In 1977, brothers Jeff and Jon Watkins produced the first self-contained, insulated portable hot tub.
The HotSpring tub they made in their Californian garage proved revolutionary. In the three-and-a-half decades since, Watkins produced a stream of innovations that have changed the face of the industry.
Jon and Jeff had plenty of experience prior to starting out in hot tubs. Their father pioneered a swimming pool service business, and his sons accompanied him to people’s backyards. After a stint in the army, Jon developed his own swimming pool service company in the San Diego area. He found his customers didn’t use their pools frequently, but instead they got together in a hot tub beside the pool. Based on this, the Watkins brothers decided making hot tubs could prove more profitable. By this time, Jeff was a civil engineer and able to oversee production, whilst Jon was very much a hands-on inventor.
In those early days, the brothers made some revolutionary decisions that were to put them in the very forefront of the hot tub business. They introduced hot tub insulation, made shells without fibreglass (which was subject to breakage), they housed pumps, heater, and motors within the spa cabinet, and they came up with the first insulating cover.
In some respects, their high level of creativity was to be expected.
“Jeff and Jon were natural inventors”
As children, the brothers had spent happy hours tinkering inside their father’s backyard workshop. They made a host of useful gadgets from such unpromising objects as lawnmower wheels!
With creativity in their blood, Jeff and Jon were well placed to take advantage of a surge in hot tub interest spreading across America. At that time, many hot tubs were either made from redwood or were cement in-ground tubs. Neither approach incorporated insulation – instead, they had a simple timer that switched on a heater at a set time of day. This proved inefficient: not only would a tub take 35-40 minutes to heat up, but if the owners missed the relevant time period, their hot tubs went cold. In addition, early models sprang leaks, which threatened any sustainable business model.
The Watkins brothers realised there was an opportunity by providing a fully insulated hot tub that was always on and always available. At first they used a type of Styrofoam packing material, which had the unfortunate habit of degrading over time. When a roofer friend suggested polyurethane, the portable hot tub was born. Within a few years their business had grown immeasurably.