Permanent Wave Machine

Permanent Wave MachineFeature Story by Natalie Federer

This scary contraption grabs everyone’s attention when they come into the Pulaski County Historical Museum.  With its long cords, wires and metal clips, it looks like some form of torture machine but in reality it is actually a permanent wave or perm machine from the 1920’s.

Alice Daily had a beauty shop in Star City during the early 1900s and she donated this machine to the museum.  When kids and adults come through, they are captivated by the machine and are puzzled.  After I explain what it is and how it was used, they slowly nod and grin.  Who would have thought that getting a perm could require such a machine?

Prior to this machine, women would heat curling irons over a fire or sleep with rags in their hair to achieve a wave or a perm.  The perm machine was introduced in the 1920s and provided women with a way to attain curls with chemicals and electricity.

Normally a trip to the beauty shop to get a perm would take the whole day.  The day started with a wash and a cut.  Then they would wait their turn to have curlers put in their hair, along with rubber pads, spacers, chemical and end papers.   Then the hair stylist would attach the clamps to the curlers, sometimes burning or scalding the scalp.  The heat could also be so extreme that it often burned the hair and the hair or curls would break off.

The perm machine found its way to popular TV shows and movies during from the 1930s-1970s.  The Waltons, I Love Lucy and Green Acres all had beauty shop scenes where actresses were getting their hair permed.

If you have any interesting or memorable stories about the permanent wave machine, please share.  It is amazing to read and hear what women went through in order to beautify themselves.  Stop in the museum sometime to see the perm machine and check out our other objects and artifacts.