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On the banks of yesteryear ...Beauty or Torture PDF Print E-mail
Monday, April 15, 2013 7:53 AM


In the early 1900s, 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 1910s and by the end of the 1920s, 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 eight: Beau’s at 310 Suthoff, Evan’s at 103 E. Second, Mabel’s at 813 E. Fifth, McKowen’s at 338 West Fourth, Melba Louise’s at 110 ½ East Second, Edith Miller’s at the old Commercial Bank Building, Modern at 110 East Third and Rita’s at 108 North 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 is now on display in one of our windows.

Although we are presently restoring our original tin ceiling, the museum will continue to be open from 1-3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday and from 9 a.m. to noon every Thursday. We are located on the west side of Main Street between Second and Third and right along the Miami and Erie Canal. Come visit us soon.


Last Updated on Monday, April 15, 2013 10:48 AM

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