Invention and technology

The electric hair dryer was a brand new electrical gadget designed for both salon and home use. Developed during the early-1920s in Germany, it combined the technology of the electric heater (current-resisting nichrome wire on a mica or asbestos board), with a compact version of the universal electric motor used in the vacuum cleaner. Early models were very large, commonly of nickel or chrome-plated steel or polished aluminium, with a wooden handle, making them heavy and therefore unwieldy in use. There was little attempt to blend or disguise the various elements of each design and the necessary high-power, cooker-type switches were another ungainly feature. In this respect they were indistinguishable from many other household appliances, rather than being products associated with fashion and beauty.

Benefit of plastics

The hair dryer was the first domestic electrical appliance to benefit from the use of moulded thermoset phenol and urea plastics (for example, Bakelite). Although this involved a high initial outlay in terms of presses and tooling, the advantages of improved safety (as with Bakelite electrical fittings, which were already widespread) and weight were attractive. In addition, plastics permitted a choice of colours which soon identified the hair dryer as a fashion accessory (one model even included a built-in mirror and deodorising unit), and a desirable item for the middle-class dressing table. Walnut-effect brown was the most popular (as with early Bakelite radio sets), though ivory, black, jade-green, bottle-green, red and some interesting mottled colour-combinations were available.

Post-1945 developments

Many pre-war models continued in production after 1945. New models began to use compact and silent-running induction motors rather than bulky, noisy, universal brush motors, permitting neater, more elegant designs. The brightly coloured, lighter and almost-silent 1950s hair dryer was a much more attractive product than its dark-coloured, heavy and noisy predecessor. The GEC hair dryer of 1954 went one stage further in compactness by housing its motor inside the fan so that the motor was invisible from the outside and the body was only as wide as the air outlet.

Later developments from the end of the 1950s were the rigid hood-type hair dryer (as used in salons) and the portable vanity-case dryer, consisting of either a solid hood or a soft plastic head-bag connected to a remote dryer unit via stand or a flexible hose. The latter type could also be hung over the shoulder like a handbag. Advertisers exploited the advantage of both types that while you were fixing your own hair, your hands were free for other household activities (such as preparing a meal, manicuring nails or relaxing in front of the television), and used persuasive slogans such as 'She can do it herself at home and SAVE....'




Typical hair dryer of very earliest design. Nickel-plated steel with black enameled wooden handle. Motor and fan in single casing, hence small fan and narrow diameter nozzle with concentration of airflow at end. Crude design and production. DC-type turn switch with ceramic knob on end of motor. Available through the Army and Navy catalogue, 1920s.




Typical early hair dryer, probably of AEG design using universal motor. Nickel-plated, steel fan chamber drum with large protruding motor and long nozzle with bracket on side for mounting on stand. Black-painted wooden handle, black rotating switch (possibly in vulcanite) on end of motor. Thick black flex. Heavy and unwieldy in use.


GEC Magnet model 252

UK London

Standard Magnet (gec) hair dryer, produced 1928-c1939. Typical early bulky design, similar to earlier, more expensive, nickel-plated version. Unwieldy protruding universal motor and switch with long nozzle. Black-painted wooden handle, mottled brown phenol plastic body and nozzle. Simple holes for air intake grille. Closed hook on top for stand. Spring-action turn switch on ceramic block,: off/cold/hot. Later, 1930s GEC versions with thicker handle, moulded-in feet, extra motor vents and rocker switches for heat and air.

Click for pages 1 2 from the 1938 instruction sheet.




Setting dryer designed to dry hair being styled, providing gentle, diffused stream of hot air. Large nickel-plated steel universal motor body and fan chamber. Coarse steel mesh grille. Early, pre-Bakelite plastic (possibly Casein) used for feet, carbon brush caps and flex support. Bulky phenol plastic switch of spring-loaded turn type similar to Magnet dryer. Black-painted wooden handle.


Hawkins Supreme

UK Hastings

Early part-plastic hair dryer, similar to 1920s unweildy Magnet dryer, slightly more refined. Two-part phenol plastic motor/fan/switch casing with nozzle and thick, shaped, wooden handle (painted black). Available in 'four beautiful art shades'; green, brown, red/black and jade &endash; all rare apart from brown. Air intake of random and crudely arranged holes with 'Supreme' in large moulded-in text above; main feature of design. Protruding switch, rotating cooker-type with two-position turn knob in black phenol plastic. Probably replaced by 1936 Supreme dryer.




Version of original Stewart dryer (see below) with built-in mirror over air intake. Additional intake holes in casing. Dark green phenol plastic, also available in brown, red, black and 'jazz'. Deodorising unit also available. Probably the smallest pre-war British hair dryer &endash; use of very compact motor and switches, makes interesting comparison to contemporary Magnet/Hawkins dryers. Sold under 'Bestfriend' trade name well into 1950s. Replaced by Bestfriend 'Consort', also with mirror option, but with flat motor layout.




Neat compact hair dryer, possibly of German design, early use of moulded phenol plastic for a hair dryer, mottled red/black. Four mouldings, secured by only one screw: removal of screw-off handle and nozzle separates two main body mouldings. Patents (394,258, 402,852, applied for 1932) on original design. Very compact universal motor with integral switches.


Bylock Simoom


Popular hair dryer with long production run (1936c - 1960c; available from Hobdays cat. 1958, not in Which survey 1961) and many colour finishes in phenol plastic: black, mottled brown, brown, light walnut, dark green, red, etc. Early use of in-line motor and element arragement &endash; unusual in the 1930s but standard from 1970s. Large circular alloy badge on top. Early versions have exposed carbon brush caps. Early use of push-button operation, either double (early versions) or single (later versions). Other similar Bylock hair dryers include Streamline and Zephyr (metal). ER entry 1938, catalogues 1937.


Hawkins Supreme

UK Hastings

Produced 1936-c1956, replacement/update of earlier 1930c Supreme dryer. All-urea plastic cream hair dryer of bulky design, removable, screw-off handle for fitting to stand. Large universal motor with switches on panel behind motor. 'Sunburst' air-intake grille. Other colours available, e.g. green, black. ER entry 1937, catalogues 1936.


Ormond model E1022


Very popular dryer with long production run, 1936-c1962. Survived to be included in first Consumers' Association test of hair dryers in 'Which' September 1961. Smaller and neater than Hawkins. Universal motor with fixed handle housing switches. Produced in imitation walnut or cream urea/phenol plastic under 'Ormond', 'Siemens' and 'Xcel' trade-names.




Siemens version of Ormond model E1022, with colour-keyed urea/phenol plastic vanity case incorporating oval mirror, comb and aluminium stand for dryer. Chromium-plated hinges and clip fastenings.


CWS Minor model Y5

UK Dudley

Striking and distinctive design with appropriate use of streamlined details; good example of modern 1930s electrical appliance. Produced in smart two-tone ivory/black urea/phenol plastic, though also jade green and imitation walnut. Compact universal motor with switches positioned in handle. Packaged in royal blue carton with gold graphics. Electrical Review entry 1937.


Siemens model EDIR


Advanced, compact design with linear component layout, anticipating compact dryers of 1980s Produced 1938 (Germany) - c1960. Very early use of melamine plastic for body, coloured ivory (also available in brown and maroon). No integral switch, separate switch placed in flex.


HMV model HD1

UK Hayes

Classic piece of 30s/40s industrial design: possibly pre-war, part of range of 30s/40s appliances designed for HMV by architect Christian Barman (others: fan heaters (2), fridge, washer, irons, table cooker). Compact, streamlined dryer, unusual appearance resulting from unconventional layout: universal motor tucked under air outlet/heater. Maroon phenol plastic, painted cream, except handle, grille and switch panel. On-off/heat switches and motor cooling vents on front. Cream stove-enamelled alloy matching stand. Registered design number 849,148 (1946). 'HD' = hair dryer.


Fractional HP Motors Sylentflo

UK Hendon

Centrifugal-flow dryer using quiet induction motor (hence name). Very quiet and smooth in operation. Solid and well-made with two-part mottled brown phenol plastic casing. Over-large size and clumsy appearance: flat front with basic lattice grille, large motor protrusion (larger than some universal motor types). Heavy and unwieldy to use, no improvement over pioneer dryers of the 1920s. Archaic and dangerous metal toggle switches for on/off, hot/cold. Contrast to GEC 395/397A.


GEC model DM395

UK London

Sleek and elegant pistol-grip hair dryer, reminiscent of space weapon from contemporary sci-fi. Beautifully made and designed, comprising of three cream urea plastic mouldings with no visible fastenings (access from inside handle and behind info panel). Slot in handle for similarly streamlined stand. Included in first Consumers' Association test of hair dryers in 'Which' September 1961. Expensive, twice the price of DM397A. Registered design number 1948.


Pifco model 1050

UK Manchester

Standard Pifco dryer in ivory two-part urea plastic. Popular dryer; produced 1950-c1968. Pistol-grip handle, linear fan/motor layout and use of noisy universal motor. Design co-ordinates with Pifco massager model 1056; produced in pink urea plastic, also available in ivory, lilac, blue or turquoise and ultra-rare two-tone cream/scarlet. Lavish original packaging with large cardboard carton trimmed with textured/gold papers and stamped aluminium foil badges. Final version packaged with stand, hose and hood for hands-free drying. Included in first Consumers' Association test of hair dryers in 'Which' September 1961. Registered design number 858,157 (1949 application).

Click here to see the cream version with packaging.




Pistol grip hair dryer of streamlined design, similar to GEC model DM395, but larger, heavier and much less refined. Noisy universal motor, 550 watts. Narrow air aperture for size of machine. Also available from Brown Brothers under 'Duco' brand and in various colours: cream, peach, brown, walnut-effect Three phenol or urea plastic mouldings. Some versions have no switch at all; others have rotary thumb switch, off-cold-hot. Electrical Review entry 1950. Not in 'Which' September 1961 first test of hair dryers.


Morphy-Richards model H1

UK St Mary Cray

Very popular, standard Morphy-Richards dryer, produced c1953-c1975. Use of 'noiseless' induction motor. Elegant, sculptured design though with protruding motor (unlike GEC model DM397). Multi-position wire stand for table or wall. All-urea plastic two-part body in range of colours, e.g. cream, grey (earliest models), ivory, pastel blue, red, turquoise, etc. Early models lack reset button under nozzle. Later versions also packaged with hose and hood drying set. Catalogued in Electrical Review, October 1953.

Click here for original packaging.


GEC model DM397A

UK London

Ultra-slim design with motor housed inside fan, removing need for motor to protrude from main body. Quiet induction motor. Two-part sky-blue urea plastic body (also in cream), dark red fan visible through spider's web design of air-intake grille, cream and red sliding switches mounted on handle. Patent 761,583 (1954 application) on compact fan/motor layout. Registered design number 872,680 (1954). Not produced until 1956.


Moulinex model 162


Typical 1950/60s dryer with space-age styling, fins and pistol handle, resembles sci-fi ray gun. Three thermoplastic mouldings in cream and pink (also grey). On/off switch and heat switch in handle. Separate push-fit concentrator nozzle. Cheaply made, rejected on electrical safety grounds in first Consumers' Association test of hair dryers in 'Which' September 1961; also cheapest dryer on the market at that time. Available until early 70s.


Pifco Princess Ensemble model 1960

UK Manchester

Luxury 'Hairdrying Ensemble' comprising 'Princess' hair dryer (model 1060), stand (1061), hood, flexible hose and styling comb attachment (1064).Second generation Pifco dryer using 'silent' induction motor: rather bland design, similar to Morphy-Richards HD1 and GEC DM397, with motor contained within fan housing. Available in pale blue, cream and pink. Dryer consists of two urea plastic mouldings. Very large pink/gold cardboard carton with storage for accessories and fold-down side for window display. Cost of total package in 1961 £4/9/8.

Click here for the complete ensemble.

Click here for packaging.

Click here for an image from the instructions leaflet showing the ensemble in use.


Philips model HK4100

The Netherlands

Lightweight hair dryer of unusual symmetrical design, influenced by contemporary space/jet design. Twist nozzle for diffused/ concentrated airflow. Two-tone white/jade green thermo plastic, single on/off red push-switch. Stand and hood available as accessories or in luxury set in zip-up white vinyl carry case. Accompanying literature printed 1965.

Click here for complete ensemble.


Philips model HP4301

The Netherlands

Stylish, neat vanity-case hair dryer; circular design reflecting 50s/60s UFO and space forms (also resembles Philips 'Evoluon' technology museum in Eindhoven). Static motor/fan unit with flexible vinyl transparent hose and mint-green soft vinyl hood. Hose stores around perimeter of unit; hood and flex stored inside behind panel. White and mint-green plastic. Integrated carry-handle with shoulder strap. Quiet, four-heat induction motor.

Click here for top view.

Click here for open casing.

Click here for complete ensemble.


Ronson Rio model R1

UK Isle of Wight

Elegant and compact single shape hair dryer designed by Kenneth Grange. Designed to be held like a small bag - no handle - with circular recesses for fingers. Design inspired by minimalist Braun hair dyer of 1964. Pale blue/grey plastic body, brushed steel bezel around long slot nozzle. Induction motor with long, narrow-vane fan.

Click here for packaging.


Hoover model 8268

UK Perivale

Lightweight compact dryer, similar in concept to Ronson and pioneer 1964 Braun, but with compromise addition of handle - lacking design sophistication and elegant proportions. Cheaper plastic and chrome effect trim around nozzle. Gaudy pink with textured grip handle, including small imprecise on/off control switch. Earlier versions - models 8264/8266, 1968. Packaging graphics typical of late 60s/early 70s.

Click here for 1960s packaging graphics.