The electric vibrator was invented in the late 19th century as a medical instrument for pain relief and the treatment of various ailments, one account gives its first use at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris in 1878, with Romain Vigouroux cited as the inventor. English physician and inventor Joseph Mortimer Granville, who also developed an early model, asserted his own priority in the invention and has been described as the ‘father of the modern electromechanical vibrator’. Mortimer Granville’s 1883 book Nerve-vibration and excitation as agents in the treatment of functional disorder and organic disease describes the intended use of his vibrator for purposes including pain relief, the treatment of neuralgia, neurasthenia, morbid irritability, indigestion and constipation. These early vibrators became popular among the medical profession and were used for treating a wide variety of ailments in women and men including hysteria, arthritis, constipation, amenorrhea, inflammations, and tumors; some wounded World War I soldiers received vibrotherapy as treatment at English and French hospitals in Serbia.
Vibrators began to be marketed for home use in adult sex shops from around 1900 together with other electrical household goods, for their supposed health and beauty benefits. An early example was the ‘Vibratile,’ an advert for which appeared in McClure’s magazine in March 1899, offered as a cure for ‘Neuralgia, Headache, Wrinkles’. These advertisements disappeared in the 1920s, possibly because their appearance in pornography, and growing understanding of female sexual function, made it no longer tenable for mainstream society to avoid the sexual connotations of the devices.