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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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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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