In the Germany of 70 years ago, in a little Black Forest town, Charles Nessler collected hair. Little Charles snitched samples at the local barbershop, snipped tresses from the village maidens. He wanted to find the answer to a mystery; What makes hair curl? When he grew up, Nessler became a barber and moved to London, where he invented a method of making false eyelashes, sold upwards of 10,000 a month.

After 20 years of experimenting, he solved his mystery. He discovered that if hair is soaked in an alkali solution and heated in a...

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