MIAMI — The inventor of the "Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed," which brought weary travelers 15 minutes of "tingling relaxation and ease" for a quarter in hotel rooms across America during its heyday as a pop culture icon in the 1960s and 1970s, has died. He was 92.
John Joseph Houghtaling died Wednesday at his home in Fort Pierce, his son Paul Houghtaling said Friday in a telephone interview.
Tinkering in the basement of his New Jersey home, Houghtaling invented the "Magic Fingers" machine in 1958.
The device was mounted onto beds, and a quarter bought 15 minutes of "tingling relaxation and ease," according to its label. "Put in a quarter, turn out the light, Magic Fingers makes ya feel all right," Jimmy Buffett sang in "This Hotel Room."
Kitschy and titillating, Magic Fingers remained a staple of American pop culture even after the device began disappearing from motels. The vibrations triggered a beer explosion in the movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," and FBI agents Mulder and Scully relaxed to the pulsations in an episode of "The X Files."
In a 1963 New York Times profile, Houghtaling (pronounced HUFF-tay-ling) said he was selling beds with a built-in vibrating mechanism when he realized during a repair job it would be much cheaper to create something that would attach to the outside of an existing bed.
"After ripping away the frills, I found it was the vibrator that counted, not the bed," he recalled. "'Magic Fingers' was born then and there."
He moved the company to Miami in 1968 and was president until he retired in the 1980s, when the rights were sold. The current owners still sell the machines for home use. Houghtaling continued to invent and sell coin-operated devices such as scales and pulse-checking devices.
Magic Fingers was a family business from the beginning, said Paul Houghtaling of Alexandria, Va. His oldest brother remembers working on the machine in the basement in New Jersey, and all four sons worked for the company in high school and college.
"I crawled under an awful lot of beds and installed an awful lot of Magic Fingers and collected an awful lot of quarters," Paul Houghtaling said.
In its heyday, there were about 175 Magic Fingers franchise dealers across the country, and the gadgets collected $6,000 to $7,000 a month in quarters, he said.
Houghtaling was born Nov. 14, 1916, in Kansas City, Mo. He never went to college. He joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and flew 20 combat missions.
He is survived by four sons and a daughter.