Make Love Not War: A Brief History of the Magic Wand

Make Love Not War

1968 was the tipping point for sex, war, race, and gender equality. It was a time filled with passion and promise, innovation and possibilities. 1968 also marked the year when Hitachi filed a trademark for a vibrating personal massager called the Magic Wand. Initially marketing for sore necks and backs, the Magic Wand was also being recognized for soothing other parts of the body as well. As early as the 1970’s women quickly realized this hand-held device could be used off-label (ahem) for clitoral stimulation.

magic wand history

The Origins of the Magic Wand

As the battle cry to “make love, not war” created a huge divide between young progressive thinkers and old conservative stalwarts trying desperately to hold on to good old American values—Hitachi was busy coming up with a design for this now famous handheld massager. Earlier editions of the Magic Wand featured a quilted black head and was also available in a bright pink body. After switching to a more pliable head, the massager was then re-packaged and sold as “The Workout.” With the popularity of the Magic Wand rising as a sexual appliance, Hitachi removed their name–but the deed was already done.

magic wand history

The success of the Magic Wand could be tied to its early roots in the appliance industry. The discreet design made the Magic Wand a popular household item and is perhaps the reason for its early success amongst “ladies-in-the-know.” Not only was it a less embarrassing purchase for women to purchase, but the Magic Wand also did not look or feel like a giant novelty cock. Women could feel more confident masturbating with something that was not so phallic looking. Plus, the power of the Magic Wand got women talking about orgasms more.

magic wand history

The O.G. Spokeswoman

Iconic sex education pioneer Betty Dodson had been facilitating her Bodysex workshops in New York City since the late 60s. These female-only workshops focused on solely on masturbation and orgasms. An advocate for the use of vibrators, Dobson introduced vibrators to women and in the ’70s, Dodson started teaching her workshops with the Hitachi Magic Wand.

While Dodson is widely credited with popularizing the Magic Wand, she received no compensation for her endorsement of the vibrator. Dodson added, “it’s really shitty of [Hitachi] to not acknowledge my efforts and give me a percentage.” Dodson maintains that her endorsement of the Magic Wand was never about money.

Dell & Betty and the Yoga Retreat

Sex educator Dell Williams wrote about meeting Betty Dobson in her memoir Revolution in the Garden. They met while bunking together at a yoga retreat. Dell, an introverted woman in her mid-50s worked in advertising and knew of Dodson’s masturbation workshops. Williams eventually signed up for a Bodysex class where she was introduced to the Hitachi Magic Wand on the second day.

Humiliation Leads to Sex Toy Empire

According to Lynn Comella, Dell Williams went shopping at Macy’s for Hitachi Magic Wand after hearing about at the workshop. The salesman then began asking inappropriate questions like how she would be using the vibrator. Humiliated and embarrassed by the whole deal, Williams founded Eve’s Garden, a feminist sex toy shop. Eve’s Garden was the first mail-order catalog company. Williams ran the company out of her New York City apartment and later set up a shop in a high-rise office in midtown Manhattan.

The Magic Wand Finds Home at Good Vibrations

As the sexual revolution continued raging ahead, so did the popularity of the Magic Wand. Sex educator and founder of Good Vibrations Joani Blank published a guide on vibrators with the very detailed title: Good Vibrations: Being a Treatise on the Use of Machines in the Indolent Indulgence of Erotic Pleasure-Seeking Together with Important Hints on the Acquisition, Care, and Utilization of Said Machines and Much More about the Art and Science of Buzzing Off. And take a guess which product appeared on the cover? You got it right, the Hitachi Magic Wand.

magic wand history

The primary appeal of the Hitachi Magic Wand is it looked like an appliance and not a sex toy or penis. Dr. Carol Queen explains, “Joani, aware of the limitations back then of trying to distribute a book with a sexy cover, would have appreciated this twofer. She got to represent a vibrator she thought was great, and her book was less likely to be flagged as a problem in a bookstore.

Magic Wand Now in Store

Joanie Blank opened her first Good Vibrations store in San Francisco and started selling the Hitachi Magic Wand. Just like Dell Williams sought to create a safe, comfortable space for women to explore. So too Blank’s mission on the west coast.

magic wand history

The early days of Good Vibrations, Blank used to buy Hitachi Magic Wands in bulk in San Francisco’s Japantown. She would then resell them at her store with just a little markup. What’s notable is Joani prided herself as being an unconventional businesswoman. The sex toy business was never about making her rich. It was about education and making vibrators accessible.

Magic Wand is Officially a “Vibrator”

1992 was a turning point for Hitachi as they never publicly acknowledged the Magic Wand was a popular sex toy. But Good Vibrations changed all that with their 15th Anniversary Party. Hitachi employees chipped in to fund Magic Wand-shaped chocolate molds for the party, and ordered 500 chocolates from Good Vibrations for their annual sales conference. This seems to be the only record of Hitachi acknowledging the Magic Wand’s off-label use.

Magic Wand Dry Spell

The year is 1999 and the Magic Wand is being distributed by a U.S. company handling imports for several of Hitachi’s other small appliances like rice cookers, fans, etc. When the company stopped paying their invoices, Hitachi cut off its supply of Magic Wands. At this point, eBay was picking up steam and people where bidding outrageous amounts on the Magic Wand.

Vibratex Saves the Day

Consumers were becoming worried and desperate as there was not a Magic Wands in sight. Then a company called Vibratex came up with a brilliant plan. They contacted Hitachi to see if they could take over importing and distributing the Magic Wand only. Unfortunately, Hitachi was already speaking with another vendor who also would carry Hitachi’s other appliances too. Vibratex went back to the company with a one-time deal and offered to pre-pay and sell the surplus of Magic Wands. When things fell through with the other interested distributor, Hitachi agreed and went with Vibratex just for the Magic Wand. Women can rejoice and celebrate as Vibratex saves the day!

Samantha Says the word “Vibrator”

Sex and the City really pumped up the volume on sex toys and exposed the Magic Wand (and Rabbit) to a whole new, young audience. We love when Samantha returns a “vibrator” at Sharper Image. When asked why Samantha simply says. “It failed to get me off.” She then schools the sales clerk on the real reason women are buying neck massagers and proudly lifts the veil on the so-called “body massager.” While this episode didn’t show a Hitachi Magic Wand specifically, the iconic shape and story behind the wand made it perfectly clear.

magic wand history

Hitachi Almost Drops the Mic

It’s 2012 and Vibratex is contacted by Hitachi saying they were going to stop manufacturing the Hitachi Magic Wand. Knowing an incredible loss it would be if the product came off the market, Vibratex asked Hitachi if they could continue selling the Magic Wand without the Hitachi name. Guess what—Hitachi agreed and disaster averted, again!

A Little Makeover

Following nearly eight months of marketing, branding, and re-designing, the massager went from the “Hitachi Magic Wand” to the “Magic Wand Original” in June of 2013. Not only did it get a new name, but Hitachi also added improved the components, circuitry, vibrating head, and durability. According to Vibratex, this was the first major update to any of the technology of the toy since its original release in 1968.

magic wand history

Because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship between Hitachi and Vibratex nothing really changed much after 2013. But then, Vibratex just asked one day and the makers of the Magic Wand agreed to create a rechargeable version.

The Future and Beyond

Since 2010, the Magic Wand or the Magic Wand Rechargeable (or sometimes both) are still the best selling vibrators on the sex toys market and accounts for over 75% of Vibratex’s total sales as well.

magic wand history

Shay Martin from Vibratex says it’s not unheard of for people to use the same Magic Wand for 10 or 15 years. “If you don’t wrap the cord around the handle and take care of it, like taking care of your hairdryer or whatever, it should last a long time.” She says. Part of the reason why the Magic Wand is so durable compared to other sex toys is its design is rooted in kitchen appliances. It’s no surprise why the Magic Wand holds up to the test of time.

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