The invention that blew people away

Saving time – not to mention lives – the handheld hairdryer made such a dramatic entrance in the 1920s it even made it into a Downton Abbey Season 6 plot.

The first patent for a portable hairdryer dates from 1911, with early examples made of metal and fitted with a wooden handle, all later to be replaced by Bakelite. But not only were the devices very heavy and difficult to use, rudimentary electrics sometimes led to fatal accidents involving overheating and electrocution. Their appeal was nevertheless clear at a time when one tried and trusted hair drying method had involved attaching a hose to the warm reverse flow of a vacuum cleaner.

New, handheld hairdryers meant that drying hair became much safer and easy to do in the comfort of your own home. And ‘washing your hair’ – a task that previously might have taken up a whole evening – was no longer an excuse for turning down an invitation. It would be interesting to convene a focus group from the Roaring ‘20s to explore what they’d make of the space age customisation and styling tools of the Dyson Supersonic™.

An appliance of science
A hairdryer not only dries hair, but also accelerates and controls the formation of temporary hydrogen bonds inside each strand – setting and styling the hair in place.