11 Vintage Vibrator Ads To Make You Glad You Live In 2015

Feature photo by Pat Knight, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.


Vibrators were invented to treat “hysteria,” a condition that could consist of emotional extremes, dizziness, paralysis, respiratory problems and “the commonly reported sensation of a ball in the throat,” according to Andrew Scull in Hysteria: The Disturbing History. Had a symptom no one could classify? Just sort of bitchy today? Hysteria! As Rachel Maines writes in The Technology of Orgasm, “This purported disease and its sister ailments displayed a symptomatology consistent with the normal functioning of female sexuality, for which relief, not surprisingly, was obtained through orgasm.” Maines argues that Western physicians from the first century up until the 1920s often included massaging female patients to orgasm in standard medical practice, as a result of a culture that damned female masturbation and centred sexuality around men. Vibrators were a great way for physicians to be more efficient.

In the early 20th century, vibrators started to appear in classy household publications, like the Ladies’ Home Journal, Home Needlework Journal and Modern Woman, advertised in vague terms as health, beauty and relaxation devices. Vibrators weren’t openly marketed as sex toys until the late 60s and 70s, and even now are sometimes still sold as massagers or under other euphemisms. For a good time, see what your sex toy user manual calls your sex toy — one toy in my drawer is a “pleasure accessory,” while another is a “stimulation device” with a “treatment head.” Hitachi, the company behind what is arguably one of the most iconic vibrators ever, has refused to ever talk about the Magic Wand, which now more closely resembles a sex toy, though one on which the word “Hitatchi” is nowhere in sight. In an ad just a few years ago, Fun Factory marketed a vibrator under the heading, “Lifeless skin? Renew it.” The tone is knowing rather than innocent or medical, but the history is long.


11 Vintage Vibrator Ads To Make You Glad You Live In 2015

1. “The most marvellous instrument yet invented.”

Vibratile Facial Massage, McClure's, April 1899.

Vibratile Facial Massage, McClure’s, April 1899.

2. “For every member of the family.”

American Vibrator Co., 1906, no source.

American Vibrator Co., 1906, no original source.

3. “Retain the glow of health and beauty.”

White Cross Electric Vibrator, Home Needlework Magazine, February 1908.

White Cross Electric Vibrator, Home Needlework Magazine, February 1908.

4. “Give your system the proper stimulation.”

The Ind-Electric, Baltimore and Ohio Employes Magazine, June 1913.

The Ind-Electric, Baltimore and Ohio Employes Magazine, June 1913.

5. “Aids that every woman appreciates.”

Portable vibrator ad, Sears catalogue, 1915.

Portable vibrator ad, Sears catalogue, 1915.

6. “Spend just a few moments every day with your Star Electric Vibrator.”

The Star Electric Vibrator, Cosmo, June 1919.

The Star Electric Vibrator, Cosmo, June 1919.

7. “Have you tried electric massage at home?”

The Star Electric Vibrator, Cosmo, October 1919.

The Star Electric Vibrator, Cosmo, October 1919.

8. “A tingling, cheerful glow that invigorates and refreshes.”

Hamilton Beach Vibrator, 1920, no source.

Hamilton Beach Vibrator, 1920, no original source.

9. “A vibrator is an indispensable requisite of every woman’s dressing table.”

Polar Club Electric Vibrator, 1920, no original source.

Polar Club Electric Vibrator, 1920, no original source.

10. “Does the work of many hands.”

Venus Adonis, 1950s, no original source.

Venus Adonis, 1950s, no original source.

11. “Mildly soothing or deeply penetrating.”

Oster Massage Instrument, LIFE, 20 November 1950.

Oster Massage Instrument, LIFE, 20 November 1950.

Carolyn Yates is the NSFW Consultant, and was formerly the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor, for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She recently moved to Los Angeles from Montreal. Find her on twitter.

Carolyn has written 889 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. Funny story: my Dad won a Hitachi several years ago and ferverently believes it is just for massage purposes. He got quite upset when my sister saw him using it in the living room and couldn’t stop laughing.

  2. “Polar Cub. Something to keep you warm on those oh so cold nights.”

    Also, in regards to the Hamilton Beach and Oster vibrators, the first thing one needs to ask is, “Well, if they make a decent blender, I’m sure they can make a product that could make me come over and over again!”

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.