As long as people have had hair, they have needed some way to tame tangles, remove pests and, most importantly, show off their personal style. Hair brushes have been around for thousands of years, but they've changed dramatically from simple bone or shell picks to modern, ergonomic styling tools. Here's a look at the history of hair brushes and how they've evolved over time.
Evidence such as portraits, paintings and sculptures show that Ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians not only styled, but carefully curled, designed and braided their hair, proving that they must have used some form of hair brush. Early brushes used natural materials such as animal hair, porcupine quills, shells, flint and bones, and handles were usually made from wood, copper or bronze. Paint brushes are believed to have been used as long as 2.5 million years ago and were later adapted to be used on hair. Excavations from Egyptian tombs have unearthed combs, brushes and mirrors. Documents from the Vikings have shown that men cared for their hair by using combs.
William Kent began manufacturing brushes in England in 1777. His handmade brushes featured bristles that were stitched into the brush by hand (called "hand drawing" or "long holing") and domed bristles. It took as many as 12 people to make some models. Kent Brushes is one of the oldest companies in the United Kingdom, and now makes more than 250 different kinds of brushes.
Mason Pearson Brushes
In 1885, another English businessman, Mason Pearson, invented an automatic brush-boring machine to speed the process of brush making. He also invented the pneumatic rubber cushioned hairbrush the same year. Today, these brushes are considered some of the best on the market because they clean the hair, stimulate the scalp by increasing blood flow to the roots, and spread natural oils down the length of the hair, making it shinier.
Hair Brush Developments in the United States
The earliest U.S. patent for a hairbrush was by Hugh Rock in 1854 and featured a metal handle with an ornamental design with scalloped edges. Brushes like this one were popular gifts (especially as part of a set with a comb and mirror) for new brides as well as new babies. Samuel Firey patented a brush with elastic wire teeth and natural bristles in 1870. In 1898, Lyda Newman patented a brush with a detachable handle and air chambers for ventilation.
The Fuller Brush Co.
Alfred Fuller started the Fuller Brush Company in 1906. At the age of 18, he moved from Nova Scotia to Boston and went to work selling brushes for another company. Unsatisfied with the product he was peddling as well as the selling techniques, he thought he could do better. He began making hairbrushes, as well as home cleaning brushes, and selling them door to door, and he soon had a million-dollar business. The Fuller Brush Man was a well-known pop culture icon, and Walt Disney even cast Donald Duck as one in an animated film.
In ancient times, hair styling was a privilege reserved for only the wealthy. This changed slowly over time so that now, everyone cares well for his or her hair. For this reason, cheaper combs and brushes were needed. Manufacturers had to look for less-expensive materials than solid wood and animal hair. Today, most people use brushes with plastic handles and nylon bristles, but hair-care professionals insist that natural fibers (though more expensive) are still best for your hair. Many modern brushes feature padded handles for easy gripping and holes for ventilation, to make blow-drying faster and more efficient. The flat or paddle-style brush was common in early designs, but now round brushes are especially popular for women.
Amanda Hermes has been a freelance writer since 2009. She writes about children's health, green living and healthy eating for various websites. She has also been published on EdutainingKids.com, Parents Tips Blog and Weekly Woof Blog and she has worked as a ghostwriter for parenting articles. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of North Texas.