Modern era – 1914-1939

© Bob Denton, 2016
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Detergent, 1914

Burnus factory
Image source: history.evonik.com

Otto Röhm founded Röhm & Haas in Germany in 1907 and researched the use of enzymes, substances produced by a living organism, in this case animal pancreases. These act as a catalyst to trigger a biochemical reaction, Röhm was investigating the potential for its use as a stain remover. His work led to the development of washing detergents by 1914. Washing was soaked in his material for several hours and then washed with minimal soap, as a by-product the fabric was therefore less damaged.

Otto Röhm
Image source: world-of-plexiglas.com

His product was called Burnus which had become the most-widely distributed laundry detergent in Germany by 1920.

Women’s safety razor, 1915

Fashion and propriety had demanded that western women had been covered to the wrist and the ankle, certainly never revealing the hairy armpit. But in May 1915 Harper’s Bazaar had an advertisement that showed a young model in a sleeveless dress posed with her arms held over her head. This trend of revealing the armpit raised the issue of shaving or depilation.

Harpers Bazaar advert
Image source: outskirtsofthetwenties.wordpress.com
Zip Advertisement
Image source: outskirtsofthetwenties.wordpress.com
Veet advertisement
Image source: outskirtsofthetwenties.wordpress.com

Women’s razors and depilatories were first offered for sale in the Sears Roebuck catalogue in 1922, the year they started to sell sleeveless and sheer dresses.

Shermac underarm razor
Image source: outskirtsofthetwenties.wordpress.com
Milady shavers for women
Image source: mr-razor.com

As skirts became shorter, in the 1920s, the shaving of legs became necessary and popular.

Shorter skirts in the 1920s
Image source: pinterest.com

Lipsticks, 1915

Dictionaries describe lipstick as a waxy solid, usually coloured, cosmetic in stick form for the lips. It was first used as a term from the 1880s, but the first mention had been when high-born Mesopotamians used crushed semi-precious stones to augment their lips. Later the Egyptians used red dyes, though Cleopatra VII is said to have used a mixture of crushed ants and carmine beetles to achieve her red lips.

Carmine beetles
Image source: peta.org

Abū al-Qāsim Khalaf ibn al-‘Abbās al-Zahrāwī al-Ansari (936-1013), thankfully more often known as ‘Al-Zahrawi’, was an Andalusian Moor who became a significant physician and chemist, who is heralded as the greatest surgeon of the Middle Ages, or the father of surgery.

Page from 1531 translation of Al-Zahwari’s chapter on surgery
Image source: en.wikipedia.org

He took fifty years to produce, in the year 1000, his Kitab al-Tasrif, a thirty-volume encyclopaedia of medical and surgical practices. It was translated into Latin in the 12th-century and became the vital Western textbook for five centuries.

Al-Zahwari also had a chapter on cosmetics as a branch of medicine, his Adwiyat al-Zinah or Medicine of Beauty. This talked of aromatics and perfumes, but also included moulded perfumed sticks that could be used as deodorants and lipsticks.

Guerlain fluid lipstick
Image source: en.wikipedia.org

The French Guerlain fashion house had sold pots of fluid lipstick for some years before, in 1870, it created the very first modern-day lipstick using a wax base. Named Ne m’oubliez pas (Don’t forget me) it used a ‘push-up’ mechanism.

Tube lipstick
Image source: phaidon.com

Yet it was American, Maurice Levy of the Scovil Manufacturing Company, who first patented a metal tube container for lipstick in 1915, It had a small lever at the side that pushed up or lowered the lipstick inside.

Swivel lipstick
Image source: alisonkerr.wordpress.com

James Bruce Mason Jr. of Nashville, Tennessee patented the first swivel-up tube in 1923.

Le Rouge Baiser
Image source: amazon.com

French Chemist, Paul Baudercroux invented Rouge Baiser, in 1927, as the first kiss-proof lipstick. It proved so resilient that it was later banned for being too hard to remove.

False eyelashes, 1916

Pliny the Elder believed that long eyelashes were a symbol of youth and of chastity, writing that, ‘eyelashes fell out from excessive sex and so it was especially important for women to keep their eyelashes long to prove their chastity’. It was clearly widely believed as Roma women used eyeliner to augment their ravaged eyelashes.

In 1899 the Dundee Courier ran an article describing how hair from the head might be grafted to augment the eyelashes. The article ‘Irresistible Eyes May Be Had By Transplanting The Hair’ sounds awful in so many ways:

‘An ordinary fine needle is threaded with a long hair, generally taken from the head of the person to be operated upon. The lower border of the eyelid is then thoroughly cleaned, and in order that the process may be as painless as possible rubbed with a solution of cocaine [!]. The operator then by a few skilful touches runs his needle through the extreme edges of the eyelid between the epidermis and the lower border of the cartilage of the tragus. The needle passes in and out along the edge of the lid leaving its hair thread in loops of carefully graduated length.

When this has been done another length of hair is sewed through the lid until finally there are a dozen or more loops projecting. By this time the effect of the cocaine has been lost, and the operator is obliged to desist, and put off further “sewing of hair” for another sitting.

The next step in the process is cutting off and trimming the ends of the loops, and the result is a fine, thick, long set of eyelashes. It is the finishing touch, that is to come, that makes them look like nature’s own. When they are at first cut they stick out in the most singular fashion, giving the person operated upon the most uncanny look. The operator’s next step is to take curling tongs, made of silver, and no larger than knitting needles, and to give them the curve which is essential to perfect beauty. Then the eyes are carefully bandaged, and kept so until the following day.’

The article adds ‘Eyebrows are doctored in the same way, but there is not so much pain associated with the process as there is in transplanting eyelashes.’ (Source: The Quack Doctor by Caroline Rance)

False eyelash
Image source: Jens Mortensen, The New York Times

Despite various false eyelashes being around for several decades a Canadian woman, Anna Taylor, received a patent for their invention in 1911. Hers was a crescent of fabric implanted with tiny hairs.

Charles Nestle advertisement Image source: cosmeticsandskin.com

Charles Nestle advertisement
Image source: cosmeticsandskin.com

A German called Karl Nessler (Anglicised, when he moved to the UK in 1911, to Charles Nestle) manufactured false lashes in the early-twentieth century and used the profit from sales to finance his ‘permanent wave’ invention. In 1915 Nestle opened a New York hair-perming salon on East 49th Street and promoted his lashes from there.

American advert and Americanised brand 
Image source: cosmeticsandskin.com

Notwithstanding all of the above it is film director D W Griffith who is often credited as inventing false eyelashes in 1916. During the filiming of Intolerance studied an actress called Seena Owen in a Babylonian outfit and felt she did not look ‘authentic’. He wanted her eyes to look bigger, almost ‘supernatural’ and had a wigmaker use spirit gum to glue on human hairs. Another actress Lillian Gish reported that Seena arrived one morning with her eyes ‘swollen nearly shut’, but the key scenes were already shot.

Seena Owen in ‘Intolerance’
Image source: pinterest.com

Modern nail varnish, 1917

Women have dyed their nails for centuries, but in 1917 modern nail varnish was invented.

Henna-ed fingertips
Image source: youtube.com

Records suggest that it started in India at around 5000 BCE, when women began to dip their fingertips in henna. A number of cultures still follow the practice of dipping fingertips for weddings.

Chinese nail varnish
Image source: ancientpages.com

Around 3000 BCE Chinese women experimented to test ingredients for a nail polish. They used mixtures of gum Arabic, beeswax, egg whites, gelatine and vegetable dyes to create enamels, lacquers and varnishes.

Egyptian nail varnish
Image source: en.wikipedia.org

There is some disagreement as to whether the Egyptians copied or originated the same approach. Whichever it was they certainly painted their nails, but at the time Egyptian men often wore cosmetics too. Queen Nefertiti (1370-1330 BCE) coloured her nails in red to signify her high rank. The lower you were down the pecking order then the lighter and paler your nails were painted.

Chinese nail guards
Image source: en.wikipedia.org

During the Chinese Eastern Chou dynasty (770-221 BCE) it was popular for aristocratic women to paint their nails with gold or silver to exhibit their status. Their nails were worn very long (often as long as 6”/15cm) and protected by nail guards decorated with gold and jewels.

Empress Dowager of China (1835-1908)
Image source: manicurediaries.wordpress.com

Of course, this meant they had to use servants to do any tasks, rather than risk breaking these talons. By the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644) had become popular to use red and black nail paints. Inca women (1438-1533) have been found to have painted their nails with images of eagles.

During the Victorian period manicures were popular, however woman were driven by notions of inner beauty and moral purity, Dark colours for nail treatments were avoided, opting instead for a light tint of a red oil that was polished with a chamois leather. Often a touch of lemon juice or vinegar was used to make the nail tips shine. The 1856 Flaubert debut novel Madame Bovary describes the eponymous lady as having her nails ‘scrubbed cleaner than Dieppe ivory’.

Gibson girls
Image source: en.wikipedia.org

In America at the turn of the century the illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson came to establish a personification of female physical attractiveness – the Gibson Girl. This is claimed by many as the first national beauty standard for American women. It was in fact a composite representation of the slender lines of an earlier trope, the ‘fragile lady’, and the bust and hips of another trope the ‘voluptuous woman’, the latter shaded down to become less lewd. The Gibson Girl’s shape still owed much to the corsetier, and this was from a man’s viewpoint.

A 1920s lipstick stencil
Image source: smithsonianmag.com

In the early 20th century the previous practice of buffing nails with cake, paste or powder began to be replaced by new products that made cosmetics easier to apply

1909 Lustr-ite advertisement  
Image source: beautifully-invisible.com

The Lustr-ite advert above surprisingly shows a man having his nails varnished.

Hyglo advertisement
Image source: cosmeticsandskin.com

Graf’s Hyglo nail polish paste was an early product offering, it was a paste to produce a clear glossy varnish, it was advocated to be painted on to nails with camel-hair brushes. It was claimed to be long lasting and waterproof

Cutex billboard c.1922
Image source: cosmeticsandskin.com
Packaging of Cutex Nail Polish Cake
Image source: cosmeticsandskin.com

Northam Warren founded Cutex initially as a cuticle remover, then introduced nail tints in 1914.

Trade advert for Cutex, 1914
Image source: cosmeticsandskin.com

Cutex was the first to introduce, in 1917, a tinted liquid nail polish in a variety of colours, it was made from natural resins and dyes. In 1928 Cutex introduced an acetone nail polish remover, which enabled a mass adoption of nail polish.

1920 Cutex manicure kit
Image source: cosmeticsandskin.com
1926 Cutex manicure sets
Image source: cosmeticsandskin.com

There were also man-made products based on a plasticised nitrocellulose a film-forming substance, though the early products often had problems in successfully adhering to the nail and so it wore erratically.

Clara Bow
Image source: moviessilently.com

The 1920s changed the attitude to cosmetics. First the popularity of movies created role models like Clara Bow and Joan Crawford that women wised to emulate.

Moon manicure
Image source: smithsonianmag.com

It became popular to paint nails while leaving bare the tips and the half-moon, or Luna. It became known as the ‘moon manicure’. Many credit this to Beatrice Kaye, a manicurist at MGM Studios who used a rosy red polish and while leaving the Lunaand free edge free of the gloss. Over time some painted the Luna in contrasting colours. The shape and depth of the Luna could be varied to create an illusion of a slender nail.

It was the advent of car paints that prompted nail colouring. These paints inspired French make-up artist Michelle Ménard to consider something similar for nail paints. This led to a partnership with Revlon that modernised nail polish from the 1930s.

Revlon Cherries-in-the-Snow
Image source: pinterest.com

Revlon released and opaque nail enamel using colour pigments that provided a creamier coverage that disguised any nail blemishes. There are suggestions that it was Revlon, in 1932, that first issued a commercial red nail varnish, this was sold door-to-door, as ‘Cherries in the Snow’. Later, in 1939, Revlon, was the first to propose the coordination of lipstick colours and nail colours with its ‘Matching Lips & Tips’ initiative.

Revlon Lips and Tips
Image source: pinterest.com

Toilets and bathrooms UK, 1920/30s

Post WWI the major housing thrust was focused on social housing. The 1917 Tudor Walters Committee Report into post-war housing construction was in-part shaped as a response to the poor levels of fitness among WWI recruits. This was assumed to have been caused by their poor living conditions, one quote of the time was ‘you cannot expect A1 population out of C3 homes’. It defined the desired areas and volumes of rooms. This led directly to the Housing, Town Planning, &c. Act of 1919 (aka the ‘Addison Act’) which was the first of many initiatives that prompted state-owned council estates.

The 1919 Act provided subsidies to local authorities and expected to construct 500,000 houses across three years that were ‘fit for heroes’. In the event the initiative built only 213,800 houses, though across the twenty years following the act some 1.1m homes were built.

Plan of a ‘heroes’ house, 1917
Image source: socialhousinghistory.uk

These ‘Addison’ houses were constructed as three-bedroomed properties based upon a Design Manual that included a parlour, scullery and larder, with larger properties adding a living room. However well into the 1930s many were built with only an outside toilet.

Bath in the kitchen
Image source: philmaxwell.org

Some did feature a bathroom, but just as often the bath was located in the scullery and doubled-up as a work surface.

The 1923 ‘Chamberlain Act’ lowered the expected build standards and reduced the Addison Act 1,000 sq ft (93sq m) to 620 sq ft (58 sq m). It also allowed councils to sell some of these or use the new builds to free up other properties for sale.

A heavy construction period followed the 1924 ‘Wheatley Act’ passed by the new Labour government to halt the 1923 reductions. This added more subsidy and allowed funds to be raised from the rates for council house building.

Early 1900s slum housing
Image source: 1900s.org.uk

A Housing Act of 1930 promoted slum clearance particularly in the inner cities and for properties built before 1875. WWII halted any further construction and its air raids reduced available housing stock.

Kotex/Kleenex, 1920s

In 1921 Kimberly Clark began producing absorbent cellulose wadding called Cellucotton as a bandage material for WWI, it is said that army nurses begin using the material for menstrual use. Afraid to associate with this ‘unmentionable’ product, the organisation formed Cellucotton Products to market what it described as Kotex sanitary napkins.

Kotex 1921 advertisement
Image source: ebay.com

Kotex was first advertised in ‘Ladies home journal’ in 1921 but the ad is restricted in its description of the products application.

Kotex had a slow start and had excess capacity at its facility, to find a new application for the product. In 1924 the heavy creped Kotex material was ironed by Cellucotton to become soft, flat and smooth, and become Kleenex.

Kleenex early application
Image source: firstversions.com

Kleenex was first promoted as a disposable towel for women for remove the cold cream used to protect the skin while riding in the open convertible vehicles of the time.  It was subsequently promoted as a disposable handkerchief.

Electric shavers, 1928

Schick razor
Image source: pinterest.co.uk

In 1928 Jacob Schick patented an electric razor that were on broad retail distribution by 1931, selling millions of units. Shick was very keen on shaving he was reported as believing that if a man shaved regularly enough then he could extend his life to 120 years.

Shick was a retired Army colonel, perhaps this was why his first venture in 1925, the Magazine Repeating Razor Co, sold a manual razor with a set of blades in clips rather like a repeating rifle. He sold this in 1928 and used the capital to launch his electric razor. His other inventions were a shallow water boat and a pencil sharpener.

Schick 1950s advert
Image source: en.wikipedia.org

European toilet rolls, 1928

Halke toilet rolls from 1928 and 1950s
Image source: grenzecho.net

Hans Klenk, a German banker, was the first to sell rolls of parchment-like toilet paper in Europe. It was sold with a guaranteed number of sheets and became branded as Hakle.

Tenement toilets USA, 1929

Toilets photographed in Manhattan tenements
Image source: nypl.org

In 1929 New York changed its tenement laws with the ‘Multiple Dwelling Law’ mandated that each apartment in a block had to have its own toilet, however pre-1901 buildings were permitted to continue with shared toilets in the hallway.

NYC tenement room c.1914
Image source: nypl.org

Modern lip gloss, 1930

1920s/30s bee-sting lips
Image source: smithsonianmag.com

Changes in the means of applying lipstick led to innovations. Flappers are icons of the Roaring Twenties – they wore skirts, bobbed their hair, wore excessive make-up, listened to jazz, liberally drank alcohol and smoked, pursued casual sex almost everything that flouted the social norms. Their bee-sting lips became an evident symbol.

Joan Crawford, 1928
Image source: smithsonianmag.com

Joan Crawford popularised a longer, sleeker look for lips in the 1930s, accentuating the cupid’s bow.

Permanent waves, 1930s

For centuries women had used hot tongs to temporarily curl their hair. In 1870 a French hair stylist Marcel Grateau first mooted a more permanent process. A Swiss hairdresser Karl Nessler (aka Charles Nestle) developed a mixed chemical and thermal approach while living in London. The picture below is said to be Charles Nestle’s first permanent wave in 1906

Nestle’s first perm in 1906
Image source: glamourdaze.com

Nestle went on to create somewhat unwieldy equipment that could create ‘permanent waves’. By the 1930s perms by various processes had become common.

Nestle permanent wave device advert
Image source: witness2fashion.wordpress.com
Permanent wave advert, 1930s
Image source: witness2fashion.wordpress.com

Looking more like something out of Frankenstein the advert above boasts that this was achievable with a half-a-day process!

Patent 1928, perms for ethnic hair
Image source: glamourdaze.com

This is an image from the patent for equipment to achieve a permanent wave with ethnic hair – it doesn’t look much different to that of Nestle.

First laundromat, 1934

The first automatic laundry was opened in the USA in 1934 – the first in the UK was not until 1949.

Fort Worth Washateria
Image source: the bronxchronicle.com

Washateria was opened by J F Cantrell in Fort Worth Texas in 1934. He bought four machines and charged users by the hour.

Bendix Launderette, 1950s
Image source: retrowow.co.uk

The first in the UK was termed a launderette and opened at 184 Queensway in Bayswater London. An early user was Brian Hyde of Paddington, he would do his mum’s washing in his school lunch-hour while reading a comic. It cost him half-a-crown (2s 6d/12.5p) for the washing and 1d (<1p) for drying it (Source: The Daily Mirror 10 May 1949). It still operates as ‘Central Wash’ today. Site of the first UK launderette Image source: express.co.uk

© Bob Denton, 2016
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