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Marjorie Stewart Joyner, Permanent Waving Machine Inventor
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Detail of patent drawing for Joyner’s permanent waving machine, 1928


Detail of patent drawing for Joyner’s permanent waving machine, 1928



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Students training at one of Madame Walker’s beauty salons in 1929
Students training at one of Madame Walker’s beauty salons in 1929


Joyner’s invention on display in 1989
Joyner’s invention on display in 1989









The Work of Marjorie Joyner

In the early 1920s, African American women straightened their hair by heating it with curling irons. The iron’s larger curl relaxed tightly curled hair. But only one fire-heated iron could be used at a time. Joyner disliked the slow and uncomfortable process.

She thought it would be more efficient if a group of curling irons could be hung above a woman’s head.

“It all came to me in the kitchen when I was making a pot roast one day, looking at these long, thin rods that held the pot roast together and heated it up from the inside. I figured you could use them like hair rollers, then heat them up to cook a permanent curl into the hair.”

So the 30-year-old beautician began to experiment. Joyner hooked 16 pencil-shaped pot roast rods to an old-fashioned hair dryer hood, then joined them together with a single electrical cord.

Patented in 1928, her invention made it possible to set an entire head of curls or waves at once.

“If I can take pot roast rods and have a one-of-a-kind invention, believe me, people can do what they set their minds to.”

The Permanent Waving Machine found an unexpected market. Developed for black women who wanted to change their hair’s tight curl to a wave, the machine also helped many white women who wanted to add curl to their straighter hair.

Despite the machine’s success, the process was still uncomfortable. The irons were hot and often pinched the customer’s scalp. So in 1929, Joyner patented a scalp protector that made the procedure less painful.

Because her patents legally belonged to Madame C. J. Walker’s company, Joyner never received profits from her invention.

Next: Marjorie Joyner in Her Youth ›




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