1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hair

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HAIR (a word common to Teutonic languages), the general term for the characteristic outgrowth of the epidermis forming the coat of mammals. The word is also applied by analogy to the filamentous outgrowths from the body of insects, &c., plants, and metaphorically to anything of like appearance.

For anatomy, &c. of animal hair see Skin and Exoskeleton; Fibres and allied articles; Fur, and Leather.

Anthropology.—The human hair has an important place among the physical criteria of race. While its general structure and quantity vary comparatively little, its length in individuals and relatively in the two sexes, its form, its colour, its general consistency and the appearance under the microscope of its transverse section show persistent differences in the various races. It is the persistence of these differences and specially in regard to its colour and texture, which has given to hair its ethnological importance. So obvious a racial differentiation had naturally long ago attracted the attention of anthropologists. But it was not until the 19th century that microscopic examination showed the profound difference in structure between the hair characteristic of the great divisions of mankind. It was in 1863 that Dr Pruner-Bey read a paper before the Paris Anthropological Society entitled “On the Human Hair as a Race Character, examined by aid of the Microscope.” This address established the importance of hair as a racial criterion. He demonstrated that the structure of the hair is threefold:—

(1) Short and crisp, generally termed “woolly,” elliptical or kidney-shaped in section, with no distinguishable medulla or pith. Its colour is almost always jet black, and it is characteristic of all the black races except the Australians and aborigines of India. This type of hair has two varieties. When the hairs are relatively long and the spiral of the curls large, the head has the appearance of being completely covered, as with some of the Melanesian races and most of the negroes. Haeckel has called this “eriocomous” or “woolly” proper. In some negroid peoples, however, such as the Hottentots and Bushmen, the hair grows in very short curls with narrow spirals and forms little tufts separated by spaces which appear bare. The head looks as if it were dotted over with pepper-seed, and thus this hair has gained the name of “peppercorn-growth.” Haeckel has called it “lophocomous” or “crested.” Most negroes have this type of hair in childhood and, even when fully grown, signs of it around the temples. The space between each tuft is not bald, as was at one time generally assumed. The hair grows uniformly over the head, as in all races.

2. Straight, lank, long and coarse, round or nearly so in section, with the medulla or pith easily distinguishable, and almost without exception black. This is the hair of the yellow races, the Chinese, Mongols and Indians of the Americas.

3. Wavy and curly, or smooth and silky, oval in section, with medullary tube but no pith. This is the hair of Europeans, and is mainly fair, though black, brown, red or towy varieties are found.

There is a fourth type of hair describable as “frizzy.” It is easily distinguishable from the Asiatic and European types, but not from the negroid wool. It is always thick and black, and is characteristic of the Australians, Nubians, and certain of the Mulattos. Generally hair curls in proportion to its flatness. The rounder it is the stiffer and lanker. These extremes are respectively represented by the Papuans and the Japanese. Of all hair the woolly type is found to be the most persistent, as in the case of the Brazilian Cafusos, negro and native hybrids. Quatrefages quotes the case of a triple hybrid, “half negro, quarter Cherokee, quarter English,” who had short crisp furry-looking hair.

Wavy types of hair vary most in colour: almost the deepest hue of black being found side by side with the most flaxen and towy. Colour varies less in the lank type, and scarcely at all in the woolly. The only important exception to the uniform blackness of the negroid wool is to be found among the Wochuas, a tribe of African pigmies whose hair is described by Wilhelm Junker (Travels in Africa, iii. p. 82) as “of a dark, rusty brown hue.” Fair hair in all its shades is frequent among the populations of northern Europe, but much rarer in the south. According to Dr John Beddoe there are sixteen blonds out of every hundred Scotch, thirteen out of every hundred English, and two only out of a hundred Italians. The percentage of brown hair is 75% among Spaniards, 39 among French and 16 only in Scandinavia. Among the straight-haired races fair hair is far rarer; it is, however, found among the western Finns. Among those races with frizzy hair, red is almost as common as among those with wavy hair. Red hair, however, is an individual anomaly associated ordinarily with freckles. There are no red-haired races.

A certain correlation appears to exist between the nature of hair and its absolute or relative length in the two sexes. Thus straight hair is the longest (Chinese, Red Indians), while woolly is shortest. Wavy hair holds an intermediate position. In the two extremes the difference of length in man and woman is scarcely noticeable. In some lank-haired races, men’s tresses are as long as women’s, e.g. the Chinese pigtail, and the hair of Redskins which grows to the length sometimes of upwards of 9 ft. In the frizzy-haired peoples, men and women have equally short growths. Bushwomen, the female Hottentot and negresses have hair no longer than men’s. It is only in the wavy, and now and again in the frizzy types, that the difference in the sexes is marked. Among European men the length rarely exceeds 12 to 16 in., while with women the mean length is between 25 and 30 in. and in some cases has been known to reach 6 ft. or more.

The growth of hair on the body corresponds in general with that on the head. The hairiest races are the Australians and Tasmanians, whose heads are veritable mops in the thickness and unkempt luxuriance of the locks. Next to them are the Todas, and other hill-tribesmen of India, and the Hairy Ainu of Japan. Traces, too, of the markedly hairy race, now extinct, supposed to be the ancestor of Toda and Ainu alike, are to be found here and there in Europe, especially among the Russian peasantry. The least hairy peoples are the yellow races, the men often scarcely having rudimentary beards, e.g. Indians of America and the Mongols. Negroid peoples may be said to be intermediate, but usually incline to hairlessness. The wavy-haired populations hold also an intermediate position, but somewhat incline to hairiness. Among negroes especially no rule can be formulated. Bare types such as the Bushmen and western negroes are found contiguous to hairy types such as the inhabitants of Ashantee. Neither is there any rule as to baldness. From statistics taken in America it would seem that it is ten times less frequent among negroes than among whites between the ages of thirty-three and forty-five years, and thirty times less between twenty-one and thirty-two years. Among Mulattos it is more frequent than among negroes but less than among whites. It is rarer among Redskins than among negroes. The lanugo or downy hairs, with which the human foetus is covered for some time before birth and which is mostly shed in the womb, and the minute hairs which cover nearly every part of the adult human body, may be regarded as rudimentary remains of a complete hairy covering in the ancestors of mankind. The Pliocene, or at all events Miocene precursor of man, was a furred creature. The discovery of Egyptian mummies six thousand years old or more has proved that this physical criterion remains unchanged, and that it is to-day what it was so many scores of centuries back. Perhaps, then, the primary divisions of mankind were distinguished by hair the same in texture and colour as that which characterizes to-day the great ethnical groups. The wavy type bridges the gulf between the lank and woolly types, all in turn derived from a common hair-covered being. In this connexion it is worth mention, as pointed out by P. Topinard, that though the regions occupied by the negroid races are the habitat of the anthropoid apes, the hair of the latter is real hair, not wool. Further in the eastern section of the dark domain, while the Papuan is still black and dolichocephalic, his presumed progenitor, the orang-utan, is brachycephalic with decidedly red hair. Thus the white races are seen to come nearest the higher apes in this respect, yellow next, and black farthest removed.

No test has proved, on repeated examination, to be a safer one of racial purity than the quality of hair, and Pruner-Bey goes so far as to suggest that “a single hair presenting the average form characteristic of the race might serve to define it.” At any rate a hair of an individual bears the stamp of his origin.

See Dr Pruner-Bey in Mémoires de la société d’anthropologie, ii. P. A. Brown, Classification of Mankind by the Hair; P. Topinard, L’Homme dans la nature (1891), chap. vi.

Commerce.—Hair enters into a considerable variety of manufactures. Bristles are the stout elastic hairs obtained from the backs of certain breeds of pigs. The finest qualities, and the greatest quantities as well, are obtained from Russia, where a variety of pig is reared principally on account of its bristles. The best and most costly bristles are used by shoemakers, secondary qualities being employed for toilet and clothes-brushes, while inferior qualities are worked up into the commoner kinds of brushes used by painters and for many mechanical purposes. For artists’ use and for decorative painting, brushes or pencils of hair from the sable, camel, badger, polecat, &c., are prepared. The hair of various animals which is too short for spinning into yarn is utilized for the manufacture of felt. For this use the hair of rabbits, hares, beavers and of several other rodents is largely employed, especially in France, in making the finer qualities of felt hats. Cow hair, obtained from tanneries, is used in the preparation of roofing felts, and felt for covering boilers or steam-pipes, and for other similar purposes. It is also largely used by plasterers for binding the mortar of the walls and roofs of houses; and it is to some extent being woven up into coarse friezes, horse-cloths, railway rugs and inferior blankets. The tail hair of oxen is also of value for stuffing cushions and other upholstery work, for which purpose, as well as for making the official wigs of law officers, barristers, &c., the tail and body hair of the yak or Tibet ox is also sometimes imported into Europe. The tail and mane hair of horses is in great demand for various purposes. The long tail hair is especially valuable for weaving into hair-cloth, mane hair and the short tail hair being, on the other hand, principally prepared and curled for stuffing the chairs, sofas and couches which are covered with the cloth manufactured from the long hair. The horse hair used in Great Britain is principally obtained from South America, Germany and Russia, and its sorting, cleaning and working up into the various manufactures dependent on the material are industries of some importance. In addition to the purposes already alluded to, horse hair is woven into crinoline for ladies’ bonnets, plaited into fishing lines, woven into bags for oil and cider pressers, and into straining cloths for brewers, &c., and for numerous other minor uses. The manufactures which arise in connexion with human hair are more peculiar than important, although occasionally fashions arise which cause a large demand for human hair. The fluctuations of such fashions determine the value of hair; but at all times long tresses are of considerable value. Grey, light, pale and auburn hair are distinguished as extra colours, and command much higher prices than the common shades. The light-coloured hair is chiefly obtained in Germany and Austria, and the south of France is the principal source of the darker shades. In the south of France the cultivation and sale of heads of hair by peasant girls is a common practice; and hawkers attend fairs for the special purpose of engaging in this traffic. Hair 5 and even 6 ft. long is sometimes obtained. Scarcely any of the “raw material” is obtained in the United Kingdom except in the form of ladies’ “combings.” Bleaching of hair by means of peroxide of hydrogen is extensively practised, with the view of obtaining a supply of golden locks, or of preparing white hair for mixing to match grey shades; but in neither case is the result very successful. Human hair is worked up into a great variety of wigs, scalps, artificial fronts, frizzets and curls, all for supplementing the scanty or failing resources of nature. The plaiting of human hair into articles of jewellery, watch-guards, &c., forms a distinct branch of trade.