Ever wonder who invented the vibrator? The first steam-powered massager was invented in 1869, by the American physician George Taylor. This vibrator was used primarily in spas and doctors’ offices, as it was large and difficult to move.
Vibrators were put to regular use at the end of the 19th century, after doctors grew tired of using their hands to treat patients who were diagnosed with hysteria and neurasthenia. At the time, hysteria was a general diagnosis that encompassed a number of symptoms, from depression to aggression to muscle aches. Doctors utilized vulvular massage to treat hysteria. The massage wasn’t thought of as sexual—rather as a traditional treatment for a common ailment. Women were prescribed weekly treatments, and sometimes had to be massaged for hours before they reached what was called paroxysm (a spasm or fit that signified the end of treatment).
Doctors wondered how they could mechanize the massage process to make it easier and faster. Hydrotherapy, a massage technique that included shooting a stream of water at a woman’s genitals, proved effective in stimulating paroxysm. In the 1880s, doctors revolutionized the field by creating the first electric vibrator. This giant machine allowed most patients to reach paroxysm in ten minutes.
In 1902, Hamilton Beach began marketing the first home-use vibrators. These hand-held vibrators were the fifth electrical appliance to make it into the home, before most standard kitchen devices. Many companies followed suit in the first four decades of the 1900s, manufacturing dozens of different designs.
Vibrators were marketed as home appliances that would help women maintain a youthful glow and calm demeanor. These ads were very popular in the 1910s and ’20s, found in almost every respectable women’s magazine.
Vibrators began to appear in pornography in the 1920s, revealing them to the general public as a sex toy and giving them a kind of social stigma. Consequently, clever marketing gurus began marketing vibrators as anything but sex toys—as nail buffers, back scratchers or vacuum attachments. In this way, vibrators were still available, but under the radar.
Vibrators became more mainstream again in the 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic boomed. Government officials sent every American household a brochure detailing how to practice safer sex—and vibrators were included on the list of safer sex options.
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