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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.