'Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed' inventor dies at 92

ByABC News
June 19, 2009, 5:36 PM

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, has died. He was 92.

During its heyday in the 1960s and '70s, Magic Fingers was a pop culture icon.

Inventor John Joseph Houghtaling (pronounced HUFF-tay-ling) died Wednesday at his home in Fort Pierce, Fla., his son Paul said Friday in a telephone interview.

Tinkering in the basement of his New Jersey home, Houghtaling invented the "Magic Fingers" machine in 1958.

The coin-operated device was mounted onto beds, and putting a quarter in the slot 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."

Fox's News Channel's Brit Hume sang the Buffett lyric to former President George W. Bush and his father in a January interview when they mentioned a vibrating chair in the Oval Office.

In a 1963 New York Times profile, Houghtaling said he was selling beds with a built-in vibrating mechanism when he realized during a repair job that 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 that 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 remained its president until he retired in the 1980s, when the rights to the device were sold. The current owners still sell the machines for home use.

After he retired, Houghtaling continued to invent and sell coin-operated machines, such as scales and pulse-checking devices.