"....This electronic tool dates back to the turn of the century, the oldest mass-marketed model being manufactured by the Weiss Instrument Manufacturing Company in the 1890's. It predated both the vacuum cleaner and the iron by a decade and was preceded only by the fan, teakettle and toaster. The tool consisted of a simple electrical motor with a handle of wood or Bakelite, and the entire contraption generally weighed between 5 and 15 pounds, and sold for $5 to $20 (for the model in the velvet lined box with brass fittings). It was marketed in women's magazines between ads for Ivory soap and emmenagogue (abortion-inducing herbs) - and the ads generally showed women pulling down their dresses and applying this tool to their necks and shoulders and promised that the effect would be "thrilling", "invigorating" and "all the penetrating pleasures of youth will throb in you again".
Yes, you guessed it, the vibrator - a "musculo-skeletal relaxation device" that was used by Victorian doctors to masturbate their patients to health. This device was not intended to relieve those pesky shoulder spasms, but to treat a condition that doctors believed arose from failure to achieve orgasm. "Hysteria" today generally indicates an outbreak of wild, uncontrolled excitement or feeling, such as a fit of crying or laughing; but prior to the 1920's, the term more specifically referred to "womb disease". Doctors have observed, since the beginning of recorded medical history, that women, unlike men, did not often release fluids during sex. These pent-up fluids became "trapped in the womb" and were blamed for all sorts of problems: headaches, irritability, fear of impending insanity, hysteria. The medical profession used this same scientific insight to develop a cure: doctors and midwives would massage the genitals to "hysterical paroxysm", the scientific term for orgasm. By the end of the 19th century, some doctors were advising treatment as often as once a week.
However, the task of bringing women to orgasm was considered a time-consuming and tricky chore, one that one physician likened to "rubbing one's head and stomach simultaneously". To relieve the duties of these overworked doctors, a British physician developed the "perceteur", the prototype of the device that would soon be marketed to housewives everywhere. This seems to be in contradiction to our normal view of Victorian times, didn't these doctors know what they were doing? However, "real sex", as still defined by those in the White House, was considered to be actual penetration by the male organ. If there was no penetration, there was no sex. (Now this brings to mind speculation about the real nature of those "romantic friendships" between these same Victorian ladies, but we will leave that to another article...)
During the last two decades of the 19th century, more than 50 types of vibrators were invented - some combined vibration with music, while others used ultraviolet rays. Of course, the device really took off in the late 1880's with the advent of electrical power. Before that, batteries just had not been effective - they could not deliver enough juice, and they were likely to give out before the job was finished. So of course, once rural America was electrified, all sorts of appliances quickly found their way to market. Sears & Roebuck even put together a housewife's dream: a single motor that could mix, beat, grind, fan, and of course - vibrate. One model ($5) was advertised with "Six Feet of Cord" and "Perfect for Weekend Trips." The most advertised model was manufactured by White Cross, and the effects were toted as being "wonderfully refreshing" and as effective as the treatments that cost "at least $2 each in a physician's office." Over a dozen manufacturers were in the vibrator business by the 1920's, including such domestic stalwarts as Hamilton Beach and General Electric.
It is no surprise that doctors tried to warn patients away from these questionable home remedies. The discrete home models were mere trinkets compared to the models found in doctor's offices, which were expensive, heavy, large, and difficult to operate. One model, named the Chattanooga, sold for over $200, and resembled a large Tommy gun that was dragged along the body. Another model, called the Carpenter, hung from the ceiling and was just barely distinguishable from an impact wrench....."
Text above from: The Herstory of One of Our Favorite Mass-Marketed Appliances or: We've Come a Long Way Baby (or have we?) By Mary A.
MOTHER'S LITTLE HELPER
Lingua Franca review of "The Technology of Orgasm" by Rachel Maines
Pictures! We got pictures! (More pictures from Good Vibrations)
Chapter 1 from the "Technology of Orgasm"