Shaggy Dog Story

My husband grew up with an Airedale terrier, and we have one. This is our second dog of the same breed. One of the good things about this breed is they don’t shed. Their hair is hair, not fur, and it is curly. Not quite as curly as a poodle, but definitely curly.

My hair is curly. We share that trait.

Stories about my kind of dog pop up sometimes. Airedale dogs were very popular at the turn of the 20th century and that’s when most of the Airedale stories happen.

James Thurber wrote The Dog that Bit People, a story that makes me laugh not the least because I recognize in the illustrations of the grumpy dog as my kind of dog.

The story I want to tell is about Garret Augustus Morgan, who was born 1877 and became a very influential inventor. He left school after 6th grade, and went on to  invent an award-winning smoke hood that helped fire fighters save lives. He got a medal and was made an honorary member of International Association of Fire Engineers. This invention was so effective it was used by the military in WW1.

About that time automobile traffic was becoming a thing, so he patented the green-yellow-red traffic lights so people could have some time to slow down.

These are some impressive, practical, and ingenious inventions. They have dramatically saved lives since they arrived.

They were not, however, the source of his commercial success. Garrett Morgan was black, the son of slaves. Because of bigotry, some people refused to buy his life saving smoke hood.

But his blackness gave him insight into a need that had not yet been addressed.

And this is where the dog comes in. Wait for it.

He was working on another invention in 1905– a liquid that would help smooth sewing machine needles so they wouldn’t catch on the fabric.  He noticed the chemical had another property: It could straighten hair.

As the story goes, he took this liquid and tested it on an Airedale.

Now, I know a few inventor types, and they can get pretty single-minded. I can picture Garrett Morgan wanting to find the right way to test this chemical.

But it wasn’t his Airedale.

It was his neighbor’s dog.

I am pretty sure Garrett Morgan was delighted to discover that his chemical solution worked very well as he straightened the coat of this local dog.

But he had not asked permission. He hadn’t even told his neighbor he would do this.

So after the successful hair treatment, doggie went home and was a stranger to his family. The dog’s owner wouldn’t let him in the house. What a transformation!

I can’t stop giggling at the idea of straightening a dog’s hair. Just how many treats did that take?

But Morgan launched a company of expanding hair care products. His photo in Wikipedia shows a very handsome black man with impeccably straightened hair.

I bet he was a fascinating man to talk to, and I can imagine his home constantly had experiments going on.

And my doggie was associated with that. I am delighted.