There was a time when everyone knew for certain that women didn't have orgasms. Women were, however, prone to suffering from a psychiatric disorder called hysteria, and needed their physician to perform a special type of pelvic physical therapy to achieve something called "hysterical paroxysm." In today's parlance, that's an orgasm.
Pelvic massages were popular for ages -- beginning in ancient Greece as an early method of treating a "wandering womb" and persisting in Western medical practice until the 1920s. By the end of the 19th century it was estimated that 75 percent of American women suffered from hysteria. The treatment was so popular, in fact, that physicians sought a faster, more efficient way to perform the treatment than with their own hands. The first electric vibrator hit the scene in the late 1800s -- that's before the vacuum cleaner was invented -- which decreased treatment times from as much as an hour to as little as 10 minutes.
In the 1920s, vibrators began to appear in erotic films and that put them out of favor in the physician's office. By the beginning of the 20th century, women could choose and buy their own vibrators from publications such as the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. Before women had the popular Hitachi Magic Wand and the Rabbit, they had the pricey $200 Chattanooga (plus shipping) – in 19th-century dollars [source: Maines].