Here is what I found fascinating from a biography of King Gillette, founder of the men’s razor company.

In late 1800s America, a thick beard could be a curse. Scraggly hairs would inch further out of the face of every man every day, and not everyone felt this enhanced their appearance. Shaving was typically done by a very sharp, straightedge razor and it could not be done quickly. Accidentally cutting yourself was common, especially if you didn't have the best equipment to sharpen your blade evenly. Fathers would wince as they watched their sons cut up their faces while learning to shave.

Men of considerable means could routinely go to an experienced barber for a quality shave. But not everyone could afford to regularly pay for a professional shave. Even leaving the money aside, many Americans spent all day, every day working on their farm or in a shop, and so few could even spare the time to travel to a barber, wait in a shop that could be packed like a saloon and sit still for a close shave. Hence, wearing a clean-shaven face was a luxury that very few could afford.

The regally named King Gillette knew there had to be a better way. A traveling bottle cap salesman with a keen ability to understand what his customers want, Gillette conceived of a quality shaving device that could be easily used by a teenager and whose blades could be used for dozens of shaves but were cheap enough that the average American could afford to throw them away once they dulled.

To do this, Gillette had to figure out a cost-effective way to cut steel into thin ribbons and then harden it, to ensure a strong but affordable blade. This was a challenging feat because at the time any metal blade that thin would dull very quickly, which would make it a poor choice for a shaving device. Gillette fashioned a working prototype himself, and he recruited an experienced manufacturer to help him design and build machines that could reliably mass produce affordable blades.

Gillette also developed an apparatus to grip and store the blades. His original drawings contained an apparatus that is very similar to that of modern razors. Its handle made the razor easy to hold and easy to maneuver by the user. A clamping mechanism at the top that would firmly hold the blades in place, keep a razor’s edge exposed on opposing sides and allow the user to easily slide out the blades so that they could be replaced without discarding the whole device.

The first year was rough, but within just a few years, the Gillette Safety Razor Company started selling millions of shaving devices and tens of millions of disposable blades. Ever a good salesman, he established and maintained a brand name reputation for high quality razors so that Americans knew that just because his razors were cheap in price, they were not shoddy in quality. The fact that the Gillette name is so well known today speaks to his success.

King Gillette is definitely another unsung hero in the history of American enterprise.

Reposted from a few years ago.

Source: King C Gillette: The Man and His Wonderful Shaving Device by Russell Adams


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