If your locks are tightly coiled or curly, chances are you've had firsthand experience with a straightening comb — especially if you're African-American. If you've never used or even seen one before, this curl-taming tool is a metal comb that's heated and used for combating coarse, curly hair types. Regardless of whether you've ever experienced the “hot comb,” it's an interesting and important part of hair history.
Pressing Comb Beginnings
The first appearance of the straightening comb is an unclear one, with no definite answer of who the actual inventor is. Some scholars and professionals in the hair-care industry believe that it was French hair stylist Marcel Grateau, who created a type of straightening comb in 1872, only to abandon it in favor of curling irons. Another version of the comb popped up in retail department stores such as Sears and Bloomingdale’s around the 1880s.
Annie Turnbo Malone and the Straightening Comb Patent
The first person to patent the straightening comb was an African-American woman by the name of Annie Turnbo Malone in 1900. During the time, more harmful methods of straightening the hair were being used, many of which led to scalp damage or hair loss. In addition to patenting the pressing comb, the entrepreneurial Malone also created groundbreaking hair-styling products and opened a school for black hair care.
Straightening Comb and Madame C.J. Walker
Madame C.J. Walker is another pioneer in black hair care and is widely recognized by those in the African-American hair-care industry. She is often — mistakenly — believed to be the founding mother of the straightening comb. In actuality, she was a former employee of Annie Malone who improved the straightening comb's design by spacing the teeth for easier use on thicker, coarser hair. She helped increase the popularity of the pressing comb by creating a straightening kit that included the newly styled comb, her hair-care products and everything needed to straighten African-textured locks. The popularity of her straightening system is one of the reasons that many people mistake her as the inventor of the pressing comb.
Changes and Usage
The straightening comb has seen few changes in its appearance over the years. One of these changes, however, has been in how it's heated. Back in the day, the only way to heat up a hot comb was in a small ceramic stove or on the stove top. Plug-in versions have made them more portable and eliminated the need for heating elements. With the invention of chemical relaxers, flat irons and hair extensions, the popularity of straightening combs has declined. It is, however, still frequently used to straighten the hair of children who are too young for chemical straighteners, and by people who are allergic to or unable to use relaxers.