A Brief History of the Vibrator

The Vibrator was first invented in the 1860’s as a massaging medical device to assist physicians in the treatment of ‘Hysteria’, the most common female complaint of the time.  ‘Hysteria’ was considered an incurable disease and a diagnosis could cover anything from irritability, excessive vaginal fluid, anxiety, to anti-social behaviour.   As a disease, Hysteria was debunked by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952, but medical experts from the time of Hippocrates up to the 20th century believed that Hysteria was the womb's revolt against sexual deprivation.  

Not surprisingly one of the more recognised ‘treatments’ was for the patient’s physician to bring them to a ‘hysterical paroxysm’.  This rather clinical term defined ‘orgasm’, in particular one achieved without penetration through external stimulation of the womb and genitals.  The treatment was considered a medical wonder as the result of ‘hysterical paroxysm’ immediately abated symptoms and gave the Hysteria patient a welcomed short term relief from this incurable complaint.

The newly patented steam powered Vibrator of 1869 allowed physicians to desist with what was often considered the tedious treatment of manual stimulation, as it could take up to an hour to achieve the desired results.  With this new fangled medical device, physicians could treat patients in a quarter of that time.

By the late 1800s dozens of styles of Vibrators from steam and air compression to hand cranked were available exclusively to the medical profession.  These devices were costly to manufacture, often cumbersome, and the elaborate attachments could be difficult to use.  With the advent in the 1880’s of battery power, more portable Vibrators won favour as they were less expensive to manufacture and easier to operate than their predecessors. 

These portable devices made it possible for Hysteria patients to self treat at home and by the turn of the Century over a dozen manufacturers were producing portable Vibrators for home use. 

Such was the popularity of these devices that the Vibrator was soon marketed as a ‘home appliance’ for the treatment of just about anything and was the fifth home appliance to be converted to electricity behind the sewing machine, fan, tea kettle and toaster.

Advertising copy at the time made claims of the health benefits of vibrations and advertisements such as the following from the American Magazine, January 1913, lend insight into the expectations of health that vibrators could bring:

"Vibration is life. It will chase away the years like magic. Every nerve, every fibre of your whole body will tingle with [the] force of your own awakened powers. All the keen relish, the pleasure of youth, will throb within you" (Maines,108).

Although though Vibrators were largely marketed to women, men were told of the usefulness of Vibrators as a gift, for keeping their wives ‘young and pretty’.

Despite the popularity and commercial claims of Vibrators being an all over health invigorating wonder, the guise was up in the 1920’s when Vibrators began appearing in early Century pornography and the Vibrator as a sexual device could no longer be denied.   Mainstream magazines and domestic duty magazines that until then readily marketed these health giving devices soon stopped advertising them and the marketing of Vibrators moved to underground sources. 

It was not until the 1960’s that the Vibrator reappeared again in mainstream advertising, but despite them being frankly sexual devices this time round, the advertising copy reflected society’s need to still not know this and made the same early type claims of the all over health giving benefits of vibration. 

Since the 1960’s and the advent of adult sex shops men were the main purchaser of Vibrators, largely buying cheap hard plastic numbers with little or no consideration given the needs of the intended user, a female.  Thankfully manufacturers and retailers have addresses this indifference to the female form and need and quality Vibrators and other sexual devices for personal use are available to meet the needs of today’s women.


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