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The History of Massage Tools Part 2

The electric vibrator was introduced in 1902 and thus began the broad marketing of vibrators to the general public. But the introduction of electric devices did not hinder the development and marketing of manual tools. Over time the manual tools would outnumber electric ones in sheer volume of product. Many of the manual tools introduced from 1980-1999 were remakes of the original devices that appeared a century earlier.

At one time, Racine, Wisconsin, had more than 20 manufacturing companies producing electric vibrators. Most of these products were small hand-held units sold from catalogs, retail stores and advertisements in magazines. The electric vibrator evolved from being a device used largely by barbers and massage practitioners, to one used hardly at all by barbers and very little by the massage industry, to an almost exclusive trade with the general public. Many of these devices were advertised as self-help units, but soon became related to sexual pleasure.

But this article is not about those latter types of devices; it is about the wide variety of electric and manual tools used for relaxation and self-help. As noted in the previous column, most of the earlier vibrating devices, particularly the hand-crank types, were used by physicians. With the advent of electrical devices the marketplace expanded exponentially to consumers everywhere.

One of the earliest devices, sold around the turn of the 20th century, and still sold today in a myriad of revised versions, is the original massage vibrator.

Stringed beads made of rubber, Bakelite or metal were configured on a chain of brass or other heavy metal. Vibration was achieved by rolling the beaded device over the body in long pressure strokes. Some were even made on elastic material so they could be stretched between a doorway.

The bongers, originally called the ball beaters, were first introduced about 1885. This photograph from the 1904 text Common Disorders, by W.R. Latson, shows the ball beaters being used in the treatment of female disorders.

Another hand-held device, bongers, sold today in retail stores nearly everywhere, was originally introduced in 1885. Bongers deliver vibration by pounding the body in rhythmical beats.

The physician's use of hand-cranked vibrators in the late 19th century gave way to delegating manual therapies to the physical therapist. Over time manual therapy was almost completely replaced by electric vibrators. Faradic massage, or electric stimulation of the muscles, was quite popular within the new field of physiotherapy during the 1920s in America and Europe. Originally used as medical treatments, electric vibrators soon became quack devices. Today they are again being sold to consumers in various forms for weight reduction, to reduce muscle spasm and as muscle relaxants.

The vast array of hand tools used to rub the body found in stores today are made of common and exotic stone, molded plastics and polymers, copper, glass, crystal and even porcelain. All of these devices are merely copies of the 1,000-year-old Chinese jade massage knuckle we have in the World of Massage Museum (WOMM) collection. Some of these modern devices are shaped as turtles, dolphins and branches--there are as many shapes and colors as one can imagine.

Vibrator on cheek
This 1902 illustration is part of a promotional brochure that came with the purchase of this vibrator. Recommended uses were for imparting beauty to the cheeks, throat and muscles by toning.

Even the best-selling TheraCane® and Backnobber™ products have their roots in the ancient Polynesian lomi sticks. Most modern vibrators--the G-5, Thumper®‚ and others--deliver similar vibration techniques to the body as their hand-cranked predecessors did more than 100 years ago. And if you think the vibrating chairs sold today are new, think again. The vibrating chair has been around since Greek and Roman times, and as an electric device since the late 1800s.

We have a device in the WOMM collection from the 1960s that produces vibrations up and down the spine much like a sophisticated chair from Sharper Image or Panasonic, but with the kneading devices visible, not hidden inside the chair.

With all the electrical devices available today, from Thumper to Sharper Image's high-tech recliner, the most common are manual tools used to supplement the hands that apply them. Criticisms made by physicians such as Taylor, Kleen and Kellogg more than a century ago, stating that tools could never replace the human hand, seem to have taken an interesting turn. As the electrical devices become more sophisticated and high-tech, and thus more expensive, manual tools have become more common and widely used because they cost less and are not replacements for, but extensions of the human hand that applies them.



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