Part 1: In which Mr Morgan invents hair relaxer.
You try to love your hair, black as it is in its natural state. In the same way, perhaps, that you try to love a troubled and troubling friend. You know the one never far from despair, the one with Problems. The draining one, whom your therapist might warn you about, “toxic”, but you cling to them because you’ve known them so long and, they must be loved the way God made them and, they really are beautiful.
The thing that bothers many an “Africanist” thinker when it comes to hair relaxers and hair pieces is the unspoken suggestion that there is somehow something wrong with black hair, that it is always needing to be fried and disguised.
Ironically, even though black men tend to be the most vocal in criticising the chemicalisation and fakification of black hair, the first hair relaxer was in fact invented by one Garrett Augustus Morgan Senior, black American gentleman inventor, back in Cleveland in the 18what-whats.
Mr Morgan was a self-driven overachiever who began his rather fascinating career at the age of 14 as a handyman after moving from his hometown of Paris, Kentucky to Cincinnati and then Cleveland. Morgan invested in his own education at the time by hiring a private tutor.
Legend has it, as legend tends to, that our legend legendarily invented hair straightener following a little accident. Apparently the clothing manufacturer – as he had worked to be by the time, in – was mucking about with a lubricating liquid to see if it could make sewing machine needles shiny and new-looking while also preventing them from burning fabric while sewing.
The “Eureka!” moment came when our man found that the fibres of the cloth that he had wiped his hands on after experimenting with the liquid had straightened out.
Being a cautious man with a hasty conclusion, Morgan decided to experiment on a neighbour’s dog to see if the liquid would straighten its fur. It did. Then, at great personal risk, Garret Augustus Morgan proceeded to experiment on himself and a billion-dollar industry was born.
To this day, nobody knows how the dog felt about it, but Garret Augustus Morgan Senior would go on to become a very happy man indeed as his little experiment would lead to a thriving hair-care business with a sideline also of such beautifying products as skin bleaches and pressing combs.
Mr Morgan made quite a few positive contributions to the society of the time, also being the inventor of such life-saving devices as the Morgan Automatic Traffic Signal and a safety hood to protect fire-fighters from smoke inhalation.
Coming soon…Of hair peace and hair pieces Part 2: Oh what tangled webs, these weaves.
Follow Siphiliselwe Makhanya on twitter. @splitmak