Innovating a Legacy
Marjorie S. Joyner
(b. 1896 d. 1994)
Marjorie Joyner was a beautician working for Madam Walker’s company and invented a permanent hair curling machine that improved safety and made curling hair more efficient.
At age 16, Joyner entered the A.B. Molar Beauty School in Chicago and was the first African American to graduate from that school in 1916. After getting married and opening a beauty salon, she crossed paths with Madam Walker. In 1919, Joyner joined the Walker company and, after Madam Walker’s death, became the national supervisor of Walker’s colleges. Joyner noticed that hot irons made curling hair time consuming and dangerous. Innovation struck while, according to the Smithsonian, she was cooking a pot roast with long, thin rods stuck on the inside—which could be used just like a permanent curling iron for hair. After two years she finished her invention, where she draped multiple curling rods or straightening irons over a patron’s head. Her invention was an instant hit with hair salons, allowing African American patrons the option to straighten and style their hair. Historically clothing irons were used, which could be a painful and dangerous process. Joyner continued to advocate for hair stylists and provide career possibilities for many women until she died in 1994.
Joyner’s invention, above all, increased the efficiency and safety of styling hair. Her permanent-wave machine allowed multiple hair irons to be used at once and she provided safety precautions in her patent to protect the patron’s scalp. Modern hair curlers still work towards improving safety and efficiency standards, like those that contain the heat to an enclosed area away from the scalp or hands.
1. Chamberlain, Gaius. “Marjorie Joyner.” The Black Inventor Online Museum, 26 Nov. 2012, blackinventor.com/marjorie-joyner/.
2. Kelly, Kate. “Marjorie Stewart Joyner (1896-1994): Inventor of a Permanent Hair-Wave Machine.” America Comes Alive, 26 Sept. 2016, americacomesalive.com/2014/02/17/marjorie-stewart-joyner-1896-1994-inventor-permanent-hair-wave-machine/.
3. “Marjorie Stewart Joyner.” National Museum of American History, 21 Sept. 2016, americanhistory.si.edu/american-enterprise-exhibition/new-perspectives/black-main-street/marjorie-stewart-joyner.