The History of the Hair Dryer

by FHI Heat July 01, 2021 9 min read

The History of the Hair Dryer

The History of the Hair Dryer

Throughout the centuries, women have gone through so much difficulty in caring for their hair. Even as far back as Assyrian kings' times, they would use a hot iron bar straight from the fire to curl it. Ouch! Flash forward to the Elizabethan era, and women styled their hair with lard, which attracted rats and necessitated that women sleep with their heads in cages to not be nibbled in the night. And in the 1700s, French women used beef marrow to style their hair. Who wants to smell like a hunk of meat? And this is just the shortlist of alarming treatments that women put themselves through in a quest to look beautiful.

Yes, since we can remember, beauty has always been a pain.

So it is no surprise that women ended up sticking their heads in caps attached by hoses to gas stoves and other heat sources to dry their hair and style it perfectly. The colorful history of the modern hairdryer began in France, as many stylish enterprises did, with a giant contraption that looked more like a torture chamber than a beauty tool, and wound slowly through the 1900s. And as women's roles in their families and the world changed, so did the hairdryer.

Early hair care

For modern women, it is difficult to wrap your brain around the fact that women didn't always wash their hair every week. Considering women had to haul water, heat it, and pour it into a tub, it's a wonder they washed their hair at all (and we think we've got it bad with planning our washing around our gym days!). Washing one's hair was considered a big event and took planning and preparation to pull it off. Even the first hair shampoos that were marketed touted that women should try to use them every six weeks! How long were they going between washings before this?

Instead of washing their hair, women typically used perfumes and other aromatics to mask any odor from their hair and kept their hair in styles that would minimize the appearance of the dirt for people who were near them.

Once they did start to wash their hair, women would sit near a heat source to dry it (think Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie) or sit outside in the sun until their hair was nice and dry. As you can imagine, this was an extremely inefficient method.

As society progressed and especially with the advent of electricity in the 1880s, new techniques and ideas for hair care emerged. This was nothing short of a revolution, and with the ability to use artificial heat and wind to cause your hair to dry faster, this absolutely changed the lives of women at the turn of the 19th century and beyond.

Beginnings of Hair Dryer Technology



In 1888, Alexandre-Ferdinand Godefroy detailed the first hairdryer and pioneered its initial use. With a hose connected to a gas stove's hot air outlet, a woman would attach the other end of the hose to a cap on her head, and the hot air heated and dried her hair. There was even an escape valve for steam, so the woman did not end up cooking her head! Women at this time had elaborate hairstyles which they teased into updos, curled on top of their heads, or adorned with feathers and other accessories. Unfortunately, Godefroy's contraption was not very speedy, and it didn't really cut the dry time very much, as it failed to circulate the air. The other problem was its size, and the unwieldy nature was just not practical.

Blowing through the roaring '20s To The ‘50s

(1950s home hair dryer, which only the very wealthy could afford)

The first patent for a hairdryer was created in 1911. Further innovations by the National Stamping and Electricworks and U.S. Racine Universal Motor Company, and the Hamilton Beach company changed the game and made a hairdryer small enough to be held by hand. Early models did not have a blowing mechanism, so inventors suggested hooking it up to a vacuum cleaner because there was no way to push the air out.

Even though they were handheld, early models were still unwieldy. And at 2 pounds, they were rather hard to control. Imagine holding a two-pound weight for the time it takes to dry your hair and not being able to have any control over the direction that it blew the air.

Hair Dryers really started to get popular in the 1920s. These hair dryers contained both a heating element and a fan. Up until this period, women did not wash their hair daily, or even several times a week. They hid the dirt in updos and covered the odor with perfumes. But during the Roaring '20s, flappers cut their hair and went out on the town. They needed a way to style their hair more quickly, and the hairdryer became a staple. The brazen behavior of women at the time pushed the hairdryer industry to create more efficient models.

As Rachel Maines, a technology historian at Cornell University explained, "Having clean, shiny, fluffy hair—that's a 20th-century thing." And since women wanted clean, shiny, and fluffy hair, they needed a faster way to dry it. When a woman's hair was shorter, it needed to be washed more regularly so that it didn't look stringy and greasy. Gone were the days when women could hide the dirt and odor in updos and other styles.

Forget heating elements. Dryers were social elements!

Beginning in the 1930s and then really getting cooking in the 1950s, the hood hair dryer became the heart of salons. A hood hair dryer covered the woman's hair completely and distributed hot air evenly throughout her scalp. This innovation, along with the change in women's role in a family, made the salon a place where women were able to spend some quality time with each other.

And as World War II ended and women made their way out into the world more, they took more pride in their hair's appearance. The salon became a home away from home for many women and offered them a sense of camaraderie. The giant hood dryers were loud, but either women would talk and laugh above the noise of the dryers, or they would enjoy flipping through magazines, enjoying a few "quiet" minutes to themselves. The Atlantic explained, "The image of a row of women idly flipping through magazines under a hairdryer hood became a symbol of postwar prosperity and of women's new leisure time."

Caught up in the life of leisure for women and wanting to capitalize on it, the early 1950s were critical times for the hair-drying industry. Trying to build on the popularity of the salon dryer, which dried hair evenly and all over, in 1951, a bonnet hair dryer was touted to give women the best of both worlds. This was a full helmet style dryer that women could use at home, and although it was advertised that you could carry it around your house while you used it, most women just sat in one place. Many advertisements featured women talking on the phone while using it, implying that there was still camaraderie to be had with a home dryer.

Throughout the mid-20th century, there were many innovations in regards to the hairdryer. In 1954, GE moved the motor inside the casing, which helped women use the dryer more easily. And the plastic innovations of the 1960s made the hairdryers much lighter, with the vast improvements in plastics and the beefed up electrical motors.

Safety Concerns

Safety was a huge concern with the hairdryer, and frankly, many innocent people lost their lives because of a hairdryer. People were accidentally electrocuted when their hairdryers fell into the bathtub. Even young children lost their lives. It was dangerous to enjoy a soak in the tub when a plugged-in hairdryer sat next to the tub. The sink offered no better luck, and many women trying to dry and style their hair near the sink and mirror met an untimely death by electrocution. In the 1970s, manufacturers started taking safety more seriously. By 1991, all dryers were mandated to have a ground fault circuit interrupter to avoid accidental electrocution. The deaths by electrocution have plummeted, and each year only a handful of people lose their lives this way.

Girl Power 

The 1960s was a time of rebellion for women, and the hair dryer's story fits into the mix. With women's liberation and more women entering the workforce, they needed a fast, safe way to dry their hair to get out of the house on time. More modern styles of hair dryers gave them the wattage power they needed to create the modern hairstyles they craved.

In the 1970s, handheld hair dryers finally gained enough power to rival the salons. And, with the beautiful women and their big hair, dryers were actually seen as a sex symbol. The use of handheld dryers opened the world to women, who were moving more into the workforce, and gave them an easy way to take care of their beauty regime. This was when a blowout (think Farah Fawcett) took hold (and has clearly stayed).

And what can be said about the 80s and 90s? The big hair decades kept hair dryers in business!

Modern Hairdryers 

Although the hair dryer's basic design has not changed much in nearly a century, the 2000s have offered a few moments of intrigue to the history of the hairdryer. Hair drying bars have surfaced around the country, which offer nothing more than the washing and drying of hair. Drybar is one of the most popular and has over 90 locations in the United States and Canada. Customers can get an individual blowout or sign up for a monthly subscription. This chain is certainly taking the humble hairdryer to a new level.

The latest renovation for hairdryers came in 2016 when Dyson decided to revamp the hairdryer. Just as they did with hand dryers across the nation, they wanted to revolutionize the way people dried their hair. Although they did change the design, moving the motor to the bottom, it seems more of a cosmetic change than one that makes a huge difference in wattage and drying time.

Today, about 90 percent of homes have hairdryers, and so clearly, there is a need for speed in hair drying. Gone are the days of air-drying out in the sun or by the fire hearth. When searching for the perfect dryer for you, there are a few examples to choose from.

The Best Hair Dryers For The Woman Of Today

That brings us to the most modern innovations, which is where FHI Heat comes in. Most FHI Heat products utilize advanced negative-ion technology. This scientific advancement has managed to cut drying time by a lot. By blowing negative ions onto hair, it neutralizes the hair’s natural positive charge and absorbs moisture. Not only does that speed up drying time, but it also maintains your hair’s health and provides frizz-free shine.

The Platform Blow Out Handle-less Hair Dryer features a supercharged twin DC motor and will dry your hair fast. DC motors are perfect for home use, as they are light, have a speed up to 2,000 RPMs, and will last about 700 hours. That adds up to a lot of blowouts!

This hair dryer includes a straightening comb, concentrator nozzle, and curl-defining diffuser. Weighing only 12.5 ounces but having 1500 watts of power, this dryer gives you the most precision available because you do not have to worry about the handle. This lightweight dryer produces more negative ions, which locks in your moisture and helps to reduce frizz.

If you still prefer a handle with your hairdryer, then the Platform 1900 Nano Lite Pro Hair Dryer is for you! This tourmaline ceramic hair dryer is extremely powerful and will cut your drying time by a full 50%. The tourmaline/ceramic combo helps to seal in moisture, reduce frizz, eliminate static, and give you softer, smoother results. The DC motor offers power in a compact design, and at 13.4 ounces, this is lightweight and easy to use. The cool shot button allows you to set your hairstyles easily and without your hand cramping.

If you need to take the show on the road, do it with this sleek Platform Mini Dryer. With a dual voltage DC motor and 1200 watts, you will be amazed at the power this tiny dryer affords you when you travel. Get out to see the sights or make it to your business meeting with well-styled hair in a hurry with this little wonder.

In conclusion, the world of hair care has changed a lot since the days of lard and beef marrow and drying your hair by the stove. Instead of risking cooking your head in Godefroy's hair drying contraption, you can pack up a mini hair dryer and take it with you wherever you go. The history of the hairdryer has mirrored the history of women in many ways, so it makes sense that the latest styles are sleek, powerful, and on the move. Technology and time will continue to work their magic on the humble hairdryer, and there is no telling what the future will hold!

FHI Heat
FHI Heat

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