A Hair-Raising History of the Flowbee

The Flowbee revolutionized the highly suspect idea of cutting one's own hair.
The Flowbee revolutionized the highly suspect idea of cutting one's own hair.
I Love Fun, YouTube

Like many great ideas, there is some confusion surrounding how California-based carpenter Rick Hunts was struck by inspiration for the Flowbee. The infomercial sensation of the late 1980s is a vacuum cleaner attachment that straightens hair, munches on it with clippers, and then sucks the trimmings into the canister.

In one version, Hunts is beguiled by a television show he saw in 1979 that demonstrated a person getting their hair cut while hanging upside-down, freeing their locks for clipping. Another has Hunts using a vacuum to get sawdust from his workshop out of his hair and having an epiphany.

The latter sounds more like the kind of mythologizing that accompanies inventors—one questions the wisdom of using a vacuum to remove sawdust from their hair rather than simply showering—but it doesn’t matter much. However he came upon the notion, Hunts’s vision of an at-home substitution for a barber was the Soloflex of hairstyling. It promised convenience, affordability, and the novelty of boasting your hair had been trimmed by a Hoover upright.

Hunts’s device, which he initially dubbed the Vacucut, took six to seven years to develop. By one estimate, he went through four prototypes—the last one involving 50 modifications—before he perfected the vacuum attachment. (Hunts’s children—or, more specifically, their hair—were used for testing.) The Vacucut took hair anywhere from a half-inch to six inches in length and, thanks to the suction of the vacuum, pulled it straight in the same way a stylist holds hair between their fingers. Once extended, clippers inside the attachment trimmed the excess, which wound up in the vacuum.

It required no skill and no additional pairs of hands; the length was adjustable using the included spacers. Owing to the air flow and the fact the device made a buzzing noise similar to a bee, Hunts decided to rename it the Flowbee, with a bumblebee-esque black and yellow color scheme.

Hunts, who raised more than $100,000 from investors and even sold his cabinet shop to obtain additional funds to mass market his creation, clearly felt the Flowbee would be a slam-dunk. He approached major personal grooming companies like Conair, Norelco, and Remington to see if they’d be interested in the Flowbee. He also approached beauty salons to see if they’d consider selling them to customers. He later recalled that all of them said the idea was nuts. In the case of the salons, they were afraid the Flowbee might actually work as advertised and see a reduction in foot traffic from people content to cut their own hair. 

Dismayed, Hunts took to trying to move product out of his garage. He also went to county fairs, where he would have a volunteer come up on stage. One side of the person’s head would be trimmed with scissors, the other side with the Flowbee. The results were comparable, and Hunts began selling a modest amount of inventory at $150 each.

The reaction of the county fair crowd may have been on Hunts’s mind when he saw an infomercial one evening for a food-sealing product. The program-length paid advertisements were really just barker shows broadcast to a mass audience. The Flowbee, Hunts knew, needed to be demonstrated. So Hunts spent $30,000 to produce and buy airtime for a 30-minute spot that began airing in 1988. Soon, the entire country was watching people aim a vacuum nozzle at their heads and clip their own hair.

The Flowbee entered popular culture, getting mentions in films like 1992’s Wayne’s World, where Garth (Dana Carvey) is menaced by a Suck Kut, and on shows like Party of Five. Imitators like the RoboCut and the Hairdini appeared to bite into market share, but the Flowbee enjoyed brand recognition. A Flowbee Pet Groomer was introduced, and Flowbee barbershops were considered. By 1992, the Flowbee was being sold in major retail chains. By 1993, Hunts’s San Diego-based company, Flowbee International, had sold 200,000 units. By 2000, the number was 2 million. While that may not sound like a lot, consider that this was a vacuum cleaner attachment selling for $69.95 to $150 retail that was intended for use on one’s head.

While millions of people enjoyed the Flowbee’s kitsch appeal, some people thought it sucked. Stylists believed it lacked the artistry of a professional, while others complained it wasn’t effective on hair longer than six inches or on curly locks. It was also difficult for the Flowbee to trim the sides or around the ears. George Clooney, however, swears by it; in December 2020, he admitted that he's been using one to cut his own hair for decades.

While they no longer air infomercials, Flowbee International is still in business—and has seen increased interest in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as people avoid salons and look for alternatives to becoming Howard Hughes. Unfortunately, health concerns have prompted a cessation of activity at the Flowbee factory in Kerrville, Texas. They don’t intend to ship new product (which now sells for $99) until things settle down. The RoboCut, however, is still shipping.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Harry Potter LEGO Sets to Get Fans This Holiday Season

Harry Potter/LEGO/Target
Harry Potter/LEGO/Target

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The magic of Harry Potter continues to amaze children all over the globe, especially when the cherished series is combined with the LEGO brand. And if you have a builder on your list who's obsessed with the series, we've compiled a list of 10 great sets you can pick up for the holidays.

1. Diagon Alley; $400

Harry Potter/LEGO

This set includes more than 5000 pieces to use to build storefronts, props, and the interiors of Diagon Alley. From Flourish and Blotts to Fred and George Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, you’ll be able to go shopping here every day.

Buy it: LEGO

2. Attack on the Burrows; $100

Harry Potter/LEGO/Target

Many fans will remember when the Death Eaters attacked the Weasley home in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009). This set helps fans build their topsy-turvy house just before Bellatrix arrives to destroy it all.

Buy it: Target

3. Hogwarts Astronomy Tower; $100

Harry Potter/LEGO

The Hogwarts Astronomy Tower is a truly iconic location. Just below the top of the tower, fans can build the Ravenclaw dormitories and common room. Below is Professor Slughorn’s potions office, where he keeps many secrets.

Buy it: LEGO

4. Quidditch Match; $40

Harry Potter/LEGO

Throughout Harry’s time at Hogwarts, not only has he managed to save the school every year, but he also carved out plenty of time to play Quidditch. This set lets fans build the pitch, complete with viewing stands for each house; three goal posts; and all the tools needed to play the game, like a Quaffle, a Bludger, and, of course, a Golden Snitch.

Buy it: LEGO

5. LEGO Harry Potter Advent Calendar; $40

Harry Potter/LEGO

As we start to inch closer to Christmas day, many like to celebrate with Advent calendars. This Advent calendar made by LEGO features elements from the Potter films, including minifigures and props.

Buy it: LEGO

6. Hogwarts Castle; $400

Harry Potter/LEGO

For the ultimate LEGO Harry Potter experience, building the Hogwarts Castle is a must. With over 6000 pieces, fans can build each area the castle has to offer, from the Great Hall to the Chamber of Secrets deep below.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hogwarts Express; $64

Harry Potter/LEGO

So many great memories have happened at Platform 9¾, and now, fans can make the journey themselves with this 801-piece set, complete with platform, train, and a wall to go through. There might even be an enemy aboard, but you’ll have to find them.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Hagrid's Hut: Buckbeak's Rescue; $60

Harry Potter/LEGO

Hagrid is the honorary fourth member of the gang, and by proxy so is Buckbeak, his Hippogriff. The pivotal moment when Hermione and Harry go back in time to save Buckbeak has now been transformed into a set for fans to build.

Buy it: LEGO

9. Hogwarts Clock Tower; $90

Harry Potter/LEGO

This 922-piece set shows fans everything that goes on inside the clock tower, from the Prefects' bathroom to Dumbledore’s office to the Hospital Wing. Reenact the Yule Ball with all the icy decorations and minifigures of Madame Maxime, Fleur Delacour, and Viktor Krum.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts; $50

Harry Potter/LEGO

If you are going to build the Hogwarts Express, it seems fitting to also build another iconic mode of transportation: the Beauxbatons' carriage. In the Goblet of Fire, the all-girls French wizarding school decided to arrive at Hogwarts in style with this flying carriage. The carriage even has some secret compartments that will make the journey even more fun.

Buy it: LEGO

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