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History of the Curling Iron
History of the curling iron. Is there such a thing or is the curling iron just a modern invention? Each generation is the same. We believe that we have invented something new when perhaps we have only modified “old inventions” by applying modern technology. Let’s start by investigating the history of the curling iron or, as it is also called, the curling iron.
Let’s start with the definition of a curling iron. It is a tool, a cylindrical metal device, used to modify the structure of the hair by applying heat to a strand of hair that has been wrapped around it. It is natural to think with a modern mind and assume that heat is generated by electricity. However, the curling iron dates back long before the introduction of electricity.
You only have to look at the carvings of the ancient world to see that people cared about the style of their hair and one popular style involved creating curls. Babylonian and Assyrian men dyed their hair and square beards black and backcombed and curled them with curling irons. Persian nobles also curled their hair and beards, staining them quite often.
Egyptian nobles, both men and women, shaved their hair but later, for coolness and cleanliness in their hot climate, they shaved their heads. During ceremonies, to protect themselves from the sun, they wore wigs. Wigs would be short and curly or long and full of curls or braids. The science museum has an example of a curling tong used by wealthy Egyptians to prepare their wigs.
In classical Greece, the upper classes are known to have used curling irons.
Over time, many methods have been devised to curl hair and hold the curl in place. For example, in 1906, Charles L. Nessler, a German hairdresser working in London, applied a borax paste and curled the hair with a flat iron to produce the first permanent waves. This expensive process took twelve hours. Eight years later, Eugene Sutter adapted the method by creating a dryer containing twenty heating elements to do the corrugating work more efficiently. Sutter was followed by Gaston Boudou, who modified Sutter’s dryer and invented an automatic roller. In 1920, Rambaud, a Parisian beautician, had developed a system for curling and drying permed hair for softer, looser curls using an electric hot-air hair dryer, an innovation of the time made by the Racine Universal Motor Company of Racine, Wisconsin. A significant breakthrough came in 1945, when French chemist Eugène Schueller of L’Oréal Laboratories combined the action of thioglycolic acid with hydrogen peroxide to produce the first permanent cold wave, which was cheaper and faster than previous hot processes. To control the amount of bend, varying diameters of rods were used for rolling. The technology to hold hair in place was advanced in 1960 when L’Oreal Laboratories introduced a polymer hairspray that served as an invisible net.
The curling iron has remained a favored tool despite all the chemical inventions. We have gone from metal rods heated by insertion into hot coals or heated on gas or electric stoves. Without iron heat control, there must have been many cases of burnt hair, not to mention burnt fingers and scalp! Modern styles demand more control and flexibility in styling, with the hair looking loose rather than “stuck in place”. Electrically heated and electronically controlled irons and tongs are now available. Barrels are available in different sizes allowing for a tight curl or a loose drop curl finish. Some have a smooth, easy-glide ceramic barrel to create a super smooth finish and you can also buy hair clips with a tapered clip to create loose, tumbling waves and tousled curls. The fluctuation of hair styles from curly to straight and back means that manufacturers will continue to come up with new innovations to appeal to both professional hairstylists and the consumer.
So who “invented” the curling iron? Inevitably, you will find many references to “invented” and “patented by” or “introduced by”. The original inventor is lost in the mists of time but examples of the preceding sentence are:
In 1866, Hiram Maxim, who designed the machine gun bearing his name, filed and obtained the first of many patents at age 26 for a curling iron.
Four years later, in 1890, two Frenchmen, Maurice Lentheric and Marcel Grateau, used blow-drying and heated curling tongs to create deep, long-lasting Marcel waves.
However, the straightening comb is actually credited as having been first invented by the late 19th century French hairdresser Marcel Grateau, who also invented the curling iron, the permanent wave and later the hair straightener. Gillette safety which became popular in Germany after World War I.
In related developments, René Lelievre and Roger Lemoine invented an electric curling iron in 1959.
The iron/curler was patented by Theora Stephens on October 21, 1980.
In August 1987, the Wahl Clipper Corporation introduced the ZeeCurl to the professional market. This flat barrel curling iron gave stylists a tool to create new hairstyles with Z-shaped curls, adding texture and body to all hair types. In 1988, FrenZee, the consumer version, was added.
There is no doubt that fashion will demand and dictate new innovations to ensure the continuity of the history of the curling iron.
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