I remember being a kid and having my Mom wash, detangle and blow dry my hair to prep me for my “special occasion” straightening. She would take me to Ms. Biggins’ house, a kitchen beautician that could get the kinkiest hair silky straight with her hot combs. I must admit, those weren’t my favorite moments but I did love the way my hair would shine and swang when it was all said and done. Those are the memories that came to mind as I sat down to pen…well…type this piece on the history of hot combs.
Many people including myself have believed or assumed at one point in time that Madam CJ Walker invented the hot comb. However, the first known hot comb was actually designed for curly Mademoiselles in France attempting to achieve the super straight and sleek look of Egyptian women in 1845[i]. Fast forward to the early 1900s when an African-American woman, Annie Turnbo Pope Malone obtains the first US patent for the hot comb. The hot comb was simply one of the ways Ms. Malone sought to improve the hair straightening practices and techniques used by African-Americans at the time. She studied hair textures for nearly a decade before developing her own line of products that were later marketed and sold door to door by trained saleswomen, one of which was Madam CJ Walker[ii]. Walker later followed in the footsteps of Malone by creating her own line of hair care products and improving upon the design of the hot combi. Both women became millionaires through the marketing of hair products and beauty techniques.
Although today many women debate about the dangers of heat straightening, the invention of the hot comb was actually a safer option for most women in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Prior to its development, black women would slather their hair with oils and iron the hair straight, YIKES[iii]! This, as one could imagine, caused damage to both the hair and the scalp. The hot comb helped provide a more controlled method for straightening afro textured hair at the time.
The amazing thing about this tool is that it is still used today. Many women find it’s straightening abilities to be superior to the modern-day flat irons. Regardless of any personal views on heat styling or hair straightening, this beauty tool is an important part of the African-American hair history and helped revolutionize hair practices in our community.
[ii] Annie Malone, Millionairess & Hot Comb Inventor. (2009, Feburary 1). Retrieved January 2011, from http://shinebeautyculture.blogspot.com/2009/02/annie-malone-millionairess-hot-comb.html