Most women could not live without their hair dryer, but until the late 19th century, the only way to dry wet hair quickly was to hope for a windy day. Now many women use sophisticated technology to blow dry their hair every day. Here's a look at the history of hair dryers, from hard-to-control exhaust hoses to large helmets to travel-size models you can put in your purse.
Women first began to blow their hair dry by using the exhaust function on their vacuum cleaner. Most early vacuums could blow air out as well as suck air in and many stylish women attached the hose to the exhaust end to blow their hair dry. In 1890, a French salon owner named Alexandre Godefoy invented the first electric hair dryer. Because of its large and cumbersome nature, it was not widely used, according to Kathy Kirkland, who wrote "The Big Blow Dryer Boom" for Beauty Store Business. It consisted of a large, noisy motor and tubes that pointed at your head and blew warm air.
First Handheld Versions
In the early 1920s, a handheld hair dryer made from a scaled-down motor comparable to vacuum's was created in Germany. A Nichrome wire fastened to a mica or asbestos board generated the heat, according to Kirkland. Unfortunately, this new design was enclosed in aluminium or chrome-plated steel, making it heavy and bulky. It was also loud and not very popular. According to myhairstylingtools.com, two companies introduced handheld dryers in 1920: Racine Universal Motor Co. and Hamilton Beach Co.
Gas-heated dryers came along a decade later and were used widely in beauty parlours. However, as Kirkland reports, the heat was harmful to hair and the fumes from the gas made some clients sick, so these hair dryers quickly went out of fashion. Soon, they were replaced by the dome-shaped, helmet-style electric dryers found in salons throughout the country. With curly hairstyles popular in the 1940s and 1950s, women applied curlers and then spent hours under these models, which circulated warm air to set their curls. As curly hairstyles began to wane in popularity, so did the helmet dryer.
In the late 1950s, a portable version of the helmet-style dryer was introduced, allowing women to curl and dry their hair at home. This model consisted of the same electric motor and hose, but instead of a dome or helmet that went over your head, it had a bonnet similar to a shower cap attached to the hose. Warm air circulated inside the bonnet and you were free to paint your nails or talk on the phone while your hair dried. General Electric made a popular pink version of this model. While modern dryers use 1,200 to 1,500 watts, these models used only 300 to 400 watts, so drying your hair still took a considerable amount of time. According to Kirkland, a new handheld hair dryer was also introduced in the 1950s. It featured a plastic or Bakelite exterior, which made it lighter and easier to handle.
Since the 1950s, handheld dryers have undergone mostly exterior changes to make them quieter, lighter and smaller, but the interior workings have remained largely the same. Recently, new technology has made improvements to the hair dryer which supposedly lessen the heat damage to your hair. Negative ion technology allows hair to dry faster with less heat, producing hair that is not only shinier and smoother, but also healthier. Ceramic dryers provide the same benefits as ionic ones, but are more effective on frizzy or colour-treated hair. Finally, far-infrared dryers are capable of drying your hair from the inside out.
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