May, 2017 Archive

Sex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators

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An interesting part of vibrator history is that they were often not manufactured nor marketed for masturbation. Many products used as sex toys were advertised as therapeutic massagers of the non-sexual kind. Household items sold with the word “vibrator” on the box were meant for relaxing muscles but often purchased as a “pervertable” (an everyday object used for sexual pleasure) rather than their original advertised use. Even the original Hitachi Magic Wand’s public relations department argued for decades that it was just to massage the kinks out of your shoulders and back, and not for use on more intimate parts of the body.

When you’re researching vintage vibrators, you usually find a parade of the usual suspects. In between the late Victorian hand crank massagers and the mid-century power tools, I found a couple that teetered on the sex toy edge. While I can’t find proof that they were used for solo sexy time (then again we can’t prove vibrators marketed for health care were all sex toys anyway) there’s something about them that just screams pervertable to me.

Vibra Bed may not be a conventional vibrator but the image on the box of a woman enjoying her “relaxing” time in bed made me wonder about the Vibra Bed’s intended use. I found two versions; the first has a late 60’s illustration then another with an early 70’s photo. In the box, you find a mid-sized square device you can attach to the bed to replicate those vibrating “magic finger” motel beds. Because everyone goes home from that no-tell motel going “Gosh I wish I had that vibrating bed action at home!” (Well, maybe a few did. Who am I to yuck somebody’s yum)

Vibra Bed made its first appearance in 1970. The good and services part of the trademark document lists it as a “vibrator for attachment to a bed or sofa for causing vibration of parts of the human body.” An ad in the Pittsburgh Press says it can be used with a sofa or chair. How well this small box works to make your entire bed, sofa, or chair into a vibrator is a question for the ages. Might be a nice full body massage after a long day or it could be about as effective as my cell phone going off repeatedly. Dynamic Classics Ltd., which went bankrupt in 1996 after losing a government lawsuit, had several items under trademark that were either fitness or travel oriented but nothing quite like Vibra Bed.

Sex Toy History: Unusual VibratorsAnother interesting find is the Filter Queen Vibrator by Health-Mor Inc. Filter Queen is known for its canister style vacuum cleaners. They carry a wide assortment of accessories including an attachment that turns your vacuum into a vibrator. The box shows how the hose vibrates and recommended use on various parts of the body. The attachment was invented by Eugene F. Martinec, vice president of manufacturing and inventor of many accessories for Health-Mor, and patented in 1962. At $14.50, this accessory is quite expensive, about $115 today. This price makes it more than twice the price of a Magic Wand and not as exciting. It looks like it came as part of an entire filter queen kit sold door to door, so may not have been purchased separately very often. Filter Queen is still in existence today, but no longer sells the attachment. Although an authorized dealer in Canada still offers the vibrator on their website.

An item that just screams sex toy to me is the Vibra-Finger gum massager. The vibrating end of thisSex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators massager comes shaped like a rather realistic looking finger. Apparently, dentists highly recommended gum massage to combat Pyorrhea or soft irritated gums. It cost $6.95, had a 30-day money back guarantee, and a one year warranty. The instruction booklet recommends a 60-second massage after brushing your teeth and lets you know you can purchase replacement fingers for a $1 each. I’m not sure why these fingers had to look so disturbingly life-like, it doesn’t seem necessary to perform the cleansing and refreshing massage

Vibra-Finger advertised in several newspapers from what looks to be the 1950s. I couldn’t find any information about either the Dentagene Company or Atlas Industries, both listed as the parent company on the ads. Nor could I find a patent for it. When it was invented and first distributed, is a mystery.

I was surprised to find all of these items for sale on eBay, Etsy and online stores specializing in collectibles. Their distributors may be long gone, but the product is still lingering about.

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Sex Toy History: The Hitachi Magic Wand

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My first introduction to the Hitachi Magic Wand was in the movie Bachelor Party (1984). I was enjoying this delightfully awful Tom Hanks vehicle on HBO when the scene came up where two sex workers who get rerouted from a raucous bachelor party to a demure bridal shower. When the women arrive, they pull out a giant vibrator and a whip then casually ask, “Is there an empty outlet in here?” before sinking out of frame in a heated embrace. I had never seen the large wand like sex toy before, only the plastic oblong shaped vibrators sold at Spencer Gifts. It didn’t make me run out and get one, nor did I even think about it much after that scene. Little did I know but it was one of the most popular vibrators of all time.

I would later find out the name of this toy, the Hitachi Magic Wand. I would also discover that nearly everyone I know finds it an indispensable part of their sex toy arsenal. The Magic Wand is so popular it should have a fan club. So popular it’s even referred to as the Cadillac of sex toys. What’s also interesting is this popular sex toy is not really a sex toy but a muscle massager. At least, that was it’s original intent when it was first distributed back in 1968.

In May of 1968, Hitachi Sales Corporation filed to trademark the phrase, Magic Wand. In that document, the Magic Wand’s first use and first use in commerce as an electric massager are listed as April 25, 1968. The original packaging did not have the words Magic Wand on it, simply Hitachi massager. The packaging added the phrase Magic Wand in about 1969. Early packaging was plain with only the product name and logo. Packaging from the mid to late 1970’s shows it’s recommended use as a massager with photos of a model showcasing various parts of the body you would use it on like shoulders, legs, and feet. The instructions also suggested points of the body like neck, shoulders, and back.

The massager hasn’t changed much since 1968, a wand handle with the cylindrical shaped head and flexible neck. Early versions of the head are more cylindrical in shape and have a padded vinyl black or red quilted covering. The quilted head appears ribbed for her pleasure, even though it would not gain that status for a couple of years. The original massager only came in one speed, and the handle was fluted (like long grooves on a Greek column) and wasn’t tapered. They also came in three different colors like white, pink, and red. Hitachi initially included a vinyl bag but discontinued it in the mid 70’s.

Later versions, around the mid 70’s, do away with the more blunt cylinder shaped head with the quilted padding and feature the more rounded smooth head with the single groove you see today. The ones that were officially labeled Magic Wand seemed to debut a short time after the trademark was officially registered in 1969. The Magic Wand had two speed settings and the more familiar tapered body. One of my favorite versions is “The Workout” with its 70’s color scheme and uber macho dude replacing the woman in the usual packaging. I’m sure this made it appealing as a post workout massage as opposed to supplying relief to tired women’s shoulders and feet. There were subtle variations over time like changing the color of the power switch and the handle becoming more tapered. By the late 70’s, Hitachi stopped offering the wand in different colors and white became the standard. By the late 90’s, they added the now classic blue trim.

It’s popularity as a sex toy did not happen right away. Hitachi always maintained that this was a body massage device meant for health care and not a sex toy. Body massagers were often co-opted to be vibrators, but the Magic Wand got lots of great press by the mid 70’s, mostly initiated by Betty Dodson. Dodson initially preferred the Panasonic Panabrator but switched over to the Magic Wand. She was known to use the device in her Bodysex workshops then recommended the Magic Wand in her book “Liberating Masturbation” published in 1974. The news spread, and soon it became a sex shop staple. It’s been a best seller at Good Vibrations in San Francisco since they opened in 1977.

Since it was technically a body massager, it could be sold in regular stores. Dodson said she could get it in Macy’s small appliance section. Hitachi at times seemed none too thrilled their therapeutic massage device was usurped as a sex toy then oddly supportive of it. In 1992, they commissioned chocolate versions in honor of the 15th anniversary of Good Vibrations. Then in 1999, they issued a statement asserting that the wand’s only use was for health care. I guess you could consider using it for masturbation as health care, but I get the feeling that is not what they intended.

In 2000, they had a falling out with their US distributor, American Appliance Corporation. Coupled with their unease that their product was now famous as the ultimate masturbation accessory, Hitachi decided to cease production. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror. After a couple of months without a distributor, and prices of Magic Wands starting to skyrocket on eBay, they inked a deal with Vibratex as their new distributor.

Wait. Vibratex is a sex toy distributor, yet Hitachi denies it’s a sex toy. Hmmm…

In 2002, Magic Wands were flying off the shelves after a similar looking massager showed up in an episode of Sex and the City. Despite all this, in 2013 Hitachi decided again that it didn’t want to sell a sex toy and wanted to pull the plug on the product. Vibratex convinced them to remove the Hitachi name and sell them as the Original Magic Wand, or Magic Wand Original as was advertised in the rebranding debut in 2014. Manufacturing had changed slightly, which caused many to complain it is not as well build or long lasting, but it remains highly recommended.

While the wand has always recommended stopping use after 25 minutes to avoid overheating, many say the device can go much longer. Its eco-friendly cord means you don’t go through tons of batteries to use it. Getting its power from an outlet rather than batteries is a key to its power. Despite all the newfangled sex toys, including the recently debuted rechargeable Magic Wand Original, this time-tested workhorse will never go out of style or popularity.

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