The Real Inventor of the Hair Straightener

As Black History Month reaches its end, let’s honor those Black historical figures who created inventions to make daily routines easier today. Now Women’s History Month is approaching, but Black historical women aren’t given enough credit for the inventions they’ve created.

It is known that Sarah Breedlove Walker, also known as Madame C.J Walker, was the first African-American female self-made millionaire in America. She created a substantial cosmetic industry by developing a hair care line to help hair straightening using hot combs—the type of combs inspired by old-fashioned curling irons. However, that was not the primary reason for creating a haircare line. She relocated to Indianapolis and built a factory for her Walker Manufacturing Company.

Hair straightening tools have made quite an improvement throughout the years. It is debated who the actual inventor of a hair straightener is, and this discovery is often credited to a man, forgetting the actual inventor was a woman. What’s the story behind the invention of hair straighteners??

Let’s dig in.

Marcel Grateau, a Parisian salon owner, is often mainly credited for the invention of the hair straightener in 1872. Grateau used heated iron rods to straighten or style hair. However, the tool was designed to be used with hairstyling creams to straighten hair. The heated rods would often cause damage to hair follicles due to heat, leading to burning hair and scalp.

The second person credited was actually a woman named Erica Feldman, who created heat rods in 1872 by taking heated irons and applying them to the head to shape hair- but in this case, the heat rods were a curling iron.

The third was Isaac K. Shero, who introduced metal plates in 1909, designed to glide smoothly over the hair, minimizing any hair damage, which apparently was two clothing irons pressed together.

The last credited is Scottish heiress Lady Jennifer Bell Schofield, who developed the first hair straightener in 1912 because she wanted to try something different during a time when big curls were in fashion.

The woman who invented the straight iron was a school teacher from Indianapolis, a woman forgotten by history. A woman named Ada Harris, looking to lose her curls. The first patent for a hair straightening iron was filed on November 3rd, 1893. 

Be it known that I, ADA HARRIS, of Indianapolis, county of Marion, and State of Indiana, have invented a certain new and useful Hair- Straightener.

Patent by Ada Harris.

The device was described to be “heated like a curling iron” as two flat faces held together by a hinge “when they press the hair will make it straight.” It also included a toothed comb to separate the hair while straightening.

Her patent submission in a black and white drawing is of the straightener that resembled kitchen tongs. It had two handles that hinge in the center to make it easier to clamp the irons together with the need to have it heated over a fire or on a stove since there was no plug for the iron.

In her patent, she wrote, “My invention relates to a hair straightener whose purpose is to straighten curly hair, and is especially of service to; colored people in straightening their hair.”

Unfortunately, Harris never built an empire with her invention attempting to find investors or a company to purchase her patent. She never did anything with her patent for the hair straightener, perhaps because she didn’t have the finances to help develop her invention. But she should be recognized for the effort made to create this tool.

What would I do without a hair straightener on days when I want to flatten my waves. While I’ve tried several hair straighteners in the past, and so far, I have to say I’ve been satisfied with my Chi G2 Ceramic & Titanium 1.25 Hairstyling Iron. Like me, you’ve probably wondered how hair straighteners were invented as you style your hair—questioning the analytics of how such a small device can flatten your hair from wavy to straight. The prominent ceramic plates are the secret for easier styling, of course. These simple tools are so easy to use that they also come in mini-sized for traveling convenience.

Straighteners range from $10-$500
mini flat irons

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Beauty

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