Before modern vibrators, there was the Manipulator, a 19th century steam-powered tool developed, not for women, but for the male physicians whose hands and wrists had become fatigued from the pelvic massage therapy they were giving patients suffering from hysteria.
That’s right: Vibrators were created to relieve men’s discomfort when they became pooped from too much lady-patient genital stimulation – a commonly practiced medical treatment back in the day. No, seriously.
The film Hysteria, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy, is set in the Victorian era and deals with this very issue. Dancy’s character, Dr. Granville, develops carpal tunnel from all the manual labor and thus creates a solution – the vibrator.
The real-life Dr. Granville is credited with the patent of the first electro-mechanical vibrator in the early 1880s. Two decades later, the Victor Electric Company patented a “massaging implement … rendered so compact and light that the entire device may be held for application … and may therefore also be conveniently carried from place to place.” Hamilton Beach acquired the device for retail sale, and it joined the ranks of the tea kettle, fan, sewing machine and toaster as one of the first five electric domestic appliances (predating even the electric iron!).
The home version was pretty popular, until it became overtly associated with pornography. That’s when advertisements for vibrators disappeared from mainstream publications and into the shadows – until the sexual revolution of the 1960s, that is.
Hysteria is no longer a recognized illness of course, but masturbation is still a well-practiced tension-tamer. Today, over 90% of women report that they masturbate regularly (nice, ladies!), and there’s a huge industry devoted to the creation of ever-more-pleasurable devices to bring about the Big O. That’s a good thing, because half of Americans (both women and men) say they’ve used a vibrator. Studies show that more women achieve orgasm with the help of a vibrator. So go ahead, this may be the one shopping spree your significant other won’t complain about.