Jean-Jacques Perretis regarded as the inventor of the first safe razor that would not accidentally cause serious injury to your face.
From about 1600 until the 1900s, when the disposable safety razor was introduced, the most common shaving implement was the straight razor. It was capable of cutting a man’s throat and was easily employed as a murder weapon or means of committing suicide. Not surprisingly, it was commonly called a ‘cut throat’ razor.
The straight razor consists of a blade that pivots on a pin attached to the top of a handle. This allows the blade to be folded – edge first -into the handle when it is not being used. It needed to be regularly sharpened and required a skilled hand to use it properly. For those reasons, the local barber was the main place where men went for a shave, as barbers were specially trained to use a straight razor.
Perret was a master cutler who had a detailed knowledge of the science of steel making. Based in Paris, 1769 he published a treatise called ‘Pogonotomie, or The Art of Shaving Oneself’ (Pogonotomie, au L’Art D’Apprende a se Raser Sol-Meme).
This includes a description of a rasoir a rabot (razor with plane) that he invented in 1762 after seeing a carpenter’s plane in action. Perret’s idea was to sheath the blade of a straight razor with an L-shaped wooden sleeve, so that only the cutting edge of the blade was visible. This made it easier for more people to safely shave, and many European manufacturers subsequently copied his idea.
Gillette’s disposable blade
King Camp Gillette was an American travelling salesman who found it time-consuming to sharpen his cut-throat razor on a leather strop. He thought it was wasteful to have a large and dangerous blade, when you could make a safe one to suit the size of a man’s face. Alongside engineer William Emery Nickerson, Gillette produced a double-sided razor blade that fitted in a holder mounted on a handle.
The blades were made of ultra-thin carbon steel and Gillette guaranteed they could be used for 20 shaves. Their cheapness and disposability meant that stropping was a thing of the past, and Gillette knew that he would make a fortune from selling the replacement packs of blades. His razor was patented in 1901 and went on sale in 1904.
Evolution of the close shave
Prehistoric period – Prehistoric man used sharpened flint stones and even sharks’ teeth to shave his hair. He also used two seashells as tweezers to pull out facial hair.
Ancient Egypt – In the Early Dynastic Period (3150 -2686BC) ancient Egyptians used sharpened stones on handles for shaving. Later, bronze and copper razors were used by barbers to shave military men, the aristocracy and the public.
Cast steel – The straight razor was a development from earlier razors – it improved when constructed with crucible or cast steel. Benjamin Huntsman invented this steel in Sheffield in 1740.
Disposable razors – Since 1904, disposable razors have dominated the market. In 1974, the completely disposable plastic razor was introduced. Now, disposable razors or those with disposable shaver heads containing two or more blades are the norm.
The electric shaver – Jacob Schick patented a handheld electric shaver in 1923. With the development of smaller and more powerful electric motors in the late-Thirties, they found a growing market.
Growing – The average human male grows 25,000 hairs on his face in the space of 24 hours. They will grow about half a millimeter in a day and 13mm in a month.
Genetic – Genetic factors determine the length, texture, colour and growth patterns of facial hair. Another factor that plays a part in hair growth is hormones.
Tug of war – Legendary King Alexander the Great ordered his soldiers to shave, as he feared that in battle the enemy could easily grab their beards and kill them.
Plucking – The great Roman ruler Julius Caesar had his facial hairs pulled out one by one by tweezers, rather than trust anyone to use a razor on his throat.
Wet and dry – When put under a microscope and examined, a wet razor shave looks much smoother than a dry shave carried out by an electric shaver.