The vibrator was the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified

The vibrator was the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified, after the sewing machine, fan, tea kettle, and toaster, and about a decade before the vacuum cleaner and electric iron.

For centuries, doctors had been treating women for a wide variety of illnesses by performing what is now recognized as masturbation. The “pelvic massage” was especially common in the treatment of female hysteria in Great Britain during the Victorian Era, as the point of such manipulation was to cause “hysterical paroxysm” (orgasm) in the patient. However, not only did they regard the “vulvar stimulation” required as having nothing to do with sex, but reportedly found it time-consuming and hard work.

One of the first vibrators was called the ‘Tremoussoir’ invented in France during 1734. The first steam-powered vibrator was called the “Manipulator”, which was invented by American physician George Taylor, M.D. in 1869. This machine was a rather awkward device, but was still heralded as some relief for the doctors who found themselves suffering from fatigued wrists and hands. Around 1880, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville patented an electromechanical vibrator. The historical fiction film Hysteria features a reworked history of the vibrator focusing on Dr. Granville’s invention.

Between 1835 and 1920, Gustav Zander also designed a device that was often used to attain an orgasm, although it was primarily designed as an aid against eating disorders. It is still on display in the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden.

In 1902, the American company Hamilton Beach patented the first electric vibrator available for consumer retail sale as opposed to medical usage, making the vibrator the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified, after the sewing machine, fan, tea kettle, and toaster, and about a decade before the vacuum cleaner and electric iron. The home versions soon became extremely popular, with advertisements in periodicals such as Needlecraft, Woman’s Home Companion, Modern Priscilla, and the Sears, Roebuck catalog. These disappeared in the 1920s, apparently because their appearance in pornography made it no longer tenable for mainstream society to avoid the sexual connotations of the devices.

The vibrator re-emerged due to the sexual revolution of the 1960s. On June 30, 1966, Jon H. Tavel applied for a patent for the “Cordless Electric Vibrator for Use on the Human Body”, ushering in the modern personal vibrator. The patent application referenced an earlier patent dating back to 1938, for a flashlight with a shape that left little doubt as to a possible alternate use. The cordless vibrator was patented on March 28, 1968, and was soon followed by such improvements as multi-speed and one-piece construction, which made it cheaper to manufacture and easier to clean.

Since the 1980s, vibrators and sex toys have become increasingly visible in mainstream public culture, especially after a landmark August 1998 episode of the HBO show Sex and the City, in which the character Charlotte becomes addicted to a rabbit vibrator. Appearing in a regular segment on the popular US television series The Oprah Winfrey Show in March 2009, Dr. Laura Berman recommended that mothers teach their 15- or 16-year-old daughters the concept of pleasure by getting them a clitoral vibrator. Today, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Safeway, Target and Walmart are among major national US chain retailers that include vibrators on store shelves.

Research published in a 2009 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine demonstrates that about 53% of women in the United States ages 18 to 60 have used a vibrator.

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