A Brief History of the Magic Wand

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  • By Carina Hsieh
A Brief History of the Magic Wand

No other ugly hunk of plastic has such a badass feminist backstory.

When you think iconic vibrators, you have to think of the Magic Wand. Often colloquially referred to as "The Hitachi," the toy has a storied history going back to the late '60s and is known to be symbolic of the sex-positive feminist movement of the '70s. While I only knew of the Hitachi as an uggo hunk of plastic often found in friends' moms' bathroom drawers, I was shocked to discover that the Hitachi actually had a pretty badass feminist backstory and was way more than just a silly """sports massager""".



Initially marketed as a general body massager for sore muscles, the Magic Wand quickly gained a cult following in the early '70s for the off-label use as one of the best vibrators for clitoral stimulation. While the popularity as a vibrator eventually caused Japanese electronics giant Hitachi to take their name off one of their most recognizable products, the success of the Magic Wand would be impossible without its early roots in the appliance industry. Its discreet appearance as a household item is perhaps the reason for much of its early success amongst women-in-the-know, and the fact that it wasn't overly phallic freed it from perpetuating the belief that women needed a dick inside them to feel pleasure. Not only was it easier for women to buy (What if they really just wanted to soothe their sore necks?) but the type of orgasm the toy provided was all about a woman's pleasure and not the "yeah-if-you-keep-jamming-that-there-it-sort-of-feels-good-for-me-I-guess?" kind of penetrative sex that is unfortunately so often the norm when women learn about sex from men.


As Lynn Comella, author of Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure, explains over email, "perhaps more than any other vibrator, the Magic Wand — formerly known as the Hitachi Magic Wand — has achieved a kind of iconic status as a symbol of female sexual liberation, with a fan base and popularity that has spanned generations."


Here, a few key players in the popularity of the Magic Wand over its nearly 50 year history explain the fascinating backstory behind the little appliance that could. Read on, and don't be surprised if you run out and buy a wand just out of respect for the history immediately afterwards.


On May 20, 1968, Hitachi files a trademark for "Magic Wand." Dr. Carol Queen, staff sexologist and historian at Good Vibrations also adds that for a long time, the toy was just called The Hitachi. Ironic, considering all the hullaballoo that would later follow with Hitachi taking their name off in the 2000s.


During the early years from the late '60s to the mid-'70s, there were several iterations of the wand. Early editions of the Magic Wand featured a quilted black head — different from the iconic off-white soft head normally associated with the Magic Wand — as well as availability with a bright pink body. After switching to the softer head, the massager was also re-packaged as "The Workout" during the early-to-mid 70s.


Sex educator and artist Betty Dodson had been teaching her famous Bodysex workshops in New York City since the late 60s. These women-only workshops focused on teaching women how to masturbate. Dodson was a pioneer and advocate for the use of vibrators, ever since her lover in the late 1960s introduced her to an electric vibrator originally used for scalp massages.


While Dodson originally used a vibrator from Oster and the Panabrator by Panasonic, in the 70's, Dodson started teaching her workshops with the Hitachi Magic Wand. Dodson, who is now in her 80s, explained over the phone, that the reason she originally used the Magic Wand was that she had tried several and felt it was the best.


While Dodson is widely credited with popularizing the Magic Wand, she received no compensation for her endorsement of the toy. 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 wand was never about money back then and still isn't, but that doesn't mean she's without regret about how it all went down. "That's one of our traits [as women]." she said. "We'll do a job and then we'll try to negotiate the pay...because I was an artist, not a business person, I promoted it because I liked it. And I was never acknowledged. The company appreciates the free endorsement, but if I had to do it all over again, I'd charge."


1970: Dell Williams Meets Betty Dodson at a Yoga Retreat


Sex educator Dell Williams wrote in her memoir, Revolution in the Garden, about meeting Betty Dodson at a yoga retreat in 1970 by chance when the two were assigned to bunk together. Williams, a shy woman in her 50s working in advertising, knew of Dodson's masturbation workshops, and waited months after their meeting to work up the nerve to sign up for one.


When Williams finally did sign up for a workshop, she was introduced to the Hitachi Magic Wand through Dodson, who used it in her demonstration for the second day of class.\


1973: Dell Williams Has a Humiliating Experience Trying to Buy a Magic Wand, Accidentally Sparks a Revolution


Lynn Comella says that in 1973, Dell Williams allegedly went to Macy's to buy a Hitachi Magic Wand after hearing about the vibrator at one of Betty Dodson's workshops. The salesman creepily asked her what she planned on using the vibrator for, and the resulting gross experience lead Williams to found Eve's Garden, the first major feminist sex toy store, in 1974. Eve's Garden was first a mail-order company run out of Williams' New York City apartment, though she later sets up shop in an office suite of a high-rise building in midtown Manhattan where her store has been ever since.


1976: Joani Blank Features the Hitachi Magic Wand on the Cover of Her Book, Good Vibrations


Sex educator Joani Blank publishes her guide to vibrators with the very succinct 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 she featured the Hitachi Magic Wand on the cover of her book.


Dr. Carol Queen explains that part of the appeal of the Hitachi Magic Wand was that it looked like an appliance, and not an über-phallic sex toy. 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."


1977: Good Vibrations, the Sex Store, Opens Its Doors


Good Vibrations’ founder Joani Blank in 1977 with the Hitachi Magic Wand and various other sex toys.


Blank opens her first Good Vibrations store in San Francisco and starts selling the Hitachi Magic Wand from the beginning. Just as Dell Williams sought to create a safe, comfortable, and non-creepy space for women to shop for vibrators in New York City, so too was Joani Blank's mission on the west coast.


Comella says that in the early days of Good Vibrations business, Blank used to buy Hitachi Magic Wands in bulk in San Francisco's Japantown at a very small discount, and then resell them at Good Vibrations for the same price they were being sold at in Japantown, making a profit of only $2 on each vibrator. "What's notable about this story," Comella explained, "is that for Joani, who prided herself on being an unconventional businesswoman, it was never about making a lot of money, but about making vibrators accessible to as many people as possible at a price point they could afford."


1992: Hitachi Recognizes the Use of Magic Wand as a Vibrator for the First Time


Prior to 1992, Hitachi never acknowledged publicly that their massager was so popular as a sex toy. However, in 1992, when Good Vibrations set out to plan a party celebrating 15 years in business, Hitachi employees from their Atlanta headquarters 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 NSFW popularity.



1999: No More Magic Wands


At this time, the Magic Wand was being distributed by a U.S. company that handled business for several of Hitachi's small appliances like rice cookers, fans, etc. Shay Martin, owner of Vibratex, which is now the distributor for Magic Wands (and also famous for distributing the first Rabbit vibrator in the U.S.), alleges that when the previous company stopped paying their bills, Hitachi stopped selling to them, leading to a dearth of Magic Wands in the market.


Dan Martin, General Manager of Vibratex, says at this point, eBay was just starting up and retailers were driving across state lines to buy up whatever Magic Wand stock they could find, and then selling them online for around four times the price.


2000: Vibratex Takes Over Distribution


When it became clear that consumers were desperate for Magic Wands but no one was selling them, Vibratex tried to get in touch with Hitachi to see if they could take over as Hitachi's import agent.


Vibratex tried unsuccessfully at first, to persuade Hitachi to let them sell just the Magic Wand, but Hitachi was already in negotiations with another company who would be selling the Magic Wand and all other small appliances. Vibratex then offered to pay upfront for a cargo container of surplus Magic Wands to sell in the meantime, which they assumed would be a one-time deal, and Hitachi agreed. After Hitachi discovered that the other company they were in negotiations with was no longer interested in selling any of their small appliances besides the Magic Wand, they decided to go with Vibratex, who had been upfront about wanting just the Magic Wand from the start.


2001: Sex and the City Shows a Magic Wand


In Season 4's "My Motherboard, Myself" episode, Samantha can be seen trying to "find" her lost orgasm with a Hitachi Magic Wand.


The next season of Sex and the City, Samantha tries to return a vibrator to a Sharper Image store for failing to get her off. What follows is a particularly memorable scene in which Samantha schools the clueless sales guy about the real reason women are buying his neck massagers. Nearly thirty years after Dell Williams' embarrassing retail experience, Samantha Jones proudly lifted the veil on euphemistically named "body massagers." While this episode didn't show a Hitachi Magic Wand specifically, the iconic shape and story behind the wand made it pretty clear, it was an homage to the Hitachi Magic Wand.


In the same episode, Samantha winds up donating her new wand-style vibrator to Miranda's son Brady, as the movement of the wand in his chair keeps him from crying.



2012: Hitachi Drops Their Name from the Product


In mid 2012, Dan Martin says Vibratex was contacted by Hitachi saying they were going to stop making the Hitachi Magic Wand. "They finally caught up to how it was being promoted and sold in the States," Dan explained. Knowing what a huge loss it would be if this product came off the market, Vibratex asked Hitachi if they could continue selling the Magic Wand without the Hitachi name, and Hitachi agreed.


2013: The Debut of the Magic Wand Original


In June of 2013, after eight months of marketing, branding, and re-designing, the massager went from the "Hitachi Magic Wand" to the "Magic Wand Original." Not only did the toy get a new name, but Hitachi also added improvements to the components, circuitry, the vibrating head, and to overall improve durability. According to Dan, this was the first major update to any of the technology of the toy since Vibratex took over distribution in 2000.


Dan Martin says that prior to the 2013 name change, there had always been hesitation to ask Hitachi for upgrades because of the "don't ask, don't tell" nature of their relationship. After the cat was out of the bag and they realized Hitachi was still down to do business with them, knowing how their toy would be used, there was more room to ask for updates in technology.


Dan says that despite the introduction of the rechargeable version, the corded Magic Wand Original is still just as much of a hot seller. Lisa Finn, Sex Educator and Brand Manager at Babeland, says that the launch of the rechargeable version lead to a 63% increase for Hitachi-related sales at Babeland.



2017: The Magic Wand Today


Since 2010, the Magic Wand or the Magic Wand Rechargeable (or sometimes both) hasn't left the top 5 spot for sellers at Babeland. The Magic Wand still accounts for over 75% of Vibratex's total sales as well.


Shay Martin 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 Magic Wands are so sturdy compared to some other sex toys? With roots in GD kitchen appliances, it's no surprise that the product is well made. Shay says, "Whenever you buy sex toys now, they usually have some kind of verbiage on the package that says, 'Sold as a novelty toy' whereas this thing is an actual appliance, so it's well made, it's gonna last a really long time, and it's not just like a cheap little thing you can pick up at the dollar store."