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Sunday, 9 July 2017


Palaeolithic humans shaved off body hair with flint. The flint-maker used a rock to chip off the pieces of flint, or the flint was prepared by hitting it against a large stone set on the ground.

These early flint shaving razors were flint blades, possibly dating as far back as 30,000 BC. Though flint could provide an extremely sharp edge for shaving, it becomes dull rather quickly, so they were the first disposable shavers.

Later, hair was sometimes removed using two shells to pull the hair out or using water and a sharp tool.

Permanent shaving razors were developed around 3000 BC, thanks to the invention of metalworking.

Razor (top) and nail cutter with bone handle (bottom)  c7000 BC. By Flominator 

French barber and author Jean-Jacques Perret (1730-1784) invented the first safety razor in 1762. His device, inspired by the joiner's plane, protected the skin from all but the very edge of the blade.  Perret's design was essentially a straight razor with its blade surrounded by a wooden sleeve.

Perret wrote a book in 1769 called The Art of Learning to Shave Oneself (La Pogonotomie), which gave men advice for using various shaving products and equipment. He noted that "whether the razor is good, mediocre or bad, the sharpening stone always makes it better, correcting the imperfection of steel, and causing it to serve much longer."

The first modern straight razor complete with decorated handles and hollow ground blades was constructed in Sheffield, in England, the center of the 18th and 19th century cutlery industry.

Benjamin Huntsman produced the first superior hard steel grade, through a special crucible process, suitable for use as blade material in 1740.

Sheffield Steel razors remained in demand until the mid-1800s. Unfortunately these razors become dull quickly, so they had to be honed and stropped frequently in order to use over and over.

In 1847 English inventor William Henson invented the modern form of the razor, the 'T' shaped safety razor with the handle at right angles to the blade, improving the maneuverability. It was known as a "hoe type" razor as it resembled somewhat the form of a common hoe. The shaver was an overnight success.

Thiers Issard Fox and Rooster straight razor. The blade is made of Sheffield silver steel. By Dr.K.

While a major improvement on the previous form of safety razor, an additional improvement was needed to make safety razors common. In 1895, after several years of considering and rejecting possible inventions, American businessman King Camp Gillette had a bright idea while shaving one morning. A razor with a safe, inexpensive, and disposable blade.

It took six years for Gillette's idea to evolve into a product ready to sell. The most difficult part of development was engineering the blades, as thin, cheap steel was difficult to work and sharpen. Finally, in 1901, Gillette combined Henson's T-shaped safety razor with disposable blades, and produced the modern razor.

To sell the product, Gillette founded the American Safety Razor Company on September 28, 1901 (changing the company's name to Gillette Safety Razor Company in July 1902).

Gillette's idea was the use of the "loss leader" concept, in which the razors were sold at a loss, but the replacement blades earned a high margin and provided continuous sales. In the second year Gillette sold 90,884 razors and 123,648 blades and by 1908, the corporation had established manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada, Britain, France and Germany.

A Gillette 'Old Type' safety razor,. By Joe Haupt from USA

Straight razors eventually fell out of fashion thanks to Gillette's low prices and advertising campaigns denigrating the straight razor's effectiveness and questioning its safety.

Hair removal by women became popular as fashions changed in the 20th century. The modern concept of women shaving their armpits began with the May 1915 edition of Harper's Bazaar magazine that featured a model sporting the latest fashion. She wore a sleeveless evening gown that exposed, for the first time in fashion, her bare shoulders, and her armpits.

Wilkinson Sword is an English company founded in 1801 as George III's preferred bayonet supplier. In 1898 they started making razors for men, their first product being the 'Pall Mall' safety razor.

A young marketing executive with the Wilkinson Sword Company, who also made razor blades for men, designed a campaign to convince the women of North America that underarm hair was unhygienic and was unfeminine. Within two years, the sales of razor blades to women doubled

As hemlines rose above the ankles, women in many countries, particularly in the U.S. and Canada, started adopting the custom of removing leg hair. It was during World War II when there was a shortage of silk stockings, that it became an actual trend for women to shave their legs.

Woman shaving her legs. By Betsssssy 

The phrase "five o'clock shadow" referring to the stubbly growth that some dark-haired men acquire on their faces towards the end of the day originates from the 1930s American adverts for Gem Razors and Blades. One commercial includes the phrase "That unsightly beard growth which appears prematurely at about 5pm looks bad".

The first double-blade safety razor was produced by the American Safety Razor company in 1942.

In 1962, Wilkinson Sword introduced stainless steel razor blades. The company’s new blades made rapid gains in shares of the market, because each of the blades, though somewhat more expensive than rivals, could be used for a whole week.

The reason that Fidel Castro first grew his beard was because his supply of Gillette razors was cut off.

When astronauts first shaved in space, their weightless whiskers floated up to the ceiling. A special razor was developed to draw the whiskers in like a vacuum cleaner.

In 1992 Wilkinson Sword was brought by Warner-Lambert, owner of Schick razor brand forming Schick-Wilkinson Sword. The Schick name is used on its products in North America and Japan, and the Wilkinson Sword name in Europe.

In 2008 it was estimated that about 1.7 billion men remove facial hair, 1.3 billion of them with blade and razor. Each of those customers shaves 20,000 times in a lifetime, spending 139 24-hour days removing 27ft of facial fuzz. Seventy per cent of those 1.3 billion wet shavers.

People are finding razor blades hidden inside their walls because it was once common to throw used shaving blades thorough a slot at the back of medicine cabinets.

Source  Dictionary of Phrase & Fable Nigel Rees 

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