Antique Vibrators

A brief history of antique vibrators... From the time of Hippocrates, early Western Doctors and physicians were treating women for "Hysteria", the term hysteria comes from the Greek word meaning "that which proceeds from the uterus".

Antique Vibrators - A Brief History


The symptoms of Hysteria encompassed many different symptoms, including fainting, nervousness, insomnia, sensations of heaviness in the abdomen, muscles spasms, shortness of breath, loss of appetite for food or sex with the approved male partner and sometimes cause trouble for other members of the patients family. Physicians believed this was due to a lack of sexual intercourse, and in the first instance urged unattached women to marry, and married women to have more sexual relations with their partners. Physicians thought women simply needed more sex and erroneously believed that by simple penetration by the appropriate male partner the woman would be "cured", women were also not encouraged to masturbate. Physicians needed to treat their white, middle and upper class patients' Hysteria so they devised a form of treatments including massage of the vulval area to produce "Hysterical Paroxysm".

Gynecological Massage goes Electric

A lucrative profession emerged - genital massage to orgasm - although physicians did not relish the treatment, many classed it as a routine chore. Some preferred to have a midwife who would massage the patient. Obviously great skill was involved, with some patients requiring manual manipulation for up to an hour. The treatment was highly respected, no one questioned the ethics, after all the outside manipulation was a legitimate treatment in professional terms and not in the least connected to a sexual act because penetration did not take place. After all physicians were doing the job that husbands and lovers wouldn't or couldn't do. The patients were neither cured nor died, and they returned again and again to get relief from the symptoms of their "Hysteria".

The treatment was difficult for some physicians, the correct area and the length of time that was required to induce the "paroxysm" (orgasm) meant that they could not treat many patients in one day and the manual strain was a consideration too. In 1869 and 1872 American physician George Taylor patented steam powered massage and vibratory apparatus, some of it designed for female disorders. George Taylor marketed his appliances to Spas and large Health practices, those with a large patient list of female "patients" with pelvic complaints to justify the expense, Taylor warned physicians that women should be supervised to prevent "over-indulgence".

By 1900 a whole range of vibratory appliances were available to physicians from low priced foot models to the top-of-the-range Cadillac of vibrators the Chattanooga, it sold to physicians for an astonishing $200. Articles praised the machines' versatility for treating nearly all diseases in both men and women as well its savings to the physicians' time and effort.

Mums "Secret Helper"

By 1905 conveniently portable models were available with assorted vibratodes (rubber massaging attachments) enabling physicians to make house calls. From this time onwards (until the 1920's) the vibrator began to be marketed as a "home appliance". Promoted to women in sewing, knitting and home style magazines as a health and relaxation aid, with ambiguous advertising slogans such as "all the pleasures of youth…will throb within you".

An especially versatile vibrator line was illustrated in the Sears Roebuck and Company Electrical Goods catalogue in 1918 with the slogan "Aids that every woman appreciates", it included attachments for beating grinding and operating a fan - Mums "Secret Helper" carried a socially acceptable front.

By the end of the 1920's the true vibrator (as opposed to the massager or electrotherapeutic device) gradually disappeared from doctor's offices and respectable journals and magazines. This may have been as a result of physicians understanding more about women's sexual response, or due to the fact that vibrators had started tp appear in Stag Films (aka porn films) - tarnishing their image for "respectable women".

Vibrators and massagers seemed to fall out of favour until their re-emergence in the 1960's, when it was no longer a medical instrument, and into the 1970's when they emerged as a "sex aid".

Sources: The Technology of Orgasm "Hysteria", the vibrator and Women's Sexual Satisfaction by Rachael P Maines, John Hopkins University Press.