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Who Invented the Curling Iron? Hint: Marcel Has Something to Do With it

Have you ever wondered how your favorite hair tools came to be? We sure do. In fact, it literally just happened the other day. We were curling our tresses and we started to question how the curling iron we know and love got to where it is today. This led us to do a deep dive into curling iron history. And wow, did we discover some interesting facts about this heat styling tool.

Ready to learn all about the history of the curling iron? Because we’re so ready to share all the deets with you. Keep scrolling to discover the origins of the tool!

curling iron history | Mane Addicts
(via Canva)

When Was the Curling Iron Invented?

The answer isn’t as straightforward as you’d expect. Sir Hiram Maxim is credited with obtaining the first patent for a curling iron in 1866. However, it is Frenchman Marcel Grateau who is often deemed the inventor of the curling iron. He was said to have invented the tool in 1890. Marcel patented the design in 1905.

Well before Marcel and Hiram came into play, curling tongs were being used by early Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Egyptian civilizations to create ornate and elaborate hairstyles. It was often only nobility who had access to these tools. Curls were a way to show off one’s wealth and status.

So when it comes to knowing exactly when the curling iron was first invented, it really depends on who you ask.

What Did the First Curling Iron Look Like?

As you could probably guess, the first curling iron didn’t look at all like what it looks like now. Instead of the barrel design, the first curling irons had tongs. They almost look more like gardening sheers, don’t you think?

Because this tool was being used before electricity was invented, the tongs were heated up over gas burners. Yes, it was terrible for the hair. And yes, it caused many accidents. The solution came with the electric curling iron, which we’ll dive into momentarily.

Marcel used his patented tongs to create what is known as the Marcel waves. The stylish waves were created using heated tongs and resembled a finger wave curl. During the 1920s, this was the most popular hairstyle to sport.

When Did the Curling Iron as We Know It Come to Be?

The curling iron has come quite a long way since its early days. Once electricity was accessible to nearly everyone, the curling iron had its first major upgrade. Frenchmen Rene Lelievre and Roger Lemoine patented the first version of the electric curling iron in 1959. After 1960, nearly every woman had a curling iron in her home. More barrel sizes were introduced in 1965 to create different types of curls.

It wasn’t until 1980 we’d get a version of the curling iron that is the most similar to the one we use today. Theora Stephens was the inventor. Her design included a spring and a way to control the heat of the barrel, which made it much more user-friendly. The invention of the ZeeCurl in 1987 afforded stylists more creativity and freedom in the looks they created. But, it was only available for professionals. With clients wanting to create these looks themselves, it didn’t take long for a consumer version to be created. Enter FrenZee.

The curling has continued to be improved upon ever since. There are a number of different barrel shapes and sizes. We have automatic curling irons now and ones that don’t even need to be plugged in. There are ones with clamps, ones without. Even Marcel’s curling iron is still being used today.

The more you know!

Eager for more hair history? Discover six things you didn’t know about the history of box braids HERE!

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