25 Greatest Inventions of the 20th Century: The hand-held hair dryer

Category : Technology/Innovations

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. be a tax on (something/someone) / bi ə tæks on / (idiom) – to be taking a lot of effort, energy, resources, etc. from someone or something

    Unnecessary and disorganized meetings are a tax on employees’ time.

  2. enter (someone/something) / ˈɛn tər / (idiom) – a phrase used to say that someone/something started being involved in a situation or an event at the best or worst possible time

    People used to spend lots of time organizing networking events to meet new people for business. Enter social media, a more convenient way of networking.

  3. patent / ˈpæt nt / (v.) – to get a document that allows a person or an organization to be the only one to produce or sell a product

    The young inventor patented the kitchen knife set that he designed for blind people.

  4. device / dɪˈvaɪs / (n.) – an object or machine designed for a particular purpose

    The mobile phone is one of the best communication devices ever invented.

  5. electrocution / ɪˌlɛktrəˈkjuʃən / (n.) – injury or death caused by electricity passing through one’s body

    Electric technicians are required to wear safety gear to avoid electrocution.


Read the text below.

In past columns, we’ve looked at inventions that help around the house, like the vacuum cleaner and the electric washing machine. Following that trend, this month we look at the hand-held hair dryer.

Before hair dryers, people airdried their hair. Women had longer hair and women’s hairstyles took a long time to create. “Doing your hair” was a tax on women’s time, and Western women wanted a quicker way to dry their hair. Many women stuck a hose into the back of a vacuum cleaner to blow their hair dry. However, the air wasn’t hot. In 1888, Frenchman Alexandre-Ferdinand Godefroy invented the first hair dryer. It used heated air, but it was very big and didn’t have a fan to blow the air out.

Enter Gabriel Kazanjian, an Armenian American inventor. His hair dryer blew out hot air, but was too heavy to hold. It was patented in 1911.

The first hand-held dryers appeared in the 1920s. These heavy devices were made of metal, but brought the salon to the home. At the time, bobs were the fashion, and hair dryers made it easy to create bobs on your own.

Over the years, the basic shape and function of the hand-held blow-dryer hasn’t changed much. The 21st-century version is lighter, with a plastic case instead of metal. It’s more powerful, and can blow-dry hair much more quickly.

It’s also much safer. Early blow-dryers could kill you if you dropped them into a bathtub or got them wet. Beginning from the 1970s, though, many have had safety devices inside to cut the risk of electrocution. (T)

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • The first hand-held dryers appeared in the 1920s. Do you think the hair dryer was an important invention? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • The first hair dryer invented in 1888 was too big and didn’t have a fan to blow the air out, while the hair dryer made by Kazanjian was too heavy to hold. Why is it important to make gadgets/devices handy (ex. easy handling, for safety)? Do you think there are still many devices at present that need to be handier? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • The first hand-held dryers appeared when bobs were popular, and they made the hairstyle easier to create. Do you think people only bought hand-held dryers then just to follow the trend? Do you think it’s a good idea for people to buy certain devices or products to be able to follow trends? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • The invention of hand-held dryers brought the salon to people’s homes. Do you agree with this statement? Do you think there will come a time when people will no longer go to salons because of beauty products and electronics in the market? Why or why not? Discuss.
Category : Technology/Innovations