Yesterday’s post about the new “Vibrator” movie coming to the big screen got me thinking a lot about my favorite little toy. So I looked into it’s history and this is what I found:
As we know, the dildo has been around since ancient times, however the first vibrator was not invented until the 1880’s and it was actually invented for use in a doctor’s office.
Women who were diagnosed with afflictions hysteria and neurasthenia (fatigue, dizziness, headaches, anxiety, depression) were treated by valvular massage. This was not thought of as sexual at all, but as real therapy for their aliments. Patients genitalia were massaged until they reached paroxysm–a sudden outburst of emotion or action (They were actually having an orgasm). Seeing as some women would take almost an hour to reach this “paroxysm”, it could be very tiring for the treating physician. Thus, doctors experimented with mechanizing the process. Hydrotherapy—the shooting of water directly at the patient’s reproductive region—proved effective and became quite fashionable. It had its drawbacks, though: It was messy, expensive, and not easily portable. So,in the 1880s, a British doctor stepped in to invent the first electric vibrator, an industrial-size contraption meant to be a permanent fixture in a doctor’s office. It was a major labor-saver, allowing many patients to reach paroxysm in less than 10 minutes.
Photo courtesy of Athena Images
Around the turn of the century, entrepreneurs began to recognize the huge potential market for hand-held vibrators for home use. It is said that vibrator innovation was in fact a driving force behind the creation of the small electric motor. Hamilton Beach of Racine, WI, patented its first take-home vibrator in 1902, making the vibrator the fifth electrical appliance to be introduced into the home, after the sewing machine and long before the electric iron. By 1917, there were more vibrators than toasters in American homes. Dozens of patents were issued for new designs between 1900 and 1940.
Photograph courtesy of Good Vibrartions
Starting in the 1920s, stag reels revealed the true nature of the vibrator and the sex toy that is was. The most famous of these stag reels was The Nun’s Story. From the 1950’s-1970’s vibrators were sold in mail-order catalogs under “disguise”, such as back massagers, back scratchers, and nail buffer kits. but by 1973, In 1973, Betty Dodson started masturbation groups for women to raise their sexual consciousness. She wrote a book called, Sex for One that was such a huge hit, it was translated into eight languages. That same year, Eve’s Garden, a sex shop for women, opened in New York City. Good Vibrations followed nearly five years later in San Francisco.
Vibrators came back into the mainstream in the 1990s, thanks not to radical feminists but to the Reagan administration. With the public health threat of AIDS looming, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop mailed out a list of safe-sex options to every household in the land in the late 1980s. Vibrators were on it.
For more information of the history of this fabulous little machine, please see:
In 1999, Rachel Maines published The Technology of Orgasm, a provocative history of the vibrator that she spent 20 years researching. The Technology of Orgasm has become one of the best-selling histories of technology of all time.