African American inventor and clothing manufacturer Garrett Augustus Morgan invented hair relaxer in 1877, according to Sisters With Beauty. He subsequently founded the Hair Refining Company to sell his product. The original relaxer was made with soap and alkaline chemicals, which are still used in some modern-day perms and relaxers.
Morgan discovered hair relaxer when he was experimenting with a chemical that he used to clean sewing needles in the factory and make them more efficient. By accident, he discovered that the chemical straightened fabric and hair. Morgan went on to invent the gas mask, the traffic signal and the self-extinguishing cigarette.