L’ Italo Americano magazine’s Paula Reynolds tells us that there are iconic brands that rise above, morphing into a name that stands for an entire category of products. Kleenex, Chapstick, and Jacuzzi – all stand the test. Whether it’s an innovative product or merely a great marketing scheme, when a brand name becomes a hit, the name sticks.
Had it not been for the pacifist leanings of Giovanni Jacuzzi (1825 – 1929), you and I might never have had the enjoyment of a bubbly soak under a starry sky. Giovanni, a farmer, and his bride Teresa, both from the Northern Italian village of Casara della Delizia, married in 1886 and quickly began fashioning their large family of 13 children. Giovanni, however, was greatly dissatisfied with the government’s hawkish policies. The onset of World War I was the catalyst; the eldest seven Jacuzzi brothers, now doing seasonal work in Germany, were summoned by their father and ordered to set sail for America. Some traveled together, others followed on their own — soon Rachele, Francesco, Valeriano, Galindo, Giuseppe, Giocondo, and Candido found themselves on Californian soil. Settling in the San Francisco Bay Area, an area already hosting an established Italian community, the innovative brothers spared no time in finding ways to be productive.
Rachele was endowed with an inventor’s spirit, and he was really smart. After a stint in a mechanic shop owned by a Mr. McDonnell – who later established the aerospace corporation McDonnell Douglas – Rachele began work near the 1915 Panama-Pacific World’s Fair airfield, allowing him to view active aircraft up close. Believing the current standard of the propeller could be improved upon, Rachele designed a windward pitched propeller dubbed the Jacuzzi Toothpick. His design caught on, becoming the military standard, as well as the prop of choice for Charles Lindberg. In short order, the brothers convened under one roof, funneling their collective brain power and creativity into the infant aviation industry.
What followed was impressive. The innovative Jacuzzi J-7 came into being, the first enclosed cabin monoplane. Exhibitions and publicity brought great interest, which lead to a proposed contract from the U.S. Airmail services. The practically infallible plane was a top contender, its final test was to prove it could ferry tourists. A group of four, including Giocondo Jacuzzi, flew from San Francisco to Yosemite. The flight was seamless, and two days later the crew took off for a victory flight home to San Francisco. No one knows exactly why, but the pilot chose to make a descent into Modesto, possibly to see a girlfriend. Something went freakishly wrong, and the J-7 lost first its left wing, then the right. The four onboard were lost, along with the future of the aircraft.
The early success of the elder brothers dissolved quickly after the tragedy. By this time, father Giovanni and the remainder of the family had emigrated and settled in San Francisco. Financial aspects aside, Giovanni forbid any further involvement in aviation . . . it was time to reinvent.
An earlier creation by Rachele using his knowledge of aerodynamics had resulted in a pump that moved water using water. As Ken Jacuzzi, son of Candido, states in his book Jacuzzi: A Father’s Invention to Ease a Son’s Pain (iUniverse, December 2005), “The principle was simple: water would be forced down a pipe, creating a vacuum and bringing water up.” Simple, effective, and efficient, the family latched on to the potential of marketing the pump to the many farmers scattered throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
If Rachele was the master inventor of the family, Candido, the youngest son, was the charismatic salesman. His mission clear, Candido set out door to door, often rejected when his poor English riled up prejudice or impatience. Determined, he attended evening English lessons. In a matter of time, the pump became popular for the agricultural area. The Jacuzzi name was back in the game. Business burgeoned, extended family joined the operation, a factory was purchased on the Richmond shoreline, where the building still stands today on Jacuzzi Drive.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” as the great Mr. Einstein once said. Words never rang truer in the next, and most profitable, phase of the Jacuzzi story. By the early 1940’s, Candido had risen in the ranks of the family business. His young family welcomed their fourth child, Kenneth. A normal, healthy boy, but the tides turned when the young toddler endured a bout of strep throat that resulted in the complication of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. His entire body was wracked by the disease. Drugs, physical therapy and, prophetically, hydrotherapy were prescribed to ease young Ken’s symptoms.
Inez, Ken’s mother, observed the hydrotherapy treatments brought great relief to her son’s symptoms. However, the journey to the hospital created challenges; Candido’s help was enlisted. As Ken relays in his book, “Dad went out to see me in the whirlpool tank. He said, ‘Why that’s just a pump!’” That “just a pump” was the birth of an iconic industry. Candido and family designed the first submersible pump, a metal canister that could safely be placed in a tub of water, and christened it the J-300. Ken’s physician came out to take a look. Astounded, he eagerly encouraged Candido to manufacture the pumps for other patients.
Despite its usefulness, the pump was initially resisted by the Jacuzzi family – the inclusion of a consumer-based product was risky. Candido, unrelenting, got busy. He used connections to get the pump on “Queen for a Day” (1945 – 1964), a wildly popular daytime show watched by millions. “Every time a queen had a story that had some medical-related aspect, one of the prizes was a Jacuzzi,” relates Ken. “The name became known overnight.”
What we know and love as the modern Jacuzzi . . . whether a tub or a hot tub . . . evolved in the late 1960’s with the involvement of Candido’s grand-nephew Roy. With his innovative idea of incorporating water and air jets into the sides of large bathtubs, along with his savvy marketing abilities, the tub became the symbol of the ultimate romantic experience in the 1970’s. Remember those heart-shaped Jacuzzi tub ads?
Despite its success as a leisure must-have, the oil crisis in the late 70’s, along with a stretch of legal financial drain, caused the necessity to get creative with future growth. Selling the company was eventually proposed. The result: Kidde, Inc. purchased Jacuzzi in 1987 for $59 million. Family, other than Roy who was placed in charge of the bath division, were shown the door. A series of acquisitions have occurred since that time, further growing the multi-billion-dollar company. Iconic, now a symbol of leisure, romance, good times . . . the Jacuzzi hot tub and bath are synonymous with the good life. Candido might be surprised — but I doubt it.
Happy soaking . . .
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.