and Vibrators, Part Two
This is a two-part series on the
subject of vibrators. Part
One took us from ancient Greece to the end of the 19th century.
Part Two concludes with devices from the 20th century.
Steam-powered massage devices
were created about 1875 and were often large mechanical monsters
that accommodated more than one person at a time, such as John Harvey
Kellogg, M.D.’s vibrating machine that provided foot, hand
and full-body vibration treatments for up to five persons simultaneously.
Most of these devices delivered either percussion or vibration and
were used for specific medical conditions.
"Vibrating Machines," circa 1895, used extensively
at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. The first one is
for "rotary vibration of the legs and arms," the other
is a beating apparatus. Note the second set of beaters (on left)
not being used.
Gustav Zander, M.D., a Swedish physician
and director of the Medico-Mechanical Institute in Stockholm, Sweden,
gained widespread fame at the end of the 19th century because of
his application of steam power to mechano-therapy. Only a few of
Zander's more than 70 steam-powered devices were massage machines.
Zander's devices were so popular, and their application to the gymnastic
movement so widely accepted, that Zander Institutes were opened
throughout Europe and the United States.
George Taylor, M.D., is credited with
being the first American to create a steam and foot/hand crank device,
in 1880. Taylor's "Manipulator" simply turned a wheel,
which pushed a rod that created a movement on a handle or padded
surface. The patient would either hold on to the handle and receive
the vibration or oscillations, or sit or stand against the padded
surface to receive the movement from the machine.
In 1882 Hartvig Nissen presented a new
invention called "the Vibrator" in his book, A Manual
of Instruction For Giving Swedish Movement and Massage Treatment.
Invented by J. W. Osborne, Nissen claimed it was made especially
for his institute and that, by 1889, he'd been using it with success
for three years. However, Zander, Taylor and Kellogg were using
mechanically applied vibration and percussion during the 1880s.
The first attempts at electrical massage
were either battery-powered devices or those operated by foot or
hand mechanisms moving a wheel or friction belt. One of the first
battery-powered massage devices was the Swedish vibrator. This little
device was made of solid brass attached to a wooden handle. Etched
into the sides of the brass body are images of lightning bolts indicating
the electrical character of the device.
Brass Swedish Vibrator, a dry-cell battery-powered device, circa
1875. This tool was made of solid brass attached to a wooden
handle that created an up-and-down motion of the round bakelite
first alternating current electrical vibrator from 1902. Note
the light-socket device at the end of the electrical cord. Because
very few homes or offices had electrical outlets during the
first decade of the 20th century, but did have electric lights
hanging from the ceiling, the first vibrators had a screw-in
device wired into the end of the cord, to place into the light
bulb socket. The electrical cord was also exceptionally long
because it had to reach from the ceiling to the floor.
The invention of Victorian vibrators
using dry-cell batteries was the precursor to modern alkaline-battery
powered vibrators, and the Victorian vibrators were often sold alongside
the first alternating electric-current vibrators introduced in 1902.
The use of mechanical devices was both
praised and criticized in the late 19th century. Taylor provides
this discourse on the benefits of mechanical devices, in 1904: "The
natural rate of motion of the voluntary muscles is considerably
greater than is that of the involuntary which preside over the movements
of the abdomen and its contents. The respiratory and the peristaltic
movements are slower than those of the hand. It follows that motions,
natural for the hand of a massage operator, do not so apply to visceral
parts as to merge with and assist those of the latter. The imparted
motion will not agree as to time with the pre-existing motion. This
disagreement does not exist in case of the mechanical processes."
Taylor is saying the application of the
human hand to voluntary muscles, such as those used in locomotion,
can be properly calibrated to coincide with the rhythm and rate
of those muscles, but that the hand cannot be calibrated to coincide
with the slower-moving muscles of the internal organs, such as the
colon and diaphragm, whereas mechanical devices can.
Most medical applications of these new
approaches to massage were applied to women. In the 1820s, physicians
began inducing orgasm - by water, the hands or horseback riding
- through vibration, to cure what they termed "hysteria,"
in women. (The term "Hysteria" at that time referred to
conditions including vertigo, anxiety, headaches, irritability,
insomnia and depression.) The advent of mechanical methods of applying
vibration improved the success of this practice. In her book, The
Technology of Orgasm, Rachael Maines reports that physicians
have failed in large part in writing about the connection between
vibratory massage and the inducement of orgasm, except to say that
vibratory massage was a common treatment for "hysteria."
Today there are literally hundreds of
vibrating machines available, from vibrating pillows to vibrating
plastic novelty ladybugs. You can even get vibrating ball point
pens. Vibrators are used by chiropractors, massage practitioners,
physical therapists and by millions at home.
Robert Noah Calvert is
the founder and CEO of Massage Magazine. The material for
this column comes from two sources: the World of Massage Museum's
collections and Calvert's new book, The History of Massage
published in February 2002 by Healing Arts Press.