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Odd Wisconsin Archive

First Blow Dryers

Our state is well-known for many products, but few people realize that one of the most popular appliances in American homes was invented here.

In 1920 two local companies, the Racine Universal Motor Company and Hamilton Beach, were each hard at work creating a new product -- the electric blender. Malts and malted milk were popular at the time, and demand was growing for engines that could whip them up.

As fashions became more relaxed during the Roaring Twenties, women embraced a new look that included flowing waves of hair. So while the engineers at Racine Universal Motor Company and Hamilton Beach were most likely men, their wives may have suggested that they harness those little motors to blow air so they could curl and sculpt their locks.

Both companies began experimenting almost simultaneously. Adding a heating coil to their motors, each had soon developed one of the first hair drying products. These early models were not widely popular, and the first truly successful blow dryers did not catch on until they were advertised in the 1951 Sears-Roebuck catalogue. Nevertheless, Wisconsin companies pioneered the way toward faster, easier hair styling for busy women (and men) everywhere.

Oddly, the earliest photograph we have online that shows an electric hair dryer depicts a man. Here Madison reporter Cedric Parker spruces up in 1933 at Mrs. Wengel's Marinello Shop, 125 State Street, under the watchful eye of "beauty operator" Lucille Bump.

:: Posted in Curiosities on May 6, 2010

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