To make shaving safe, comfortable and easy required a completely new concept for the shaving tool. The man who came up with it was King Gillette.
Gillette's simple goal: create a small, inexpensive metal blade that would be sharpened in a factory and thrown away when it dulled. In Patent 775134, Gillette said: "A main object of my invention is to provide a safety-razor in which the necessity of honing and stropping the blade is done away with."
In doing that, Gillette:
- Simplified shaving, by eliminating the tedium and "art" of manual sharpening.
- Replaced the dangerous straight razor with the "safety razor" - a device significantly less prone to cause injury.
- Created one of the best business models ever devised. Millions of people shaved, and those people used one of Gillette's blades every week. In making a little money off each blade, Gillette became rich.
The hardest part of the plan was sharpening the blade in a factory. It took six years of trying before Gillette and an engineer named William Nickerson worked out the process of taking thin, rolled steel, stamping it into small rectangles hard enough to hold an edge, and sharpening those edges.
The result was a blade that cost about a penny to make. Each one sold for a dime.
And the rest is history. When Proctor and Gamble bought the Gillette company in 2005, it paid more than $50 billion.
Gillette introduced his shaving system in 1901. By the end of World War I nearly two decades later, the act of shaving had been transformed in the U.S. Beards were out, with the clean-shaven look nearly required of all men.