There was a time when washing your hair was seen as a perfectly acceptable excuse to decline an invitation out. It wasn’t so much the washing that was taking up your time, but the drying.
Naturally, the French, with their impeccable sense of style, were the first to come up with a solution. Blow dryers were invented in the late 19th century. The first model was created by Alexander F. “Beau” Godefroy in his salon in France in 1890. His invention was a large, seated version that consisted of a bonnet that attached to the chimney pipe of a gas stove. Godefoy invented it for use in his hair salon in France, and it was not portable or handheld. It could only be used by having the person sit underneath it.
Around 1915, hair dryers began to go on the market in handheld form. This was due to innovations by National Stamping and Electricworks under the white cross brand, and later U.S. Racine Universal Motor Company and the Hamilton Beach Co., which allowed the dryer to be small enough to be held by hand.
Even in the 1920s, the new dryers were often heavy, weighing in at approximately 2 pounds (0.9 kg), and were difficult to use. They also had many instances of overheating and electrocution. Hair dryers were only capable of using 100 watts, which increased the amount of time needed to dry hair (the average dryer today can use up to 2000 watts of heat).
Since the 1920s, development of the hair dryer has mainly focused on improving the wattage and superficial exterior and material changes. In fact, the mechanism of the dryer has not had any significant changes since its inception. One of the more important changes for the hair dryer is to be made of plastic, so that it is more lightweight. This really caught on in the 1960s with the introduction of better electrical motors and the improvement of plastics. Another important change happened in 1954 when GEC changed the design of the dryer to move the motor inside the casing.
The bonnet dryer was introduced to consumers in 1951. This type worked by having the dryer, usually in a small portable box, connected to a tube that went into a bonnet with holes in it that could be placed on top of a person’s head. This worked by giving an even amount of heat to the whole head at once.
The 1950s also saw the introduction of the rigid-hood hair dryer which is the type most frequently seen in salons. It had a hard-plastic helmet that wraps around the person’s head. This dryer works similarly to the bonnet dryer of the 1950s but at a much higher wattage.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission set up guidelines that hair dryers had to meet to be considered safe to manufacture. Since 1991 the CPSC has mandated that all dryers must use a ground fault circuit interrupter so that it cannot electrocute a person if it gets wet. By 2000, deaths by blow dryers had dropped to fewer than four people a year, a stark difference to the hundreds of cases of electrocution accidents during the mid-20th century. Faster, more efficient and certainly less lethal, there’s now no excuse to refuse an invitation as you tend to your crowning glory.