How the Electric Hot Comb Became an Entrepreneurial Tool

With few jobs open to them, hundreds of thousands of African American women became beauticians and opened salons

6 min read
Photo of an electric hot combs from the 1920s.
À La Mode: Electric hot combs like this one from the 1920s were used to shape, style, and straighten hair.
Photo: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

For more than a century, fashion-conscious consumers have relied on an electric hot comb to style their hair. Also known as a singeing comb, this versatile tool straightens and smooths coarse hair and adds a wave or curl to fine hair.

A hot comb looks like a standard comb, but it’s usually heavier, and its metal teeth are spaced further apart. To use it, you section off a piece of hair, apply an oil or tonic such as petroleum jelly, and then run the hot comb down the length of the hair at a steady pace to avoid singeing the hair. A non-heat-conducting handle allows the user to manipulate the comb without burning her hands. Care is also needed to avoid burning the scalp or neck. The pursuit of beauty can be painful.

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The Unsung Inventor Who Chased the LED Rainbow

LEDs came only in shades of red—until George Craford expanded the palette

10 min read
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Man  with grey hair wearing dress shirt and tie standing in front of an LED stoplight and holding a panel with yellow and red LEDs glowing
DarkBlue2

Walk through half a football field’s worth of low partitions, filing cabinets, and desks. Note the curved mirrors hanging from the ceiling, the better to view the maze of engineers, technicians, and support staff of the development laboratory. Shrug when you spot the plastic taped over a few of the mirrors to obstruct that view.

Go to the heart of this labyrinth and there find M. George Craford, R&D manager for the optoelectronics division of Hewlett-Packard Co., San Jose, Calif. Sitting in his shirtsleeves at an industrial beige metal desk piled with papers, amid dented bookcases, gym bag in the corner, he does not look like anybody’s definition of a star engineer.

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