Beauty Inventions: The Hair Dryer

May 29, 2013

vintage_hair_dryerWhat would life be like if we couldn’t dry our hair at will? In the 21st century, we take our clean, styled-if-we-want-it hair for granted – the speed of modern blow dryers means that we can fit gym time into our day and still look good for work (or cocktails).

 

 

It’s not as though people didn’t want hair dryers – creating a proper coifuure can be a days-long process, and since the dawn of electricity inventors have been working to combine wind and heat to speed things up. Before commercial hair dryers were sold, enterprising people were already using vacuum cleaners to dry their hair.

 

 

In 1890 a Frenchman named Alexander Godefroy invented a hair dryer for use in his salon. This dryer was a sit-down dryer with a large metal hood – similar to the ones we see in hair salons today.

 

 

hand_dryer_patentBut in 1911, Armenian-American inventor Gabriel Kazanjian received the first patent for a hand-held hair dryer. And he wasn’t the only one working on hair-drying technology – from the 1920’s on, there was a rush of inventors working on improving the hair dryer. Lots of these were working with the proven salon power dryer –  patents were awarded to designs for adding a magazine stand/ashtray combo, and for putting speakers into the dryer so clients could listen to music while they waited for their hair to dry.

 

 

But the promised convenience of having a portable hand-held dryer was too great, and inventors clamored to improve the workings. At first, portable hair dryers were as much a nuisance as anything else – their small size meant they couldn’t be nearly as powerful as a salon hair dryer, and the user could easily be electrocuted. They were also heavy, weighing in at around two pounds. So maybe it was better to go to the salon for a while, right? Unless you were ready for this:

 

hair_dryer_concert

 

Over time, plastic housings were developed, motors were made lighter and more powerful, and safety circuit interrupters were invented and incorporated. (That annoying cut-off switch on your modern blow dryer? It keeps electrocutions from hair dryers to about four a year, down from the hundreds before safety switches were invented and required.)

 

 

By the 1970’s, hairdryers were safe and powerful enough to be successfully mass marketed, and hairstylists were also using them, inventing new hairstyles to take advantage of the “new” technology. Combining the casual freedom of the 60’s with the hedonistic 70’s into a signature hairstyle was easy with the blow dryer, and women got swept away by the tousled “wings” of the era.

 

 

And who wore 1970’s hair better than Charlie’s Angels? As a bonus, I just saw this last night (I swear it’s a coincidence!) Yes, it’s bad TV at its finest, but the Angel’s sexploitation adventures in a nascent women’s football league are right on cue. And the Angels aren’t just great detectives – they also overrule the natural laws of  hair care, by having freshly blown-dry hair both during and after football practice. Especially Kelly at about 1:20:

 

 

 

 

We can’t defy the laws of hair nature like Charlie’s Angels (and their team of stylists) can, but we take gym culture for granted now, and if we have a hairstyle that allows it, we can pretty much go work up a sweat whenever we’re up to it. For most of us, we can fit hairstyling around the rest of our life, not the other way around, as was expected from our grandmothers. Hair drying technology has given us a wider range of choices in how we look and how we live. Now…if I can just figure out how to get my hair to look like Kelly’s….

 

Sources:

US Patent no. 994259 at Google Patents.

Hair Dryer at Wikipedia.

 

 

 

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