The Weird, Quacky and Sometimes Inaccurate History of the Vibrator

Ahh, the humble vibrator. From tiny bullets to unapologetic beast-mode zappers, they come in every shape, size and vibration strength that it’s hard to keep track of how far the invention has come. It’s one of those fantastic innovations of engineering that’s been around so long, you struggle to imagine what it might have been like without them.  

So...how did vibrators come to be? Which genius do we have to thank?


It’s time to go on a history tour, team. 

Let’s bust up some myths about the invention of the vibrator, first!


Did Cleopatra invent the vibrator?  

Wouldn’t that be so good? Unfortunately, no, it’s not true. But the infamous allure of ol’ Cleo makes it easy to see why this rumour circulated. In the 1992 Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practises, author Brenda Love claimed that Cleopatra used a gourd (yep, the fleshy fruit) filled with BEES to create the vibration sensation to masturbate. 

Wait, what? 

While it’s an incredibly creative hypothesis, there are no actual citations of sources in Love’s book, or any evidence in archaeological finds at all that this actually happened. Despite the lack of proof, the Egyptian Queen hypothesis became popular and circulated in many a book, article and publication for years! Go, Cleo! 

Vibrators were invented by 19th-century doctors to cure women of “hysteria.”

You read that right. And before we dive into this one, know already, that there is no definitive proof that any doctor used a vibrator on a female patient. So why in the heck is this one of THE most popular and widely believed vibrator-origin rumours?

Let’s explore this tomfoolery, shall we?

The Hysteria Debaucle: Hysteria was the old-school medical name for a wide array of ‘dysfunctions’ or unexplained ailments that mainly affected women. The word “Hysteria” derives from the good old Greek word “Hysterika”, meaning uterus. Do you see where we are going with this? Way back in the 6th Century BC, a Greek physician came up with a hypothesis that the womb could move freely about a woman’s body (FUN.) This moving about, according to the physician, caused ill physical and mental health in women. He’s only half wrong, a moving womb would cause chaos. Can’t argue with Arataeus on that one. Since he penned the term ‘Hysteria’, it has since been used to describe a large list of illnesses (mostly affecting women) - including fainting, pent up rage, uncontrollable lust...and farting. 

(I feel attacked, but it’s probably just my hysteria playing up.)

The True Bits: A man named Joseph Mortimer Granville invented the most well known electro-mechanical vibrator around 1880, and the device was called a “percuteur.” While there were already similar devices in operation in France, he became the main name attached to the invention. He was an English physician and believed that vibrations could have healing properties by stimulating the human nervous system. He developed his device to treat pain, irritability, headaches, indigestion and constipation - in men. It is almost certain that Granville knew his device’s sexual potential for women, and was even documented to treat men for sexual dysfunctional with the “percuteur.” But the guy never treated women with it. 

The Grey Area: While Granville did, indeed, create this amazing device with the intention of being used to treat medical ailments, the truth became dodgy when Rachel Maine wrote a book about it. She took liberties with the evidential truth and combined Granville’s invention with medical hysteria...and long story short - you end up with an awkwardly sexy 2011 movie about a doctor who invents a vibrator to treat female hysteria through medical masturbation. 

The 1930s Appliance Vibrator: Vibrators were still considered a kooky healing tool at this stage, easily attached to the same interchangeable motors that powered vacuums, hairdryers and were just a part of the normal house appliance shelf. We totally suspect women of the day knew exactly what household vibrators were really good for, though, amiright?


Right, so when did vibrators start being sold and actually advertised for masturbation?

While the original vibrators were hand-cranked, large, bulky things that looked like medical devices...because that’s what they were for, the sleeker vibrators we recognise today popped up in the 1950s. While still controversial, the rise of the female orgasm had officially begun! 

So, there you have it: a weird, brief look at the history surrounding our favourite vibrator. Next time you get her out, thank whoever you like - Cleo, Granvill, or the marvel of medicine! She’s got to be good to have so many rumours circulating - so if you want to know what the fuss is all about - it’s time you got yourself one. 

Till next time!

And remember: don’t let your hysteria get out of hand - use a vibrator.