Highlights from the History of Needham in 100 objects
Title:
Permanent Wave Machine
Date:
c. 1920s - 1930s
Material:
steel, metal, plastic, coated wires
Description:
Standing electric "permanent wave" machine; wires with curling rods at the ends.
Notes:
Following the First World War, fashion for women dictated small sleek hats and short bobbed hair. The "Marcel Wave," became the rage - a flat permanent wave, close against the scalp, that lasted for days and was not mussed or flattened by the obligatory hat.

Electric perm machines of this type were developed in Europe in 1917 and quickly became popular in the United States as well. Before this, hair was curled "naturally" (set when wet), or permed using caustic chemicals. The perm machines extensions functioned like as hot rollers - treated hair was wound around a curler, and the curler tube was inserted into one of the "plugs" where it was heated and the wave was set. Unfortunately, the combination of wet hair and electricity did result in the some accidents - shocks, heat-burned skin, and the occasional hair fire.

Production of these machines fell off during the Second World War, especially in Europe where the need for manufacturing facilities for the war effort was more urgent. The industry did not recover after the war, because of the newer, easier, and less scary methods of perming hair.
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Electric Perm MachineElectric Perm Machine