Curling hair or beards dates back centuries. Evidence of this can be found with ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Assyrians. The two curlers, a standard curling iron and a pinching iron from the museum’s artifact collection, came from the mid to late 19th century. These curling irons help us understand the technology and cultural standards of the era.
Curling Iron circa 1850 - 1910.
Part of the museum's Zieman Collection
These curling irons were heated on a stove top and prices varied from $3.00 to $6.00. Also, they were sold in packs of a dozen or more. This reflected the limited nature of the device as it could cool off too much before one finished curling their hair. Of course, such heating methods resulted in burned hair, scalps, and hands. Not until electricity did the need for multiple curling irons cease.
Pinching Curling Iron circa 1850 - 1910.
Part of the museum's collection
These curlers also reflected a women’s social status and issues of race in the United States. Because of the time and needed to use these curlers, only those with maids could afford daily elaborate hair care. Those of the lower classes may have only styled their hair with curlers during special occasions.
Race also played a role with these items. During the era of Reconstruction and into the early 1900s, African American women of the middle and upper class, embraced the costuming of the “perfect Victorian woman”. The texture of African American hair did not lend itself to the Victorian woman hairstyle. Their hair needed to be straightened before being curled through intense heating and later chemical methods. Some women chose to shave their hair and wear wigs instead. The need to straighten hair for conformity prevails in some areas. However, by the mid-20th century, more African American woman of all classes embraced their natural hair and society more readily accepted it.
Barlow, Ronald S., ed. Victorian Houseware, Hardware, and Kitchenware: A Pictorial Archive
with Over 2000 Illustrations. Dover Publishers, Inc.: Toronto, Canada. 1992.
Carlson, Shirley J. “Black Ideals of Womanhood in the Late Victorian Era.” The Journal of
Negro History. 77. 2: 1992. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3031483. Accessed on 20
Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Press: Westport, CT.
=onepage&q=curling%20iron%20beauty%20history&f=false. Accessed on 20 February 2018.