May 28, 2024

Beauty or Torture?


In the early 1900’s a woman who desired curls either had to heat curling irons over a flame or sleep with rags and pins in her hair.  But a new machine promised to change all that.  Enter the permanent wave machine which used a combination of chemicals and clamps heated by electricity. The machine itself was a scary-looking contraption and for good reason.

The process was very tedious, taking up a good part of the day.  After the chemically saturated hair was tightly wound on spiral rods, the rods were attached to the machine and it was plugged in.  It became so hot one could see steam coming off the hair.  In fact, Jo Belt, formerly of Delphos, had part of the outer edge of her ear burned off while getting a permanent this way.  In addition, sometimes the results of the drastic chemical and temperature measures were disastrous, causing the client’s hair to break off during the process.  The end product was often  frizz, but women wanted curls and so kept getting permanents.

Much of this was the influence of Hollywood and its glamor.   The “silent moving picture” was  introduced in the 1910’s and by the end of the 1920’s, the talking picture had been perfected.  Going to the theater to watch a movie became a very popular form of entertainment and women wanted to look like the beautiful movie stars they saw.

The rise in popularity for all sorts of new and complicated beauty rituals led to a huge growth in beauty salons. In 1920 beauty parlors numbered around 5,000 in the U.S., but by 1930 the number had grown to 40,000. In Delphos, there were none listed in the 1931 City Directory, but by 1941 there were 8:  Beau’s at 310 Suthoff, Evan’s at 103 E. Second, Mabel’s at 813 E. Fifth, McKowen’s at 338 W. Fourth, Melba Louise’s at 110 ½ E. Second, Edith Miller’s at the old Commercial Bank Building, Modern at 110 E. Third, and Rita’s at 108 N. Main. 

Although the cold-wave permanent was introduced in 1938, one local beautician remembers that although she never used one in actual practice, she had  to learn how to give a permanent using the permanent wave machine when she attended beauty school in 1957. The machine pictured here was used in the beauty shop of Cecelia Wannemacher of Ottoville and can be found on the 2nd floor of the museum in the business section.

Although we are presently restoring our original tin ceiling, the museum will continue to be open every Saturday & Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. and every Thursday from nine to noon.  We are located on the west side of Main St. between 2nd and 3rd  and right along the Miami and Erie Canal.  Come visit us soon.

Printed in the Delphos Herald April 13, 2013


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