Shortly after setting up shop in Cincinnati in 1958, Nick Salzano was on the prowl for a way to pamper his barbershop clientele with hot towels during a shave. He eventually turned to a tried-and-true steam-heating method—the autoclave.
This particular model was made in 1965 by the New York–based Bramhall Deane Company, one of the earliest companies in the sanitization game. In 1900, Bramhall Deane president Royal E. Deane patented a “disinfecting apparatus”; the same basic model got an upgrade to include their (also patented) eclipse door 65 years later. Today, the brass contraption is still used by co-owner Guido Salzano and his two brothers for each of Salzano’s straight razor shaves. “When that hot towel hits your face,” says Guido, “it’s like heaven.”
Autoclaves used to be common in barber shops, but functioning vintage machines like this one are nearly extinct. “There might be something somewhere,” says Guido. “But I’ve never heard of it.”
For any given shave, barbers will make at least five or six trips to the autoclave to get new towels. “And if you ask, we’ll do more,” says Salzano.
Not surprisingly, a 50-year-old machine isn’t cheap to maintain. Salzano estimates that they spend around $700 a year on maintenance and parts custom-made by an old family friend.
Though the barbers at Salzano’s never crank it quite that high, this model can reach up to 260 degrees Fahrenheit, with a maximum pressure of 20 PSI.
In lieu of a microwave, when his sons were growing up, Nick wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches in aluminum foil and heated them up in the autoclave.