Gizmodo has a scary and interesting article on the history of the mechanical vibrator. They interviewed Dr. Rachel Maines, author of The Technology of Orgasm, who provides some background on the development of sex toys.
It turns out there actually were vibrators before electricity, industrialization and Victorian taboo combined to create the precursors to the motorized gadgets we know today. The first identifiable model was a hand-crank device made in 1734, believe it or not.
The notion that women could be relieved of the illness of “hysteria” by genital manipulation to the point of orgasm, pardon me, I mean “paroxysm”, had been current in medical circles since Galen in the 2nd century. It just took a few hundreds of years for motors to be involved.
According to Dr. Maines, all vibrators are just inefficient motors. “All motors vibrate. If you make a motor that’s especially sloppy, it’ll vibrate more. That’s the principle behind the vibrator: a very sloppy motor that’s designed to vibrate.” An efficient motor, such as the one that runs your fridge, would make for a seriously crappy vibrator. But the Manipulator, which was essentially an inefficient steam engine with a dildo attached to it, did the job swimmingly.
One of the first mechanical vibrators was the steam-powered Manipulator … invented by Dr. George Taylor in 1869. This monster machine hid its engine in another room with the apparatus sticking through the wall.
I’m going to put the picture after the jump because it’s basically a dildo attached to a train engine, so fair warning for the more delicate among us.
I know what you’re thinking: gee I hope I get one of those for Valentine’s Day, that happy day when 20% of the vibrators sold in a year are bought.
There’s a whole gallery more of such off-putting historical vibrators here.