Are you aware that the first hair dryers consisted of hoses attached to vacuum cleaners? Early model vacuums not only sucked air in, they blew it out. Innovative women placed a hose over the exhaust to dry their long locks a little faster.
I watched an old movie a few years ago and noticed that the actress (I believe it was Jean Harlow) used a handheld hair dryer. I didn’t get my first one until I graduated high school in the 70’s, so it blew me away (pun intended) to see one in a 1930’s movie.
Growing up, all I had known was my mom’s portable plastic unit with the flexible hose and pink bonnet. If I wanted to paint my nails while waiting for my hair to dry, a center piece blew out air (barely) that helped dry the polish.
As I write historicals, I have to make sure certain items were in existence at the time of my story. Thinking about seeing a hair dryer in that movie made me wonder when they were invented, so I went to several sources on the internet and found the same information.
The first handheld dryers, invented in the 1920’s, weighed over two pounds and were made of steel and zinc. They only provided 100 watts of power. (Yikes! Go check the wattage on your current product.) At that time, it might have been faster drying hair the old-fashioned way—by rubbing it in a towel.
In the 30’s gas powered dryers were invented, but the fumes tended to make people sick, so they didn’t last long.
The next two decades saw the popularity of those big ol’ helmet-type dryers used by stylists and the portable ones like my mom owned. At that time, hair was rolled on curlers and the “helmet” lowered over the head. By the 60’s, power had grown to an amazing 500 watts.
Today, there are handheld dryers small enough to fit into a purse, dryers with all kinds of attachments like brushes and diffusers, and dryers with enough power to distort your facial features. Still, many of them resemble the one I saw in the movie from way back.
I may never use the information above for anything but my own personal knowledge, but then again, I might. What if I set a story in the very early years of the twentieth century and included a scene where my heroine has been caught in a downpour and needs to dry her hair? What if she’s late for a party? What if she sees her mother’s vacuum in the corner of the room and remembers that it blows air out the back? What if…? Hmm…
How about you? Have you ever been surprised to find that a product existed long before you thought?