Back in April this year we one night spotted the above pictured device in a Stuttgart shop window, of which we couldn’t make neither heads nor tails—of the device, not of the shop window, the latter was clear as glass. It wasn’t long before midnight, naturally the shop was closed and hence we couldn’t ask what the thing was. So we took a row of pictures and decided to track the thing down, which isn’t an easy matter if you have absolutely no clue about what it could be.
Well, some days ago we were watching ‘M*A*S*H,’ season 2, episode 8, ‘The trial of Henry Blake.’ At 0:14:32 Margaret (Loretta Swit) has not yet noticed Pierce (Alan Alda) and McIntyre (Wayne Rogers) entering her tent, but still is giving Frank (Larry Linville) a good time, using a thing very close to the one out of that shop window …
Heavens to Betsy—it’s a massage device! A ‘Stim-U-Lax’ by the Oster Company of Wisconsin, based on a patent for which James F. Doran of Danbury, Connecticut, applied in 1926. The patent (US001896351) was granted on 7th February 1933 to John C. Doran, executor of will of James F. Doran, deceased—probably father and son, or brothers. The patent specification begins thus:
This invention relates to vibrators and more particularly to vibrators adapted to be mounted upon the hand to impart to the hand a vibratory movement for massaging purposes.
One of the objects of the invention is to provide a device of the above nature which is practical and highly efficient. Another object is to provide a device of above nature which is not bulky nor clumsy to handle and which is therefore convenient to use.
As it seems, the John Oster Manufacturing Company of Racine, Wisconsin, at the shores of lake Michigan, licenced the patent, and then produced the devices in question. The one we saw in the shop window is a ‘Stim-U-Lax Junior Model M-4 Standard Massage Instrument.’ The steampunk- and retro-SciFi-tech-crowd over at Budget Raygun has a series of detail pictures. Major Margaret Houlihan of course does not content herself with a consumer product like that, but goes for the real thing, the pro items. She uses a ‘Model-3 Oster Stim-U-Lax Massage Unit For Barbers.’
Well, that’s what a working comments-function at a weblog is for—KerLeone read this article, somehow knew that he had seen the device before, some days later suddenly remembered, and promptly provided me with this black and white still picture from Terry Gilliam’s magnificent 1985 cyberpunk movie ‘Brazil’ (see the indepth-review at cyberpunkreview):
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce, to the right) is welcomed by Jack Lint (Michael Palin) in the latter’s office at the Ministry of Information. Look what Jack wears on his hands! Just before Sam entered, Jack was massaging his temples with two Stim-U-Lax devices—we know that, because our old friend dopefish has put a clip of the scene in question for us on YouTube. Tnx! If anybody remembers to have seen a Stim-U-Lax somewhere else in a movie, please drop a line.
That’s interesting. I think Jack Lint (Michael Palin) is using a similiar device in my favorite movie “Brazil”. Look at this screenshot.
Ooooh—wonderful find straight out of your memory! Yes, it definitely looks like a Stim-U-Lax; maybe a little tinkered-with in order to make it even more fitting into Brazil‘s overall visual æsthetics. That’s definitely worth an update of the post … and then I can tag it cyberpunk, too :-) I wonder where else that weird device will emerge.
I had a similar Gadget in the USA about 40 years ago. I am still looking for one with 220V, since I live in Germany now. Where can I get it?
Dear Anna, I’m afraid, but I have no idea where you can get the device. The only one I ever saw ‘in the flesh’ was the one in the shop window pictured above. Maybe someone offers one on eBay?
It appears that Oster still sells a version of the Stim-U-Lax: https://www.osterpro.com/empoyee/
They also come up frequently on ebay.