Today’s Illustration: Changing The Face Of America

King Gillette book cover russell adams.jpg “Safety” Sold The Product

On This Day:  December 2, 1901 —  “Gillette to market a replaceable razor”. 

The article . . . .

Dec. 2, 1901 – “An American businessman named King Camp Gillette, who in 1895 patented a new model of razor, is planning to market the gadget in the coming year.  The razor is shaped like a hoe, and its double-edged blade is designed to be used just once or until dull, discarded and replaced with a new one.  William Nickerson, the only employee of Gillette, resolved the manufacturing problems.                            

The new Gillette model, with its double-edged, replaceable blades, is designed to be both a safety razor, as well as more efficient.  Yet it is very difficult to predict what kind of reception the male public, despite the decreasing popularity of beards, will give this new type of razor, which has a very thin and sharp, but dispensable blade.”


Facts & Information:

King C. Gillette, born January 5, 1855 – in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Father: George Wolcott Gillette

Mother: Fanny Lemira Camp

Family: Youngest of 3 sons and had two sisters

Resigned and Retired in April of 1931

Died in 1932 — age 77

Married: Ella Gaines – 1890 – 1932 — daughter of a prosperous Ohio oilman

Children: They had one child – “King Gaines Gillette” —  “Kingie.”

September 28, 1901 — Gillette founded “the American Safety Razor Company.”

In 1902 the name was changed to the Gillette Safety Razor Company.

In 1903 he sold a total of 51 razors and 168 blades.

In 1904 he sold 90,884 razors and 123,648 blades.

By 1906 sales had increased to 300,000 razor and 500,00 blades.

“Gillette’s razor retailed for a substantial $5 (about $140 in 2014 dollars) — half the average working man’s weekly pay — yet sold by the millions.”

“World War I, proved to be a boon for the Gillette Safety Razor Company.” – pg 95

“. . . . high military official had concluded by the end of 1917, that uniform efficiency would best be served if every man was used his shaving equipment rather than providing it on his own.  At five dollars, a Gillette service set was still a heavy expenditure for many civilians, and it was all but impossible on a lowly private’s pay.  No doubt the high command’s decision was arrived at with considerable help from Gillette, and by March 1918, the company had booked with the War Department orders for 519,750 razors — more than had been sold in any single year up until 1916 — and 710,000 blades.” — Adams – pg 103

“During World War I, Gillette supplied 3.5 million razors and 36 million blades to U.S. soldiers, creating a base of customers who kept coming back for refills long after the Treaty of Versailles.” — By Christine Chen and Tim Carvell


A Utopian At Heart: 

From The Biography:  The Man and His Wonderful Shaving Device— King C. Gillette by Russell Adams — (from the flyleaf of the book)

“King C. Gillette had thought he might be remembered as one of history’s social and economic reformers. Instead, he recalled as the inventor of the safety razor with its disposal blade and as the founder of the major American corporation that bears his name.

When Gillette, at the time a prosperous traveling salesman, first conceived of his blade in 1895, he was already well known in radical political circles. This year before, in a book titled ‘The Human Drift,’ he has proposed s sweeping plan to reorganize the entire world as a gigantic corporation that would be owned and managed by the people. Gillette evidently had hopes that the scheme would usher in an earthly paradise, and went on to spend much of his life promoting his peculiar version of Utopia. But, perversely, the world was more interested in the clean, close safe shaves that Gillette’s razor gave than in his philosophy, so his curious economic and political notions have been all but forgotten.

‘King C. Gillette’ chronicles Gillette’s struggles to build first a better world, and then a better razor blade. It is the beguiling and entertaining story of a visionary who could, and did, practice free enterprise and preach vigorously against it with equal enthusiasm.

It is also the history of The Gillette Company, a corporation — currently ranked 150 in the Fortune 500 — whose wide range of products are the accouterments of daily life throughout the world. The company’s growth has not always been serene, and the author details both its setbacks and its successes. . . . From the glory days of the 1920s through the ruinous Depression, from the ‘Calvacade of Sports’  (Look sharp, feel sharp, be shart . . . .”) and the Super Blue Blade, through the advent of stainless steel blades, it is the story of a durable and highly competitive enterprise that has changed and prospered beyond this founder’s wildest dreams.”


Author:  “The Human Drift” – 1894 — “We are rapidly nearing the most critical period in the history of this country,” Gillette wrote, adding that the next twenty years would witness either disaster or the triumph of reason . . . . but something had happened to the leader’s enthusiasm; if it had not been blunted by the razor idea, it had at least been divided and diluted.” — pgs 4, 24


The Birth Of The Idea:

“One early spring morning while in the midst of shaving, his face well slathered with warm soap, he had conceived the disposable razor blade.”– Admas – pg.6

Gillette was a traveling salesman — “But there was something that set Gillette apart from his fellow travelers.  He didn’t sell hardware just to make a living — he genuinely enjoyed tinkering with metal products, and soon had some patents to prove it.  In 1879 he patented a combination bushing and valve for water taps, and four years later took out a patent for a much-refined version of the device, setting up with his brother George a short-lived Gillette Tap Valve & Faucet Company to exploit it/.  In early 1889, he and George were granted patents for two types of conduits for electrical cables . . . . Much later, he would say of his early inventions that they ‘made money for others, but seldom for myself, for I was unfortunately in a situation not having much time and little money with which to promote my inventions or place them on the market.” – Adams – pg 17


“What did shaving look like as King Gillette set out to revolutionize it? Gillette himself dated the conception of his invention to 1895, so turn to the 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog to see a snapshot of the shaving market. . . . Thirty-six different razors were offered. Thirty-five of these were of the straight razor variety. ” — Randall Picker


King Gillette changed the “face of America,” and his success was built on the word “safety.” 

The desire for safety became so strong that sales dramatically increased in three years.  


Key Illustrative Thoughts:

• safety
• building a better razor replaced the dream of building a better world
• He didn’t just sell hardware to make a living.  He genuinely enjoyed it
• the desire for “safety” launches a business
• the Utopia which never happened
• changing the face of America, but not the condition of the world
• changing the face of American, midst WWI
• “the world was more interested in the clean, close safe shaves that Gillette’s razor gave than in his philosophy.”
• the beginning of the disposable age
• selling blades, not razors
• Utopia gives way to money and success
• We made a mistake!

Other Information & Links:

“Born in 1855, King Camp Gillette was a 40-year-old salesman for Crown Cork & Seal, the author of an anti-capitalist tract called The Human Drift and a failed inventor when he had the epiphany that would rewrite economy textbooks worldwide. He was standing before his mirror, ready to shave, when he realized that the Star razor in his hand was useless. “It was not only dull,” Gillette would write later, according to his biographer Tim Dowling, “but it was beyond the point of successful stropping, and it needed honing. As I stood there with the razor in my hand, my eyes resting on it as lightly as a bird settling down on its nest, the Gillette razor was born.”


“In his 2009 business bestseller, Free, Chris Anderson turns early to the story of King Gillette’s invention: “By selling cheaply to partners who would give away the razors, which were useless by themselves, he was creating demand for disposable blades. … Gillette made its real profit from the high margin on the blades.”2 Anderson closes the book with a coda and returns to Gillette: “Just as King Gillette’s free razors only made sense when paired with expensive blades, so will today’s Web entrepreneurs have to invent not just products that people love but also those that they will pay for.” The razors-and-blades strategy is a simple one: sacrifice returns— maybe even lose money—on the razor handle but make boatloads of profits on the blades. Razor handles are useless without blades, and so razor makers had no reason to fear that customers would take free handles and never appear again.” — from “The Razors-and-Blades Myth(s)” by Randal C. Picker

Gillette we made a mistake

Click to access 532-rcp-razors.pdf

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