All excerpted from "The Poodle Book" by Jeff Griffin 1968
Undoubtedly the two features, which made the Poodle different from other dogs and accounted for its extraordinary growth, were its coat and intelligence. Its wiry, almost waterproof coat was ideal protection for hunting around marshes and rivers. When someone clipped its hindquarters, supposedly to allow it more mobility in water, leaving a longhaired ruff around the chest and heart for protection and buoyancy, there lay the base for the chic haircuts and grooming procedures we have today. Where looks might have made him merely a fad, his brains and sense of humor endeared him to both royalty and the bourgeois.
The corded Poodle was an interesting 19th century variation within the breed. Whether this was merely a way of training the coats of some especially longhaired Poodles or a separate strain is open to debate. In any case, there developed around 1850 in England and on the Continent two distinct types of Poodles - curly and corded. The curly variety is what we have today, for though the coat of a Poodle looks straight from constant brushing, it will curl when left unattended or clipped about 1/2 inch long, as in the Kennel clip. The corded coat was entirely different, consisting of hundreds of coils of hair slightly smaller than a pencil and dangling from all parts of the body to the floor.
These corded Poodles were quite a fad in their time. In fact, the first Poodle to be crowned champion in England was a cord named Achilles in 1890. He became a legend in his time and was described as standing 23 inches at the shoulder with cords that hung down for 30 inches, and he carried his huge heavy coat with splendid dignity. He must have looked like a locomotive or a gigantic Yorkshire terrier.
The hair on these corded Poodles was never combed out but allowed to grow. It was continually rolled and twisted by means of Vaseline and paraffin to cause longer and longer curls or cords to form. Cords hung from the ears, tail, and body like spaghetti, and the dog's figure was almost completely hidden as a result. This fad was supposedly German in origin, and Lyris, the German-imported father of Achilles, is said to have had an ear spread of 37 inches when his ears were held out straight and measured. Some of these corded Poodles had coats which swept the ground for several inches behind them, but all this went out of style just prior to WWI because of the weight and inconvenience of such immense coats (they had to be tied up in linen bags and kept in oil outside the show ring). Also, since the coat could not be combed or washed (the result would have been a catastrophic tangle), the dog was always dirty and greasy, prone to all kinds of insects and highly malodorous.
The Kennel Club StudBook of England shows its first registry of Poodles in 1874. Shortly thereafter, Poodles from Russia, Germany and France were registered. In 1876, the Poodle Club of England was formed, and there began a war between the curly fanciers and the corded fanciers, for both types were exhibited in the same classes though they looked entirely different. It was a long and bitter battle which culminated in 1910 in the division of Corded and Non-Corded classes and the recognition of the miniatures as a separate group.
Before this time all Poodles, regardless of size, color, and coat, had been registered only as Poodles and all were shown in the same classes. Now the miniatures were a separate entity as were the cords, which soon passed out of existence because of the difficulty in maintaining them. Undoubtedly they were clipped and crossed into the curly Poodle lines, which we see today, although, this was deplored. But even now you can sometimes see the background of the old corded Poodle in certain dogs whose coat on damp day begins to roll into ringlets, and unless they are brushed out, they quickly turn into knots and mats.