Guest Post: History of the Shaving Razor

history of the shaving razor

Several times a day I get requests to post guest content from unusual sources. Usually it is some niche blog that discovers something I wrote in passing, like mention of my garden or training a hunting Lab. I really don’t need to fill space with entire posts dedicated to organic gardening, just because I use my knives to make homemade salsa. Sometimes, I am not even sure if he requests are coming from real people and not bots. I was about to discard a request from luxuryshaves.com, when I had a idea – Maybe he could write something on the history of the shaving razor, which would be very much on point for the blog.

So I corresponded with Craig, the purveyor of the abovementioned site, to see if he could pull together said piece. He did, and it is our pleasure to share it with you.

 


The History of the Shaving Razor

(luxuryshaves.com)by Craig

 

Shaving is a practice that has become so ubiquitous in our lives that we rarely stop to ask, when did our obsession with grooming body hair begin, and how have the tools of this strange ritual changed over time?

The Emergence of the Shaved Ape
Historians, studying cave art, speculate that the practice of shaving has existed since prehistory, when early man used seashells, sharpened bone or cracked flint to accomplish the task. Using carbon dating, scientists have discovered that the appearance of these tools corresponds with a reduction in the presence of pre-historic lice in the hair of human remains. The practice of shaving was most likely a response to insect infestation!

The Bronze Age and the Beginning of Personal Style
The first refined shaving implements appeared in the Bronze Age as humans discovered the magic of metallurgy. Razors of this era have been found with various designs. Some examples are long and flat like a primitive Bowie knife; others are crescent shaped or simple oval disks. Bronze Age razors have been found in Egypt dating to 2000 B.C. and earlier. In this period, the cultural practice of shaping body hair began its long association with personal style as a form of expression. Razors had become invaluable status objects, and those owned by society elites were elaborately designed and decorated.

A Tradition Born on the Battlefield
The greatest advocates of shaving technology were often military in nature. Since disease is so often a companion to war, there is little doubt as to why. History suggests that Alexander the Great encouraged the practice of shaving among his troops so that their beards couldn’t be used against them in hand to hand combat, but avoiding disease and lice, the motivating survival concern of early man, was a likely factor as well.

High Quality Steel Outshines the Competition
Although razors would adopt advances in metallurgy, they would take the same basic form until advancements in England in the late 18th century produced the first examples of the modern straight razor with hollow ground blades. These blades, utilizing Sheffield silver steel, were legendary for their brilliant polish and high quality steel.

The Province of the Rich
Even with these advancements, shaving had yet to become a daily practice. Because of the high cost of materials and the steep learning curve in the use of razors of that era, shaving regularly was still relegated to the wealthy who could afford regular trips to a barbershop or to be shaven by servants.

The First Safe Blades
The first example of a safety razor, a straight razor with a protective sleeve that held the blade at the proper angle, was invented in 1762 by a Frenchman named Jean-Jacques Perret. The Kampfe Brothers, German immigrants to the United States, developed and successfully marketed an innovative design in the late 19th century featuring a shortened blade attached to a handle in a wedge shape. These razors still had a fixed blade, and it wasn’t until King Camp Gillette invented the safety razor with a removable blade in 1895 that shaving razors had the chance to hit the main stream market.

The Beginning of a New Industry
Gillette had obtained a contract to supply U.S. troops with his removable double-edged safely blades during World War I. After the war, the returning veterans kept their razors and brought home the practice of shaving regularly. There was a significant demand for disposable razor blades for the first time. Gillette seized this opportunity to dominate that growing industry for half a century.

Electricity Changed the Game
New technologies created new opportunities for creative entrepreneurs. Although the first patent for an electric razor was filed in 1898 by John O’Rourke, it wasn’t until Jacob Schick, an army Colonel and veteran of World War I, patented his electric razor in 1930 that Gillette’s disposable razors saw their first real competition. Schick’s dry shave electric razors would briefly dominate the market, selling millions of the devices, and electric shavers would enjoy widespread popularity until the 1960s.

The Return of Gillette
In 1960 Gillette launched an innovation that radically change the market once again: the introduction of stainless steel blades. With longer lasting blades, disposable razors became more convenient than their electric counterparts. Although electric razors are still popular today, the introduction of stainless steel blades would insure the continued success of disposable razors into the present day.

An Open Market
Today, the razor complex and diverse. With a resurgence in the use of classic shaving technologies and many consumers looking to reduce the waste associated with disposable blades, straight razors are enjoying a moment of renewed popularity. Single-bladed double-edged safety razors, which use razors that are often cheaper than multi- blade disposable options, are in common production as well. Innovations in disposable blades continue, with brands offering three, four, or five bladed models. As a technology that has existed since the dawn of human culture, one thing is certain: Shaving razors will continue to evolve to meet the demands of the changing marketplace, and new innovations are always around the corner.

 

 


About the Author:

Well, like you, I was researching straight edged razors because I was fed up with paying too much money for replacement cartridges for my Mach3 (and getting a sub-par shave in the process) and stumbled across a few useful sites, but nothing that really looked to me like what I am trying to do here. There were a few vendor-type sites and a few informative articles to whet my appetite.

Since I love to make websites and was thinking more and more about shaving, I thought “why not?” And a few weeks later luxuryshaves.com was born.

 

 


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comments

  1. Sam L. says:

    Interesting. I still use a Gillette Adjustable from time to time. My electric will miss a whisker from time to time, and once missed, continually missed until I notice it.

  2. Mike L. says:

    A little sidebar on the straight razor. In jolly old England in the 1800’s, the straight razor had more of a malevolent employment. In this Dickensian world the rise of “razor gangs” plagued London. Fighting with razors reached an art form. The RAZOR KING title went to the slasher with the most fearsome reputation. Anyone who thinks todays world is at record highs of violence need only read about this fetid dystopian London world.

  3. Pyrthroes says:

    The only thing worse than endless daily shaving is not shaving.

    For whatever reason, contemporary millennial scruffs don’t look so much “unshaven” as unkempt, frowsy exemplars of a hookup culture glorifying one-night stands.

    What’s needed more than shaving innovations, electric or multi-blade disposable (we favor Gillette’s two-blade Sensor [tm] in 5-blade packs, each one of which lasts some four months), is a cure for male-pattern baldness (not our problem).

    From c. AD 2050 on, our cyber-symbiontic overlords will prefer polishing to shaving, nicht?

  4. mer says:

    My maternal grandfather used a straight razor until the end at 101. My father used a Gilette Safety razor as long as I can remember, so naturally that’s what I started out with. I keep coming back to it; electrics don’t work well for me, multiblades are just idiotic (expensive, I get maybe 3 shaves out of a blade) and “in season” (1 May to 31 Oct) I actually enjoy the ritual of lathering up with a brush using a good safety (double-edged) razor.

    Not shaving is fine once you get past the 4th day. Trying to keep it trimmed is worse than shaving, hence my nickname of “Skinny Santa” from Nov thru Apr.

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Guest Post: History of the Shaving Razor

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