Inventions Ahead of Their Time: The Hair Dryer
When they were first invented, many of our most useful tools looked like hideous monsters. Somewhere in them lurked the soul of the machine, the inspiration and necessity that propelled them into creation. But appearances more often suggested that they had self-assembled to annihilate the human race.
This is most alarmingly true of the first hair dryer. Although it appeared in salons in the late 1800s , it took 60 years for engineers to tame the hair dryer into a household pet.
In 1890, according to the World Book Encyclopedia, a French hair dryer named Alexandre Godefroy slipped a tube onto the chimney of his gas stove and ran it to a hood that he fitted to his client's head. The hot air dried women's locks, while probably leaving behind a distinctive smell. Luxury never looked so absurd. But Godefroy was clearly onto something hot.
If he could convince women to brave the bellows, then surely the market was hungry for such things. Companies popped up with new designs and eventually began working on a hand-held blow dryer. The first models, appearing in the 1920's had an aluminum casing that weighed them down and a tendency to overheat.
Looking around their homes, many women decided that they could do better. An illustration in a 1924 issue of "the Popular Mechanics Handbook" shows women how to make their own hair dryers with some of the appliances that were beginning to trickle into the American home. In those days, most vacuum cleaners had two sidesone that drew air in, and one that blew it out. Women would attach a hose to the outtake of the vacuum, plug it into a toaster, letting the air run over the hot coils, and then shoot it onto their lovely locks with another tube.
It wasn't portable. But it was a nice thrifty solution until companies got their act together. In the 1950's, bobs were out and long hair came back in style. New materials, such as plastic , were making products lighter and more portable. Women finally got their own little version of the salon blow dryer, tamed and domesticated, making it possible to look beautiful without smelling of charcoal or toast.
This article is part of an ongoing series about inventions that arrived before the public was ready to accept them. You can read the rest of the series here.