Given that the ideal concept of beauty as promoted in the U.S was that of the Caucasian woman, African-American women sought to conform to these standards to be deemed refined and civil.
Rising to the challenge was Walter Sammons, an African-American inventor who changed the way women look at their hair. He received a patent for the hot comb on December 21, 1920. Sammons said he designed the hot comb to get the “nappy” out of hair.
Walter Sammons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received U.S. patent #1,362,823 on December 21, 1920 for an improved comb that straightened hair. The Sammons patent notes he invented a heated comb that removed kinks from the hair.
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The hot comb also known as the pressing and straightening comb, is a metal comb which creates a smooth texture when heated and combed through the hair. Sammons designed it to straighten the hair from root to tip. When the hot comb was first invented, it was heated on top of the stove. Today’s models are heated by electricity.
Although Sammons originally designed the hot comb for the African-American community, other women have also taken to it to achieve straighter, sleeker locks as well as to create different hairstyles.
Some, however, view the use of the hot combs unnecessary and that there was no need to go through pain to strengthen hair to meet the beauty narrative of folks not from the Africa stock.
Now a grown woman, Trena Lejoyce Sanders recalled that as a little girl, her mother and others straightened her hair which was sometimes painful and dangerous as she got burned.
She added that after the process, she was often told how her now-straight hair looked pretty, but she wasn’t enthused given she had to sit at one spot for hours enduring pain till the process was complete.
“I believe that little girls who get their hair perm or straitened with the comb that Walter Sammons created should know where the comb originated from and that it was an African American inventor,” she concluded.
It is not uncommon to burn and damage hair when using a traditional hot comb. A hot comb is often heated to over 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit), therefore if not careful severe burns and scarring could occur.
The hot petrolatum used with the iron was thought to cause a chronic inflammation around the upper segment of the hair follicle leading to degeneration of the external root sheath.
Walter Sammons born in Philadelphia in June, 1890 is said to have died from a heart attack nearly impoverished in 1973.