic care. Dr. Solon Langworthy was the first to use the word "subluxation" with regard to chiropractic, and published the first book on chiropractic, called "Modernized Chiropractic" — "Special Philosophy — A Distinct System", in 1906.
The first Chiropractic Association, the Universal Chiropractic Association, was established to fight each case. Battles were won, State by State, through America and country by country in the rest of the world. Prosecutions drew to a head in the 1920s . In the first 30 years of chiropractic’s existence, over 15,000 prosecutions took place, one fifth resulting in conviction. During 1965 almost half of Louisiana’s chiropractors were found guilty of illegally practicing medicine. In 1974 licensure was finally granted by Louisiana which then completed the USA’s legislative process.
Chiropractic’s first European martyr was Simon Müller , imprisoned in Mulen jail, Zurich, in 1933. This prompted the first Chiropractic Law in Europe, passed in the Canton of Lucerne in 1937. In 1964 the Swiss officially classified chiropractors as primary care physicians independent of medicine, giving them the right to refer patients to hospital and to treat them if the patient requested.
In February 1975 a workshop was held at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, USA, entitled, ‘The Research Status of Spinal Manipulative Therapy’ (NINDS stands for: National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke). Medical doctors, osteopaths and chiropractors officially assembled to discuss spinal manipulative therapy. By the mid 1990s there was a growing scholarly interest in chiropractic, which helped efforts to improve service quality and establish clinical guidelines such as recommending manual therapies for acute low back pain.
Today chiropractic is more accepted than it once was within medical circles. Chiropractic’s value is recognised by many within the medical profession.
In the UK chiropractic has been recognised by specific legislation (Chiropractors Act, 1994).
The main international association concerned with study of the history of chiropractic is the Association for the History of Chiropractic. Its website can be found at:
Below is a link to a literature produced on the history of chiropractic in the United States in 2004:
There is a history of chiropractic in Europe which was edited by Francis Wilson for the European Chiropractors’ Union for their 75th anniversary:
Wilson F.J.H. (2007). Chiropractic in Europe: An Illustrated History (Edited by F.J.H. Wilson). Matador, Leicester.