A Little Background on Male Masturbation Technology

There once was a fellow named Greene
Who invented a wanking machine
On the sixty-ninth stroke
The bloody thing broke
And whipped his bollocks to cream

I recently came across the appallingly-named Fleshlight (figuratively speaking) during a recent discussion with a rather more worldly-wise acquaintance of mine. As with leaf blowers, I wanted to know who invented the thing, and as is so often the case, the answer was quite surprising. As the Tremoussoir was the precursor to the modern vibrator, I felt there had to be a similar and earlier machine. When I researched the ancestor of the Fleshlight, it came as something of a shock. The first shock the date; I'd always assumed that it would be a 20th-century invention. The second was that the inventor was a woman.

It was a rare thing in the eighteenth century that a woman came first into the public eye with an invention, even less common that it caught on. Betsy Quickly was the daughter of a Liverpool clockmaker, one John Quickly, who to be frank was not a great engineer. His clocks did not run accurately, a classic case of nominative determinism, if you will.

Betsy was fascinated with clockwork and would often tinker with her father's discarded pieces. Being of curious bent and well-read, she realised two things; the first being that the writing was on the wall for many clockmakers as the likes of John Harrison were pushing back the boundaries of accuracy. Her second realisation was that the world was changing. The development of the Tremoussoir led her to believe that the future lay in the "medical contraption" market, and pushed her father to develop what was effectively a clockwork vibrator to assist doctors with "pelvic massage", a procedure designed to alleviate *ahem* hysteria in women.

The machine met with limited success, and whilst sales at first paid the bills, by 1793 John and Betsy were casting around for new ideas and markets. To make ends meet, the resourceful and spunky Betsy had begun to work at a local and very busy bawdy-house as a maid, and noticed that there were frequently more customers available than women (or space) to service them. Observing the frustration of both the customers and the business, she decided that the situation could be alleviated by some mechanism, and put her fertile imagination to work on a solution.

Quickly To The Rescue

The solution, she decided, was simple. She envisioned a tube of adequate length and width with a padded interior, capable of transmitting the same form of stimulation as used in the clockwork vibrators. She went to work in secret. Her father, she felt, would not approve of this invention any more than he did of her working in a brothel. She talked to many of the women working the trade, even deigning to help out with occasional handjobs from time to time. As she learned, she refined her mechanism, until in the March of 1795 she felt it was ready for testing.

The prototype was fairly crude, but consisted of a brass tube about ten inches in length and about four in diameter. This was filled with a kapok-filled calf leather insert secured at the blunt end, and lined with a replaceable oiled silk sheath, secured at the base with a spring steel band. The clockwork mechanisms (there were initially two) provided the vibration by means of an eccentric drive powered by a large spiral tensioned spring. She took it to show her employer, who was naturally quite sceptical of both the need and use of such a machine. After some negotiation, she agreed to a trial of it, and it was on the 13th of March (a Friday) that the first client agreed to test the beast. This experiment met with satisfaction on all sides, being both safe, comfortable and above all, effective in bringing the subject to a finish. Betsy was instructed to produce a second machine, which she did by the end of April.

The madam was suitably impressed with the devices, which brought satisfaction not just to the clientele, but to the working women, who found it alleviated the bawdy-house boredom of interminable handjobs. In addition, while avoiding repetitive strain injury was not a major part of the brief, the invention also reduced the incidence of "wanker's wrist". Customers too were delighted. Demand was high, not just for the novelty and effectiveness of the service, but also for the machines themselves.

This was a turning point for Betsy and the "Quickly Gentleman's Helper". Besty had already identified her target market to be the crewmen of vessels visiting the port, and has set the price at a point appropriate to the buyers. Many ship's masters made the necessary investment in the devices to assist in maintaining morale on long ocean voyages. Betsy, canny lass that she was, recognised that there was return business in the replacement of the sheaths (which although washable were fairly fragile) and agreed with the owner of the brothel that she would only permit their sale through that business.

The Final Stroke

It worked. Buyers came again and again, not just for replacements, but with business deals. The machine was, it seems, also a hit in the newly-independent United States. Betsy made a killing. Despite her father's continued objections on the grounds of moral outrage, she set up manufacturing in Eccles and turned out improved Helpers by the score.

Sadly, this was not to last. An accident was sustained by a Member of Parliament following a catastrophic failure of the tube. The member's member was rent in twain by an overwound spring, and the resulting media frenzy meant that a Government Select Committee banned the manufacture and sale of the Helper. John Quickly died of shame that his name should be attached to such a disaster. As for Betsy, she set sail for America in 1797 to make her fortune there. Sadly, she never made it. The ship sank and she went to Davy Jones's Locker surrounded by seamen.

Wikipedia: Besty Quickly
Fleshlight History
LieQuest 2013