Candido Jacuzzi (1903–1986) designed the first water pump that could make a bathtub into a whirlpool spa. He did this as a way to help his 15-month-old son, who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and prescribed hydrotherapy treatments. Jacuzzi modified an agricultural pump by adding an air intake, reversing the flow, and plunging it into a full bathtub, producing an instant, aerated whirlpool. This ingenious, portable spa became popular for home and medical office use, and it led to production of the familiar fiberglass, outdoor hot tub, which would make the Jacuzzi name a household word.
Candido Jacuzzi was born in the small, northern Italian village of Casarsa della Delizia, and his family immigrated to the United States around 1920, ultimately settling in Berkeley, California. Jacuzzi and six siblings started Jacuzzi Brothers, Inc. to build and sell products designed by eldest brother Rachele, a gifted designer with aeronautical training. Among these products were injection pumps for agricultural applications. One of their products was a spa pump that could be dunked into an ordinary bathtub to aerate water for therapeutic purposes. Jacuzzi's toddler son, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, provided the inspiration for this invention, and it became popular in the 1950s. As CEO of the family-owned company, Jacuzzi achieved financial success by incorporating this portable spa pump into a molded fiberglass recreational hot tub, making the family name a household word.
Jacuzzi was the youngest of Giovanni and Teresa Jacuzzi's 13 surviving children, and he was born on February 24, 1903. The family lived in a beautiful, rural setting in northern Italy, where Jacuzzi's father owned a fruit-and-vegetable shop and operated a large farm. During Jacuzzi's childhood, money was scarce, and during the summer months the older sons were sent to work in Germany. Growing into a young adult, eldest son Rachele became a telegraph operator, while Jacuzzi's other brothers worked as bricklayers. Rachele also pursued his education, joined the Italian army, and studied the new field of aeronautics. As the political situation in Italy worsened and World War I loomed, however, papa Giovanni sent his older sons to America so that they would not be drafted to fight in the European war.
The Jacuzzi brothers worked many jobs, migrating from Washington State down to Southern California. As they established themselves, they wrote to their father that the rest of the family should join them and perhaps buy an orange ranch. Candido Jacuzzi was a young teenager when he and the rest of the family arrived in California. By now Rachele was working for McDonnell Douglas, a huge aircraft manufacturer, where he designed a superior aircraft propeller. His invention, known as the “Jacuzzi Toothpick,” was a success and was adopted by both the U.S. and Russian military. With rights accorded the inventor, these two major contracts funded the startup of the family company, Jacuzzi Brothers, Inc., which was founded in 1915 and headquartered in Berkeley, California.
In 1949, Jacuzzi's 15-month-old son Kenneth contracted rheumatoid arthritis, a painful and incurable inflammatory condition affecting the whole body. Doctors recommended hydrotherapy, regular immersion in a bath of hot, aerated water. Kenneth felt much better after hydrotherapy sessions followed by massage, so it became a priority. When getting the young patient to the hospital spa regularly proved taxing, his wife asked Jacuzzi to think of a better solution. Jacuzzi studied the hydrotherapy unit used by the hospital spa and realized that it was run by pumps, which were his business, after all. He tried modifying an agricultural pump by adding an air intake, reversing the flow, and submerging the result into an ordinary bathtub of hot water. It worked, sending a strong jet of bubbles that created the desired whirlpool effect. Home treatments for Kenneth became possible.
Medical staff visiting Kenneth were impressed by Jacuzzi's portable spa and suggested that his company make and market them. His business partners—his brothers and sisters—were not so keen on the idea, however. They worried about entering the consumer market and competing with huge, well-known corporations that might take over their idea and crush their family business. Jacuzzi eventually persuaded them to test-market the portable spa on the condition that he could first generate sufficient consumer interest in it.
In the early days of television, there were just a few shows on at any given time, meaning that a popular program airing in the prime-viewing daytime hours could draw tens of millions of viewers. This viewership provided excellent exposure for sponsors, which either ran short commercials or had their products prominently incorporated into the actual program (a practice called product placement). Jacuzzi had a few connections in Los Angeles, and these people helped him contact producers of the popular daytime television program Queen for a Day. On this show, prizes were awarded to the housewife with the best hard-luck story. The producers would have the women tell their plight, then measure applause to judge the most heartbreaking among them. A variety of prizes were awarded, according to the nature of the need. A winning story including medical issues would always feature a Jacuzzi spa among the prizes. Significant sales followed, and the family had its next big product.
With its theraputic abilities, the Jacuzzi spa appealed to far more people than suffering housewives. It quickly caught on with celebrities and became a sought-after luxury item. While the company grew steadily due to the success of the spa pump, their greatest success would be with the full, self-contained whirlpool bath Jacuzzi would design with one of his grandnephews. Moulding their portable spa pump into a custom-designed fiberglass bathing tub, the company introduced the first two-person whirlpool in 1970. This luxury item, which could be used indoors or out, was modified due to demand and eventually became the multi-person backyard spa of legend. Jacuzzi was now a household word.
Flash forward a decade later, and the family business was suffering from its own success. Candido Jacuzzi retired as company president in 1971, remaining an active force on the board of directors until debilitating paralysis forced him to leave the business altogether in 1975. With over 100 Jacuzzi descendants now involved in the company, in 1979 Jacuzzi & Brothers, Inc., made the decision to go public, with poor results due to market factors and other issues. The business was ultimately sold, after various transactions and transitions, along with the Jacuzzi brand.
The holder of over 50 patents, and a successful business executive in the classic “rags to riches” tradition, Candido Jacuzzi retired to Arizona, where he lived to age 83. He died on October 7, 1986, of respiratory failure, at his home in Scottsdale, survived by his wife, Ranieri Jacuzzi, and children Kenneth, John, Alba (Kosta), and Irene (Davidson).
Jacuzzi, Ken, Jacuzzi: A Father's Invention to Ease a Son's Pain, iUniverse, 2009.
Jacuzzi, Remo, Spirit, Wind, and Water: The Untold Story of the Jacuzzi Family, Welcome Rain, 2007.
Icon, July 12, 2016, John Jervis, “Icon of the Month: The Jacuzzi.”
New York Times, October 10, 1986, Glenn Fowler, “Candido Jacuzzi: Inventor of Whirlpool Bath.”
Atlas Obscura online, http://www.atlasobscura.com/ (October 6, 2015), Rick Paulus, “A Hot Take on the Steamy History of the Jacuzzi.”❑