A Fun Short History Of The Hot Tub Industry
by Dan Harrison, Poolandspa.com
From the foreword to Dan Hardy's new book, The Complete
Spa Manual For Homeowners
It was a cold, clear night and I had just finished a long day of
skiing at Vermont’s Okemo Mountain, way back in 1982. I had traveled
up from New York with some friends and they had arranged our lodging
in a quaint New England bed & breakfast. Unbeknown to me, the
facility had a small indoor pool, a sauna, and a hot tub tucked away
in a back basement room.
“Hey, does anyone want to go jump in the hot tub?”, my friend said,
with clear and apparent glee in his eyes. “Sure”, I said, not quite
certain what I was agreeing to at that point. We gathered up the
girls and took a trip down to the hot tub room.
In 1982, hot tubs and spas were not very commonplace. Hotels, health
clubs and resorts tended to be the exclusive domain of the hot tub.
I had actually never even seen one in person at that point, as far
as I was concerned, they only really existed in movies or on TV.
Visions of Jerry Garcia-looking hippies soaking in outdoor round
wooden tubs in the forests of California filled my mind. “What was I
in for?”, I thought. Is this going to be like some sleazy porn
movie? Am I going to get a disease? I surely did not want to sit in
some murky green water with other people!
Once we got to the pool area, I began to feel a little better,
seeing that everything appeared nice and clean. “Come on, let’s go
in the sauna first”, my girlfriend exclaimed. And with that, we all
stuffed ourselves into this little tiny sauna. At first it was
pretty hot and uncomfortable, but my muscles had been aching from
that first-day-of-the-season ski expedition, and the dry, hot air
was oddly compelling.
After a few minutes in the sauna, my other friend said that we
should go out and jump in the swimming pool, now that we were all
very hot from our sauna experience. I remember it clearly because he
yelled out “This is either gonna feel great, or it’s gonna kill ya!”.
And with that, we all boldly filed out of the sauna and jumped into
the crisp (albeit cold) indoor pool.
“Wow!”, my girlfriend yelled, as we saw her emerge like a rocket
from the water, “That feels great”. I thought she was nuts, but I
followed suit and took the plunge myself. “Yesssss”, I blurted out,
as I jumped in. The sudden shock from dry heat to freezing water was
invigorating, to say the least. It was considerably more enjoyable
than I had ever thought it would have been.
I could feel all the blood in my veins pumping as I swam around the
pool for a minute or so, waiting for my poor little body to
acclimate to the abrupt temperature change. Not another minute went
by when my friend yelled out “Now, everybody out of the pool and
into the hot tub!”. “What?”, I thought. “You gotta be kidding me!”
With great trepidation the rest of us, fairly invigorated by the
somewhat unusual experience at that point, followed him like
lemmings into the “hot tub room”. Obviously he had done this whole
routine before and knew that as crazy as it all sounded, our little
band of skiers would ultimately be quite satisfied with our unusual
holiday jaunt. We were experiencing cardiovascular hydrotherapy at
its’ best, although none of us realized it at that point in time.
Once inside, the “hot tub room”, most of my existing fears started
to subside as it was tastefully designed with a large fiberglass
octagonal hot tub in the middle of the room, set down, even with the
floor. The room had cedar planking on the walls with mirrors set
into the wood, alternating with the planks. Combined with the amber
light emanating from the clear, warm, bubbling water of the tub, the
whole ambiance of the room was very relaxing and quite womb-like.
“Now this is something I think I’ll really like!”, I thought.
I entered the hot tub and immediately felt at home. In direct
juxtaposition to the comparatively jarring experience with the sauna
and the swimming pool, this tub gave me a feeling of warm, cozy
comfort. As I enjoyed the swirling waters pulsating out of the spa
jets surrounding my aching muscles, all the stress and tension of a
rather long and arduous day disappeared as I seemed to enter my own
little relaxing world. While all my friends were sprawling out and
joking in the tub, I can clearly remember that I was quite quiet. I
was having one of those “moments of clarity” that you only hear
about others having. At that point, I did not fully realize how that
moment was about to change my life forever, and set my entire life
in a direction that I could not have possibly imagined.
“Wow, I bet people on Long Island (my home town) would really like
this.” I blurted out to all my friends, who actually seemed like
they could care less at that moment. “I wonder if I could sell these
“I don’t know” my girlfriend said. “Why are you always thinking
about business? Why don’t you just chill out and enjoy yourself for
Well, anyone who knows me will understand how hard it is for me to
truly relax. And while being in the hot tub was certainly one of the
closest things to nirvana I had ever experienced up to that point in
my life, the little gears in my mind were in full swing, trying to
figure out how this experience could be brought to the masses and
how I could find out more about this magical, mysterious thing that
had been somehow kept from my radar scope for so long.
Needless to say, we were in that hot tub more than we were on the
ski slopes that fabled weekend – and I was truly moved by the
experience. I had never felt so relaxed, so invigorated and so
rested – all at the same time. “I have to look into this further”, I
told my girlfriend, as we packed up our belongings and got ready for
our long, cold, icy ride back to New York.
Over the next few months, I investigated everything I could about
the current state of the art in the hot tub “industry”, if you could
even call it that, at that time. In 1982, there really was not much
of a hot tub industry at all. Actually there were only a few
companies nationwide that were making things you would remotely
recognize as the hot tub spas of today.
I was introduced to Artie Jost of AJ Spas in early 1983. Artie had a
similar interest in hot tubs and opened up a small hot tub
manufacturing shop out of the back of an appliance store in
Patchogue on Long Island. After receiving quite an education from
Artie, I opened up Long Island Hot Tubs, one of the first “all hot
tub” spa stores in the United States soon thereafter.
I can remember the first home improvement show where we exhibited
hot tubs to the public. It was in a shopping mall on Long Island’s
North Shore area, known for its’ high-end homes and old-money
mansions. We brought an old rickety fiberglass spa to the show and
were virtually inundated with requests for more information about
this relatively new and unique invention, the “portable spa”. Prior
to this point in time, most people, even the rich and famous, only
saw or got to use hot tub spas in health clubs, gyms, hotels or
“What is this, one of them new fangled “Sacuzzi’s?” was something
that we got very used to hearing, as the initial wave of consumers
got their first taste for hot tubs made for the home. Although most
people we spoke with during that show called it a “Jacuzzi”, “Bath
Tub” or a “Spay”, we could clearly see that this was something that
was going to catch on in a big way. We were very surprised (and
happy) to have sold 21 tubs during that first home improvement show.
As the popularity of the residential hot tub caught on during the
latter half of the 1980’s, we luckily saw the parallel evolution of
the “yuppie”. Luckily for the hot tub industry, the “yuppie”, as a
demographic group, became a huge target-market for the influx of all
the new spa brands becoming available, almost on a monthly basis.
Companies like Hot Spring Spas, Sundance, Hawkeye, Baja, Regency,
Nemco and Jacuzzi became commonplace names in the new lexicon of the
late 1980’s Regan era of self indulgence.
As the demand for hot tubs grew and the money started pouring into
our little industry, natural capitalistic innovations rapidly took
place, greatly improving and standardizing the “portable spa”.
Technological advances in acrylic vacuum forming machines made the
complicated designs and seating patterns of the tubs commonplace.
Circuit boards made the “spa packs” (the control system or “brains”
of the hot tub) ever more able to control multiple jet pumps, air
bubblers, heaters and even color changing mood lighting systems,
which all converged to increase the eye appeal and functionality of
the hot tub to the end user.
However, there was a dirty little secret brewing within the
industry. Although consumers were truly enjoying the daily use of
their home hot tub units, many of them were complaining to their
dealers about the care and maintenance necessary to keep their hot
tub water crystal clear, sanitary and fresh smelling. The amount of
time and money that it was taking to properly maintain a residential
hot tub unit was threatening the very existence and stability of the
fledgling hot tub industry.
I heard it almost on a daily basis from consumers: “You sold this to
me and I can’t keep it clean.” “My wife got an infection from using
YOUR spa!” “I am gonna go broke with all the chlorine and chemicals
that I have to add to my spa on a daily basis. What are YOU gonna do
This was rapidly becoming a concern amongst spa dealers as well as
spa manufacturers, as the number of installed units nationwide grew
to over a million. Something had to be done – and fast.
Luckily, if there is money to be made from anything, you can count
on American ingenuity to fill the void, and by the late 1980’s there
were a plethora of new chemicals and sanitizing devices that were
made available to make hot tub maintenance considerably easier.
Bromine, ozone and a host of alternative, eco-friendly spa water
sanitizers quickly flooded the market and their success spread like
wildfire among the hot tub using community.
Now-a-days, almost 30 years later, anyone can wake up in the morning
and decide they want a hot tub in their own home. They can look up a
few brands on the internet, find a local dealer, and in many cases,
have their very own portable hot tub spa delivered to their house
and be using it that night. And with all the new technology, many
spas brands even offer built in stereos, waterproof flatscreen TV’s,
LED color changing mood lighting, waterfalls and other exotic
features to add to your relaxing hot tub experience.
But as with the purchase of anything, from a car to a computer, you
really should do your research thoroughly first. And just like cars
and computers, the hot tubs of today do need some periodic
maintenance that you will have to learn about after you start using
In his new book, industry veteran Dan Hardy covers absolutely
everything that you should know before you select a hot tub spa for
our home. He then covers, in great detail, the do’s and don’t’s of
hot tub care and maintenance. Although much of this type of
information is available from spa manufacturers, web sites and other
books, Mr. Hardy has gone through great lengths to sift through all
the information out there, and presents it all to you in a very
understandable and fun to read format for the average hot tub buyer
One thing is for sure, the relaxation and hydrotherapy you can get
from owning your own hot tub spa is quite remarkable. This one
little invention will help you feel better, sleep easier and provide
a focal point for interaction with family and friends for years to
come. And although our industry often tries to downplay the romantic
aspects of a hot tub for some unknown reason, we all know that hot
tubs are exceptionally great for those special occasions and
intimate moments as well.
Anyway you look at it, there are few things in life that can provide
you with the daily rejuvenation and the big boost to your heart,
mind and soul, that a hot tub provides. I wish you all the best in
your enjoyment of your hot tubs and I sincerely thank Dan Hardy for
his efforts in educating the public about our industry’s wonderful
products. And as I always say at the end of my Poolandspa.TV
videos and TV shows…“Happy Tubbing”.