antique vibrator advert

Visitors to San Franciso might be surprised to learn that it is the home of the Antique Vibrator Museum, known as Good Vibrations. Here, you’ll find all manner of early vibrators dating back to the late 1800s right up to the arrival of the first Hitachi wand in the 1970s.

There’s a commonly held belief that vibrators were first invented to help Victorian doctors treat a condition known as hysteria through genital massage. Unfortunately, there isn’t a shred of evidence that this is true.

Up until the 1900s, vibrators were used as medical devices to treat pain. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that vibrators were marketed for home use. They were originally sold as devices to enhance female beauty from the comfort of their own home. If you’re curious how people got their thrills throughout history, read on.

The history of the electric vibrator

The first battery operated vibrator was designed by a British doctor names Joseph Mortimer Granville. It was aptly named the Granville Hammer and was originally designed for use on men. He believed it should be used for male pain relief, but the power of vibrations would soon become commonplace.

Electricity was a hugely exciting arrival and was used to sell all manner of products. It wasn’t uncommon to see vibrators advertised in magazines with full-page adverts. They claimed to cure everything from wrinkles to poor circulation. While the devices were widely sold, and women were highly receptive to the marketing tactics, it isn’t clear if people were actually using them for sexual pleasure.

Appearance in early porn

It wasn’t until vibrators started to appear in 1920s pornography that the advertising effectively stopped. They could no longer be seen in respectable publications and the use of vibrators was sent underground. Around the 1950s, marketers tried again to sell the products as beauty aids. They were sold as spot reducers or weight loss aids, but

It wasn’t until the 1960s that they appeared again as overtly sexual devices. Maybe it was relaxed attitudes towards female sexuality, but vibrators crept back into the public eye. By the 1970s, they were finally marketed as devices specifically used for sexual pleasure.

While we might have advertising records showing how the earliest vibrators were marketed, it isn’t clear how they were actually used. For example, in 1906, the American Vibrator Company told the public that their device “can be used by yourself in the privacy of dressing room or boudoir, and furnish every woman with the essence of perpetual youth.”

How did they work?

Early vibrators generated their pleasurable vibes in all manner of different ways. In 1925, women could get their hands on the Polar Cub Electric Vibrator. This device looks a lot like a hair dryer and works by plugging into a light fitting. There are changeable heads on the end and it effectively spins like a drill, which offers powerful stimulation.

The Oster Massagett was another vintage device that was popular with women. The device slipped onto your hand and then the power pack on the back of your hand generated deep rumbling vibrations to the straps across your palm. It’s easy to see how devices like this could pass as simple massage devices.

And some of them were just downright terrifying. The Pneumatic Detwiler, first released n 1914, was one of the most dangerous sex toys available. It used compressed gas or air and featured an array of attachments known as vibratodes. If anything malfunctioned, it had the capacity to do a lot of damage to your nether parts – and not in a good way.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that we got a vibrator that looked even a little bit familiar. The Hitachi Magic Wand took the world by storm as it was one of the first to be popularised as a sex toy, rather than dancing around the subject with a range of alternate uses. We can thank the arrival of the sex-positive movement for the widespread proliferation of vibrators.

Despite being commonplace, this didn’t stop some places trying to outlaw the sale of vibrators. The sale of sex toys is still technically illegal in some states. In 1998, Alabama introduced the widely criticised Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act which criminalises the sale of sex toys. As such, vibrators still have to be sold as massagers and adult clothing has to be sold as a costume.

You can read more about the history of the rabbit vibrator in our recent blog post.

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