A beautifier and an anti-anxiety remedy, a hysteria treatment and a weight loss tool—the vibrator was quite the trade dabbler until it became the master of pleasure. The vibrator has quite the ironic past, so exactly how was the pulsing, purring sex toy we’ve come to know and love invented?
Although the dildo dates back to the Late Stone Age, the first documented vibrator didn't exist until the late 1800s. That is, unless you believe in the tale surrounding the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. According to the story, it was Cleopatra who was the original mastermind behind the pleasuring vibrations; she would fill a hollow gourd full of angry bees causing the hard shell to vibrate until, well, you know the rest.
Whether the legend of Cleopatra and the gourd is true, the documented history of the vibrator began with hysteria. The term hysteria surfaced about 2000 years ago in Ancient Greece (‘hysteria’ is Greek for ‘uterus’) referring to a woman and her “wandering womb.” For centuries, hysteria was a legitimate condition attributed to women that caused irritability, discomfort, anxiety, and depression. In today’s world, this would be considered sexual frustration, but we had long believed that women couldn’t orgasm, so the search for a cure went on. Until the 1900s, just about any symptom a woman felt could be pinned on hysteria. So what did physicians prescribe for such discomfort? Clitoral stimulation! Considered a socially acceptable and effective treatment, physicians and midwives oiled up and massaged women’s vaginas with their fingers while the palm of their hand pressed on the clitoris until a “paroxysm” occurred (see: ORGASM!). The problem was that one treatment wouldn’t cure a woman of hysteria—she had to keep coming back in order to keep the symptoms at bay.
Steam and some Funky Machines
This tiring business of manually masturbating woman after woman pushed physicians to look for an alternative option. The French had invented a hand-held device called Le Trémoussior that produced a vibrating motion on one end, but it still had to be wound by hand. Luckily, the Victorian Era rolled in, and with it came steam-powered machines. In 1869, a physician by the name of George Taylor invented the first steam-powered vibrator, which consisted of a motorized table, a hole, and a throbbing ball…Yikes! Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville patented the first electromechanical vibrator, The Manipulator, and by the 1900s, about 100 different vibrators of all shapes and sizes and objectives were on the market.
Did you know the fifth household appliance to be made electric was the vibrator? It came after the sewing machine, the fan, the toaster, and the tea kettle. Hamilton Beach, an American manufacturer of home appliances, changed the game when they licensed the first electric vibrator in 1902. By this time, the diagnosis of hysteria was beginning to decline, so creating a device that could be used in the privacy of your own home was ingenious.
By the 1920s, vibrators had become prevalent, being marketed as massagers, blood circulators, anxiety reducers, beautifiers, and ‘female tension relievers.’ Seeing these advertisements printed in respectable magazines and sold in sophisticated catalogues was nothing unusual. All good things come to an end, so the saying goes. When vibrators began showing up in pornography in the Twenties, the veil was stripped. Advertisers could no longer conceal their real use and the vibrator disappeared.
If you love it, set it free. If it comes back, it was meant to be. Sexual repression based on the Christian-rooted values of morality was being unwoven by the 1960s. With that came the acceptance and experimentation of sexual freedom. Feminism and free love were on the rise. And the vibrator was back in action. A cordless electric vibrator was invented. From there, vibrators of all different shapes, sizes, and speeds were designed. The Hitachi Magic Wand was created, teaching us all the power of the clitoral orgasm. Free love for the win!
Vibrators had made their comeback. In the 1990s, a man by the name of Dr. David Claus had been creating life-like materials for prosthetic and medical use down in California. One thing led to another and he ended up creating the first DIY penis molding kits that made a real-life, vibrating replica of your penis. No longer using ancient contraptions that would terrify even the kinkiest of women, the evolution of the vibrator ends at the most personalized vibrator to date.