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Out of the Museum

Plenty of curly-hair fans in Lincoln

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LINCOLN AREA ARCHIVES MUSEUM

Where: Beermann Plaza at 640 5th St.

When: Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Free: Donations always accepted

Readers came through this week big time in identifying last week’s mystery items, as the answers below show.

We hope readers will know the purpose of this week’s mystery item pictured here. Please send answers by Tuesday.

Last week’s mystery item

Guess there are a lot of curly hair fans out there.

Joan Connor of Lincoln Hills immediately knew the mystery item was a hair permanent machine.

“In the mid-1940s, my mother arranged for me to have my first ‘permanent wave’ on such a machine. My hair was straight and my sister had lovely curly hair” Connor said. “I yearned for curls and on this type of machine I got eight lovely long curls. One can see them in my school picture. I am the only girl shown completely, and boy, was I proud of those curls. Unfortunately though, I still have straight hair!”

Lincoln Hills resident Karen Anderson also knew first-hand about the mystery item.

“My grandmother was a hair dresser back in the day and there was no better permanent than a hot wave permanent. Those rods had hair wound around them, a solution was applied and the whole contraption was plugged in,” Anderson said. “Little girls whose mothers imagined they would be another Shirley Temple subjected them to this operation. It was widely believed that a hot wave was more permanent than a cold wave and moms wanted their money's worth! Being the granddaughter of a woman who actually owned a hot wave machine meant I had no out. I declared my independence when I moved from my family home and went to college.”

Betty Ellison knew first-hand, too. The Lincoln resident said it “looks like the heavy, uncomfortable, electrical contraption that gave me my first salon permanent wave over 70 years ago in Brentwood (Contra Costa County), California.”

Pat Barnhill learned to be careful when getting her hair permed.

“I remember being afraid to move,” Barnhill said, “because I didn’t want to get burned. Yikes. We’ve come a long way, baby!”

And Janet Barnes remembered some women lost their hair while getting a perm.

Jessie Wooden gave a historical perspective.

“The mystery item was used to give a permanent wave to women's hair. After the curlers were put in, each curl was given one of the clamps to set the permanent,” Wooden said. “This was before home perms came on the market. The process was used in the ’30s and early ’40s. I got my one and only permanent this way in 1940 before I started first-grade.”  

Donna Weatherly said that the featured item last week “is for giving perms. You could have a machine or a machine-less permanent wave. I remember getting one with a contraption like that in Roseville way back when.”

Susanne Dean, Joyce Howard, Rachel LaForest, Maureen Munro, Jo Obscura, Delores Rhors, Orlene Ruiz and Ruth Wehner also said it was a machine for curling hair.
Lincoln Area Archives Museum docent Shirley Russell and her mother, the late Martha Farnsworth, underwent processing on this type of machine by local beautician Lola Leavell.

While last week’s mystery item was not meant to torture, Russell said, the permanent wave machine might have seemed like torture at times. 

In the late 1890s, German hairdresser Karl Nessler had an idea for a “Permanent Wave Machine” and marketed it in 1905.  His model and others were used in beauty salons into the middle 1940s, according to the Lincoln Area Archives Museum docents.

At first, Nessler applied a mixture of cow urine and water to the hair, which was then wrapped around rods attached to electricity for heat to set the curl.  The cow urine was eventually dropped from the process. (Oh, what we endure in the name of beauty.)

In the early 1940s, “the cold perm” came on the market and replaced the permanent wave machine. Docents say that the newest hair curling form is digital, developed in Japan. The digital perm processes the hair while dry while the cold perm processes the hair while wet.

For more on beauty trends, visit the Lincoln Area Archives Museum between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

- Carol Feineman