Vibration and Vibrators, Part One
This is a two-part series on the subject of vibrators. Part One takes us from ancient Greece to the end of the 19th century. Part Two will conclude with devices from the 20th century.
In an attempt to be funny, I once told a reporter visiting the World of Massage Museum (WOMM) that I had more than 100 vibrators in the basement if he’d like to see them. He looked at me in a way that told me I’d made a mistake mentioning this so soon in the tour. It took me five minutes to explain the kind of vibrator collection we had on display. And sure enough, in the article he wrote about the museum he labeled me eccentric partly because of the vibrator collection. So, to assuage any misgivings by my readers, the vibrators discussed in this article are not the amorous type, nor are any in the WOMM collections.
The earliest recorded forms of ancient therapy used to deliver vibration were from the Greek and Roman era. A patient was placed on a simple wooden plank hung from ropes attached to a tree or a cross-bar and vigorously pushed to and fro. The rhythmic jostling of riding atop a horse or mule was a more severe vibration treatment. But the ultimate vibratory therapy was delivered to the patient while he or she sat on a small two-wheeled wagon, made with uneven wheels, pulled over rough stone roadways. I wonder if an enterprising physician might have treated two patients simultaneously: one on the horse drawing the treatment wagon and the other seated on the wagon.
Swings, horses and wagon-riding were used from ancient times until the early 19th century, when mechanical devices replaced the more ancient modes of treatment. Their intended purpose was to ease morbidity, help circulation and digestion, and treat some nervous disorders. Without the administering physician’s knowledge, however, the lymphatic system was also stimulated to help remove waste products from tissues and empower the immune functions of the body. Asclepiades referred to these treatments as "gestation."
Vibration was the first massage stroke imitated by mechanical devices. Machines could deliver slow and consistent movements better than a human practitioner, and they did not get tired. It is interesting to note that the first devices labeled "massage vibrator" were not vibrators at all but were beaded body rollers like the one shown here.
The first real vibrators were hand-cranked devices used by physicians to deliver percussion in one direction only – something like a repeating hammer action. Developed in Germany circa 1855, the Macurator Blood Circulator was the most simple of these first manufactured massagers. The Macurator delivered a high-variable frequency pounding on the body that resembled vibration if cranked fast enough.
Actual vibration delivered in more than one direction wasn’t developed until the middle of the 19th century.
After the early percussive devices came hand-cranked machines that produced up-and-down stroking, and circular movements used in the treatment of neuralgia, atrophy, emaciation and constipation.
The Veedee was an advanced hand-cranked massage vibrator. This device was more sophisticated than the Macurator, even though it utilized the same drill-like principles to deliver its vibration to the body. A small adjustable flywheel that could be calibrated to provide more or less vibration was attached to the end of the Veedee to accentuate the vibration and provide more horizontal movement to the body, thus creating the first true vibrator.
In the next installment of this series: the first steam-powered, battery-powered and electric vibrators will be discussed. Part II
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.
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by Robert Noah Calvert
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