Because of its immense popularity during the 1970s and ’80s, the name Jacuzzi stood for hot tubs the way the Kleenex meant tissues. In fact, the word “jacuzzi” has become so synonymous with hot tubs, it has become an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Turns out the iconic whirlpool bath was created in the Jacuzzi brothers’ machine shop at 1450 San Pablo Ave., established in 1915. The family has a long history in Berkeley, where many family members have lived over the years.
Originally from Carsarsa, Italy, the Jacuzzi family relocated to the U.S. beginning in 1907 and ending in 1920. Jacuzzi Brothers Incorporated — made up of the seven Jacuzzi brothers, all mechanical engineers — started out in aviation, creating a lightweight propeller that was instrumental in World War I American aircraft, and America’s first monoplane with an enclosed cabin in 1921. When one of the brothers, 26-year-old Giacondo, died in a test of the monoplane in 1921, the family’s matriarch put an end to such pursuits, fearing another loss of life.
The brothers then turned their attention to a new type of pump that moved groundwater more efficiently, the basis for the jet pumps used in whirlpools and hot tubs today. The family would end up with 50 patents, spanning several industries.
The creation of the whirlpool has another Berkeley link. Candido Jacuzzi’s son, Kenneth, suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and received hydrotherapy from a Hubbard Tank at Herrick Hospital in Berkeley, now part of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. Because the twice-weekly, hour-long drive to the hospital became a strain for Candido’s wife, Inez, and painful for her son, she asked that Candido create an at-home version. He obliged with the J-300, an at-home pump that attached to a tub, in 1949.
“We ran ads that claimed to heal headaches, heart disease, sexual drive, everything,” Roy Jacuzzi, who worked summers at the bath unit as a teenager, told the East Bay Times in 2007. “We demonstrated door to door, in people’s bathrooms.”
Despite ads promoting the pump as a “lightweight, portable, hydromassage unit” perfect for “the tired businessman or harried housewife,” consumers were uneasy about using an electrical device with water. It was Roy who, fresh out of college, came up with the idea of creating units with built-in technology in the 1960s. The Jacuzzi —as we know it — was born.
A series of disputes during the 1970s over the company’s leadership — by then 257 family members were involved — led to a lawsuit in which half the family sued the other half. Candido Jacuzzi also was indicted by a grand jury for income tax evasion and fled to Italy in 1969, then to South America, causing another rift, according to a recent New York Times story detailing the Jacuzzi family’s “frothy saga.” The company was sold for $73 million to Walker Kiddie & Company in 1979.
Jacuzzi is now owned by American Industrial Brands and manufactured in Little Rock, Arkansas. Family members still live in the East Bay and other parts of Northern California and operate the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma. Jacuzzi Street in Richmond is another reminder of the family’s history in the region. That’s where, as the company grew, it moved its factory to reclaimed land wedged between Interstate 80 and 580.