In 1916, D.W. Griffith was the world’s most famous silent film director. The year before he had made the first full-length feature film—and one of the most important films in history—The Birth of a Nation, which received raves and scandalized people because of its subject matter.
As a follow-up, Griffith chose Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Through the Ages, which wove together four stories of intolerance from the Babylonian age to the modern era. For the Babylonian scene, Griffith wanted actress Seena Owen, who was playing Attarea, the Princess Beloved, to have a sexier, more dramatic appearance—specifically he wanted her to have eyelashes long enough to brush her cheeks when she batted her eyes. Griffith met with a wigmaker and came up with the idea to weave human hair through fine gauze and adhere it to the actress’s eyelids. The first false eyelashes were born.
Although the film was less than successful, the eyelashes worked like a charm—Owen’s eyes looked larger than life on the screen—and the beauty fad spread like wildfire. Sadly, Griffith didn’t make a dime; he never patented the idea.