Leo Wahl didn’t revolutionise an industry, he created one…
HAIRSTYLES COME AND GO. FROM CREW CUTS TO POMPADOURS, AFROS TO FADES TO TODAY’S CUSTOM DESIGNS, STYLES HAVE CHANGED OVER THE YEARS. REGARDLESS OF WHAT’S IN FASHION, WAHL HAS REMAINED AT THE CENTER OF TEN DECADES OF DIFFERENT CUTS. FOR THE PAST 100 YEARS, WAHL CLIPPER CORPORATION HAS PIONEERED AND REFINED THE ELECTRIC CLIPPERS THAT MAKE CUTTING THE HAIRSTYLES OF THE LAST CENTURY POSSIBLE
Back in 1919 when the world was still recovering from World War I, many inventors were taking the opportunity to put their best ideas on the market. On October 14, 1919, Leo Wahl of Sterling, Illinois applied for patents on his newly developed electromagnetic hair clipper. He had been experimenting with engineering electromagnetic motors since he was in high school, first selling a medical massager that he invented for barbershops. It was during his time that Leo recognized the need to improve barber tools. Learning from the barbers, Leo concentrated on building efficient and high-quality hair clippers. Within a year of securing the patent, Leo’s factory had manufactured and sold thousands of clippers to professionals all over the United States.
In the early 1940s, the Wahl Clipper Corporation installed its own plastic moulding presses. This, along with other various manufacturing technologies, allowed the company to control almost every aspect of production under the roof of the Wahl plant in Sterling, Illinois, a quiet rural community 90 miles west of Chicago. Control over the production allowed Wahl to constantly improve upon his designs and perfect all of his products. It also allowed the Wahl product line to expand to include hair dryers, shear sharpeners, shears, curling brushes, combs and attachments for hair clippers.
During World War II, Wahl Clipper Corporation was called upon to provide clippers and shears to help keep soldiers’ hair out of their eyes while on the battlefields of Europe. While over there, American GIs introduced their European allies to Wahl clippers. This word-of-mouth goodwill created enough brand interest that Leo Wahl was able to establish a distribution centre in Holland in 1949.
From the American heartland of Sterling, Illinois to the transatlantic market, Wahl clippers became recognised worldwide. With such high demand, the company began exporting products in the voltages and frequencies required for international use.
With the war behind them, Americans in the 1950s were being influenced by another huge event. Thanks to access to television, pop culture infiltrated people’s homes and rock stars and actors became household names. Everybody wanted to emulate what they saw as being the latest popular haircut. It was no longer about efficiency; haircuts were now about being cool. Wahl quickly introduced new products to the market to help barbers across the country recreate these styles for their customers.
In 1957, Leo Wahl passed away with over 100 patents to his name. Motivated to keep the Wahl Clipper Corporation a family business, Leo passed the company on to his three sons. Warren became president, Robert became vice president and Jack became managing engineer. This ensured that the same values instilled by Leo would continue through his sons. That same year, the Wahl Clipper Corporation moved into a new, larger location in Sterling.
Warren, Robert and Jack followed in their father’s footsteps by continuing to innovate. In the 1960s, the company produced a number of new products, including the very unique and innovative flexible-blade electric razor. In 1965, Wahl pioneered another advancement in the industry with the vacuum clipper. A man was now able to get a haircut without any hair touching his suit. The next year saw the creation of the first universal-type rotary motor clipper. Incredibly, again in 1967, Wahl created another first for the industry – its cordless/rechargeable battery-operated hair trimmer changed the barbering world forever.
In 1980, Jim Wahl, a third-generation Wahl, began the first official Professional-product division within the company. He worked tirelessly to educate the cosmetology and barbering community about the merits of their US-made clippers and trimmers. In 1983, he started the renowned Wahl Education and Artistic Team (W.E.A.T.), focusing on the classroom and the importance of using the right tools and techniques.
In 2002, Wahl launched a barber-oriented line of 5-Star products. This line really began to take off and continues to be popular among barbers because of their impressive performance and uniqueness.
Today, Wahl has a wide variety of blades, accessories, clippers and trimmers to help barbers create the styles and cutting techniques their customers want. And yet even today, the Wahl Clipper Corporation team continues Leo Wahl’s practice of listening to barbers, using their opinions and needs to help shape the next line of products.
In celebration of 100 years of business, Wahl has combined a century of engineering advances into its newest product – the 100 Year Clipper. What they consider to be their finest professional clipper to date, it is the physical embodiment of 100 years of Wahl innovation and tradition. It has the classic style of the original Wahl designs but with powerful cordless technology and a li-ion battery.
Amazingly, Wahl Clipper Corporation started with one man’s vision, a single patent and a small manufacturing plant. Today, 100 years later, it’s grown to eight factories on four continents, 22 sales offices around the world serving over 165 countries and over 274 patents related to the barbering, salon and pet grooming industries.
However, after 100 years in business, the core of what makes Wahl what it is has not changed. The company remains family owned and managed, its headquarters are still in Sterling, Illinois and it has continued to stay true to its values of innovation, quality and efficiency. These values have helped Wahl become a leader in this industry and will allow them to continue providing quality products for years to come.