It’s Hair Raising!

Did you guess the object?  It’s a curing iron!

High Plains Museum | MC004 Marcel wave curling iron & handle

High Plains Museum |
MC004
Marcel wave curling iron & handle

How do you curl your hair?  A curling iron, a perm, curlers, rags?  These methods are tried and true and have been used by many people over the years.

People have been curling their hair since ancient Egypt times with similar tools to what we use today; a heated piece of metal was applied to the hair to curl it.  Due to the use of such tools it is hard to pinpoint an exact inventor.  However the first person to patent a curling iron was Sir Hiram Maxim in 1866.  Maxim is also known for inventing the first effective machine gun which would become standard issue for British soldiers in WWI.

The curling iron we have in our collection at the High Plains Museum is a Marcel wave curling iron pictured on the left.  Invented in 1872 by French hairdresser Francois Marcel, the iron would make hair have a wave instead of a round curl.  The problem with this iron was that it was very hard to regulate the temperature, so instead of setting hair, it might burn.  To test the temperature the person using the machine would test it on a piece of paper; if the paper burnt then the iron was too hot.  This iron became popular in the 1920’s with the Gibson Girls, and continued to be popular for hair until the 1940’s.  Click here to see an ad from the 1940’s advertising a curling iron.

During the late 1890’s the permanent wave machine was invented by Charles Nessler, a German inventor.  Nessler used

High Plains Museum | MC419 Permanent wave machine

High Plains Museum |
MC419
Permanent wave machine

Marcel Gratueau’s invention of crimping tongs heated and applied to hair to develop his machine.  To achieve the best curls, hair was soaked in an alkaline solution and then wrapped around the metal rods which connected to an electric heating machine.  The High Plains Museum has a permanent wave machine in the collections, seen on the right, and was used by Diva Mae Heston in the 1930’s as part of her beauty parlor here in town.  Another permanent wave machine was patented in 1927 by Marjorie Joyner, the first African American to receive a patent.  Unfortunately Joyner did not own the rights to this invention as her boss Madam Walker, owned them.

These inventions helped pave the way for the curling irons we have today.  The Marcel wave curling iron would make hair have a wave but it was hard to regulate the temperature, causing burnt hair and scalps.  Today the curling iron has different heat settings and many different looks can be achieved with the various heads.  The permanent wave machine led the way for perms and during the 1930’s was a very popular way for women to curl their hair.  Which method would you rather use to curl your hair?  Please leave your comments in the section below.

Look for more posts in this series about our wonderful collection of Sherman County history.

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