A Brief History of Personal Massagers

It's hard to believe, but centuries ago doctors used to treat women for a wide variety of illnesses by making them orgasm. It is said that the doctors didn't know that the women were having orgasms, and the women certainly didn't know. 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 now viewed "vulvar stimulation" as having anything to do with sex, but reportedly found it time-consuming and hard work. This is what led to the invention of the personal massager. One of the first personal massagers was the 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 personal massager. The historical fiction film Hysteria features a reworked history of the personal massager 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 personal massager available for consumer retail sale as opposed to medical usage, making the personal massager the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified. 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 personal massager 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 massager. 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 personal massager was patented on March 25, 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, personal massagers 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 personal massager . 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.

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