Newspapers throughout the world, including The New York Times, were abuzz in 1901 about an epidemic that appeared to be raging through Japan. Would it spread to Europe — and beyond? A September 15 Times article breathlessly described the plague — a plague of baldness.
Evidently great numbers of people, particularly women, were suffering sudden rapid hair loss, leaving even the hitherto hairiest individuals looking like so many billiard balls. The departure of their hair came without warning; one minute it was atop their heads, the next it was in their combs. This insidious malady not only pruned their pates but laid waste to sideburns, mustaches and beards.
According to the report, most of the victims were, women, children or young men. The demographic most normally associated with baldness — old, white men with Republican leanings — were the least affected.
Upon further examination, scientific and medical investigators determined that both the number of people infected and the severity of the disease were greatly exaggerated, and that it was all a matter of “baldness hysteria” caused by a hyperactive media.