From Evolution to Revolution: A History of the Hair Dryer

Today we’re taking you on a journey deep into the beauty vault. Who knew that the humble hairdryer started life by being rigged to a gas stove? Grab a cup of coffee and get ready to learn how the hair dryer went from being a deadly device to the drop-dead gorgeous, cordless AER dryer of today. We’ll share how the dryer evolved alongside the new hairstyles of the 1920s and how the postwar years ushered salons into a new era of self-care and social meaning.

This was “me time” before “me time” even existed!

Unlike so many household electronics, innovation in the hairdryer space has left little to be desired for decades. What’s with thatWe’ve freed-up our phone, vacuum cleaners and televisions…but up until AER entered the scene, we were still tethered to the bathroom outlet like our grandmothers!

Those days are over, friends. We wrap-up with a close look at what makes the AER dryer so game-changing and how our cordless innovation turned ‘blah’ blow-dries into ‘ta-dah!’ moments fueled by hairdryer innovation not seen this century.

Yep, we’re kind of a big deal.

Rewind to 1888. Alexandre-Ferdinand Godefroy, a French coiffeur inventeur  (that’s ‘hairstylist inventor’) patented the hair dryer’s earliest ancestor. His innovation— a “hair drying device” designed for use in his hair salon—was a large, seated version that consisted of a bonnet that attached to the chimney pipe of a gas stove. It could only be used by having the person sit underneath it and looked disarmingly similar to something out of a terrifying sci-fi movie. Oh the things we do in the pursuit of beauty!


- Bonnet Hair Dryer Circa late 1920’s

As time marched on, people became increasingly frustrated by the limitations of the large, awkward early hair dryers with no built-in heat production. Innovators began to experiment with changes to the existing drying devices, inspired by the at-home hacks of people drying their hair by attaching nozzles to their vacuum cleaners.

The first patent for a handheld hair dryer was granted in 1911 and they started making their way into homes in the early 1920s— right as the trend for flapper-esque bobs and smooth, fluffy hair came into vogue.

But these handhelds were extremely weighty with lackluster air flow—so the time saved wasn’t significant. This was a time in which the age-old excuse of “washing my hair” was a perfectly acceptable excuse for declining social invitations. It wasn’t so much the washing that took time, but the drying.

These hand-held devices also contained a fatal flaw: a tendency to electrocute the user!

- Circa 1930s. Handheld-dryers were more portable than the bonnet dryers, but they were heavy and not safe.

The handheld versions for the home were joined by hooded models for the salon. Made of metal and later of plastic, and applying an even, all-over heat, hooded dryers entered widespread use in the 1930s. In the decades that followed, they became a defining trait of the salon scene.

During these postwar years, the salon became a cherished second space for women outside the home and the image of a row of women idly flipping through magazines under a hair dryer hood became a symbol of postwar prosperity and of women’s new leisure time.


- Thank goodness for magazines, because this took a long time, 1947.

In an effort to bring that salon cachet into the home, the bonnet hair dryer debuted in 1951. In a Sunbeam commercial from the 1960s, the bonnet dryer was advertised to be “so fast that it actually dries hair in an average of 22 minutes.” They came in little handled carrying cases that could be toted around, but the user would typically stay seated in a single spot while hot air circulated. 


- Circa 1950s salon bonnet dryer.

Another invention that sprang from hooded hair dryers was the ‘wave machine’. A Chicago hairstylist named Marjorie Joyner, known for her talent in creating marcel waves, connected pot-roast rods to a dryer, and mechanized marcelling was born.

Hair salons were racially segregated in these years, but the wave device became popular in both black and white salons alike. With her perm machine, Joyner was one of the first African-American women to secure a patent.


- Chicago hairstylist Marjorie Joyner, one of the first African American women to secure a patent.

Salon hair dryers remained the best option until the 1970s, when handheld dryers had advanced in aesthetics and power enough to be a viable alternative. During this time, hairstylists started to gain celebrity status thanks to stylist-to-the-stars Vidal Sassoon and films like Shampoo.

Suddenly, a functional grooming tool had sex appeal and cultural cache like never before. Remember Farrah Fawcett and her flippy curls? The Charlie’s Angels icon’s haircut was one of the most coveted styles of the decade. And when she popped up in a '70s hair commercial for the Lady Schick Speed Styler, Fawcett convinced even more women that they could get her hair at home.

In the vintage ad, we see Fawcett use the bulky hair dryer with a comb attachment to transform her soaking wet strands into ‘flippy curls’. Angela Cartwright of ‘Lost in Space’ fame even makes an appearance to boast how fast the tool dries her short hair. 

But while their perfect 'dos may have been enough to sell thousands of products, the styling mist feature left us terrified. (Perhaps that built-in spray is how Fawcett's hair got all that volume.)

In the late 1970s, manufacturers also began to focus on improving the safety of dryers. Early personal hair dryers were dangerous because if they accidentally came in contact with water they would short circuit and cause an electrical shock.

There are hundreds of recorded cases of accidental electrocutions because a hairdryer was dropped into a bathtub or sink full of water while it was being used.

In the late 1970s the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) recommended guidelines for hair dryer manufacturers to follow that would create safer products.

The power of hair dryers was also limited by the electric motors available.

As smaller, more efficient motors were developed, greater airflow and greater heat output could be achieved. By the 1990s portable hair dryers could produce over 1500 watts of heat.


- Vintage 1970’s Plastic Hair Dryer

Improvements in plastic technology and the discovery of new insulating materials lead to a new generation of lightweight hairdryers.

90% of U.S. homes now contain a hairdryer.

We’ve seen a sudden explosion of hair-drying bars in urban areas that deal exclusively with the washing and drying of hair. Yet, some critical safety functions aside, the hairdryer as we know it has barely changed. While the quality of portable hair dryers has improved over the last 70 years there has been little change to their fundamental design.

In 2016, Dyson set out to remodel the hair dryer, relocating the motor to the base of the dryer, making it smaller and supposedly improving drying time. But the modifications were more aesthetic than functional.

The revolution was still waiting to happen.

Enter: AER. Committed to changing haircare forever and after eight years of development, our tight-knit team of entrepreneurs, designers and scientists have finally freed the hairdryer from the tyranny of clunky cords with the introduction of the world’s first cordless hair dryer.

AER runs on 500 watts (vs. the 1800 watts of corded hairdryers) and is 77% more energy efficient. For every 100 standard dryers replaced with an AER hair dryer, we remove the energy equivalent of 4.5 car emissions from the road annually.

Our first goal is 10,000 dryers. That’s equivalent to removing 450 car emissions from the road annually. Next: One million—equivalent of 45,000 car emissions removed from the road each year.

Get gorgeous and help save the planet? Sign us up!

AER also features some awesome attachments that are now part of any modern hair dryer kit.


- AER shown here with Diffuser & Concentrator Attachments

Our diffuser is perfect for hair that’s fine, colored, permed or naturally curly. It diffuses the jet of air, so that the hair isn’t blown around wildly while it dries. Your hair dries more slowly, at a cooler temperature, and with less physical disturbance. This makes it so that the hair is less likely to frizz and it gives the hair more volume.

Hello, bouncy and beautiful locks!

AER’s airflow concentrator does the opposite of a diffuser. It makes the end of the blow dryer narrower and thus helps to concentrate the heat into one spot to make it dry rapidly. This is for all the sleek-seekers out there.

Since we were moving hairdryer history ahead by leaps and bounds, we didn’t stop there. We wanted to bring the latest AI technology to the cordless hair dryer for the first time in history. We like our goals big ;)

With 13 built-in sensors, the AER hair dryer’s artificial intelligence system learns how you like to dry your hair and optimizes the heat and fan speed for a healthy blow dry and beautiful shine.


- AER in Action

AER is also the only cordless hair dryer with a DC ionizer, which uses ions to neutralize static electricity, gently creating glossiness and cutting dry time in half. Frizz, be gone!

The AER dryer is also designed to team-up with our smartphone app, which unlocks expert tips to help you make the most of your AER drying experience and keep your locks healthy and beautiful.

Continual connectivity enables your AER dryer to keep getting smarter, tailoring the drying experience perfectly to your preferences. Hair-drying doesn’t get more personal than this. Get ready to turn some heads!

2020 is a landmark year in hairdryer history— the year the humble dryer went from simple grooming tool to engine for environmental change. From an item that kept you tethered to the spot, just like those earlier models your grandmother used, to a piece of art that you can take anywhere—and that works hard to keep your hair healthier than ever, too.

The AER hair dryer’s ergonomic and lightweight design also provides the flexibility modern life demands, meaning you can blow dry your hair from any room in the house, and wherever you go. 

Take your AER to the beach. Blow-dry under the stars, in your car, or from the luxury of your own bed. Trust us, you’ll never look back. 

It’s time to be free. There’s a reason top stylists across the country are calling the AER “insane” (Donavan Mills, Behind the Chair) and “amazing” (Marcus Francis, A-Frame Agency). Talk about a revolution.

Welcome to the future of haircare.

Last chance to get the AER dryer with a huge discount on Kickstarter!