Ever since the industrial revolution of the late 19th century, manufacturers have worked tirelessly to market their products to customers. To a general audience, ladies’ vibrators were advertised more openly one hundred years ago than they are today. The internet has allowed us to look up anything in privacy, but marketing a vibrator in Vogue or Elle? Not a chance. Compare that to the 1920s when you could be thumbing through a copy of your daily newspaper and spot an ad talking about vibrational stress relievers for ladies.
We are fascinated at how the two worlds of marketing and vibrators seemed to have cautiously co-existed for a century, dodging around why a woman would need to use a vibrator for her own sexual pleasure. The packaging of these antique vibrators (or as most of their copywriters like to use on the products, “massager units”) varies widely from decade to decade. It was certainly a man’s world in the marketing world of these vibrators.
Ready to step in the vibrator time machine? See how the language used in the copy, colors on the box, and even instructions printed on the packaging changed generation to generation in the examples below. Here we go!
A steam-powered vibrator from the year 1869. Before the invention of electricity, engineers were experimenting with machinery to satisfy a woman’s “hysteria”. Whomever decided to try and be a test subject for this vibrator pictured above, we salute your courage!
This is a Detwiller pneumatic vibrator manufactured in 1906. It and many other vintage massagers and vibrators from the late 19th century and early 20th century can be see in San Francisco’s Antique Vibrator Museum.
A typical ad for a woman’s vibrator from the year 1909. Ads like this in newspaper classified or magazines spoke to the “medicinal” benefits for one’s body and spirit.
Manufactured by Electrex in the 1920s, this was a state of the art home appliance marketed for women at the time. Electricity was still a bit of a novelty, and young women of the age may have heard of the “hysteria” that their mothers and grandmothers were treated for my doctors of the age. Certainly they would rather treat themselves than have a stranger perform it!
A Vitalator brand massager from the 1940. Household appliances were becoming less bulky and more compact, but they still had a way to go. Today this vibrator looks more like something that you use to cut wood with!
(1/2) It might look more like something from a 1950s science fiction movie but this is an actual massager that you wear on the top of your hand.
(2/2) The Oster hand massager came with an instruction booklet suggesting spots where your husband could relief stress on your body. Of course, the booklet didn’t show or mention anything that might seem inappropriate for the era, or that the wife might want to do massaging on her own!
Body massager circa early 1960s. Notice the copy on the product box: “For face, for scalp, for body.” The Don Drapers hired to write the marketing copy for this product likely thought, “Let’s leave what ‘the body’ is up to the consumer’s imagination.”
Clairol brand Body Language massager from the 1970s, from the era that thought shag carpeting and discos were pretty awesome.
If you lived in the 1970s and were searching for a traditional bullet-shaped vibrator, one had two options: steel up the courage to walk into an adult store yourself, or peruse the back pages of a men’s magazine (i.e. the sleazier nudie ones) until you came across an ad like the one below. While there’s no mention of clitoral stimulation, at least the copywriter brought themselves to mention that you could “apply to any part of the body.” And adding the size dimensions is nice as well.
We will keep adding more images to our collection as we discover them. If you find any, send them to us or tell us in the comments below.
One thought on “The History of Marketing Vibrators”
Interesting. I never knew that there was a long history of the vibrator. Some of these designs look downright clunky compared to today’s modern streamlined vibes! Thank you for publishing this awesome article.