View Full Version : News Time Runs Out On Magic Fingers

06-19-2009, 09:49 AM
Inventor passes away in Florida:

FORT PIERCE — The man whose invention vibrated millions of Americans to sleep, John Joseph Houghtaling, 92, died Wednesday in Fort Pierce.

Houghtaling invented the “Magic Fingers” machine, a coin operated device that caused motel beds to vibrate when a quarter was dropped in the machine.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Houghtaling joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was a crewman on the B-17 bomber and made 17 missions before the end of the war, said his son, Paul Houghtaling of Alexandria, Va.

After the war he became a salesman for a company selling mattresses with built in vibrators. Sales were not good, according to an article by John Grossman in the Spring 2000 edition of American Heritage Magazine. So in 1958, Houghtaling decided to build a device that could attach to a mattress, be cheap to operate and return revenue to his firm and the motels using it.

“He started in our garage in Glen Rock, N.J.,” his son said. “In 1963, he took the company public and was its president until he retired in the 1980s.”

Houghtaling put all of children to work in the company until they went on to other occupations. He also moved Magic Fingers to Miami.

Sales eventually reached $2 million a month, but vandals ripped off the coin boxes and stole the devices, causing motels to ban them from their premises.

A man ahead of his time, he obtained second patent in 1976 for a device that read magnetic strips on the back of plastic cards, his son said.

“They had not even invented ATM machines at that time, but what he had could read credit cards,” the son said.

Like many inventive people, Houghtaling was not content to just relax in retirement.

“Once you are in the coin operated business, you are always in the coin operated business,” his son said. “He bought a series of scales where you put quarters in, get your weight and a lottery number. He had a route that ran from Miami up through Orlando. He wanted a place to live higher up in the state so he wouldn’t have to keep driving back to Miami. Fort Pierce seemed like a good place and he bought a condo in the Colonades.”

When Houghtaling’s second wife died, he sold the condo, bought a boat in the Fort Pierce Marina, and lived on it until Hurricane Frances destroyed the marina and the boat.

“They never found the boat,” said Paul Houghtaling, “and he came back to the Colonades.”

Survivors include his daughter, Alison Lincoln of Miami; sons, John Houghtaling of Franklin Lakes, N.J., Mark Houghtaling of Miami; Paul Houghtaling of Alexandria, Va., and Chris Houghtaling of Miami; and four grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Leukemia Society, 4360 N. Lake Blvd. Suite 109, West Palm Beach, FL 33410.

Rain Man
06-19-2009, 10:17 AM
I suspect that those vibrating motel beds had purposes I didn't recognize when I was a kid.