Look for a brand-new display in the Medical Exhibit (main building lower level) of a local beautician featuring household cosmetology devices of yesteryear. Put together by museum staff members Suzie and Amy, the exhibit features old-fashioned hair curlers, antique hand mirrors, and the centerpiece: a permanent wave machine.
We take for granted how easy it is to get the looks we want—with access to electric curlers and safe chemicals, it’s more convenient than it’s ever been to keep up with today’s beauty standards. That wasn’t the case a hundred years ago when not every home had an outlet and medical chemistry was still in its infancy. It was during this period when the permanent wave machine was invented in the effort to save women time fixing their hair every morning.
Looking like a medieval torture device, the machine was the precursor to modern chemical hair perms and used heat to essentially fry the hair in place. Reaching peak popularity at the beginning of the 20th century, women would need to sit under the device for up to ten hours to achieve the desired effect. Having to sit still for that long meant that accidents were not unheard of, with burns and hair loss being commonly reported.