Ever wondered who invented the safety razor? Who came up with such a masterful idea? Who was the first to market and sell razors that would eventually lead to what we see today? Who invented cartridges filled with multiple blades or disposable double-edge (DE) safety razors?
When it comes to who invented the safety razor, many have contributed at different stages of its development. Does the question then become who is most worthy of having their name attributed as responsible for one of man’s best grooming inventions?
To answer this question, I will provide an overview of who contributed during each stage in history leading up to today’s multi-bladed cartridge systems or DE Safety Razors. Several individuals throughout history have been attributed as the inventor of the safety razor.
Who Invented The Safety Razor?
Let’s give you a quick answer before going into too much detail. The inventor we consider to be the one who invented the safety razor as we know it today is:
According to popular lore, the first such razor was most likely created by a French cutler Jean-Jacques Perret in 1762. The idea behind it was the joiner’s plane, which is essentially a straight razor with its blade encased in a wooden casing.
But things are not as simple! Let’s dive a bit deeper into the history of this magnificent invention.
History of the razor
There were a few stages that the evolution of razors went through to become the product that we know today.
Stage 1 – Straight Razors
Straight razors were among the first razors invented, having been around for centuries throughout history, albeit with many changes and advancements along the way.
Sheffield, in England, was the center of the cutlery business in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the first modern straight razor with decorated handles and hollow-ground blades was built.
The first superior hard steel grade, made through a unique crucible process appropriate for blade materials, was developed by British inventor Benjamin Huntsman in 1740. But it was initially rejected in England. The French eventually adopted Huntsman’s technique, albeit reluctantly due to patriotic sentiments.
The method was even slower to catch on in England, where producers were even more resistant than the French. Highly polished steel, known as Sheffield silver steel and renowned for its brilliant sheen. It is still utilized in France by Thiers Issard because it is considered higher grade steel.
Before the 20th century, straight razors were the most popular shaving style and remained so in many countries until the 1950s. In most barbershops, a collection of straight razors is prepared for use as standard. Barbers still employ them, but they use them less frequently than they used to because customers expect faster and more thorough shaves with today’s technologies.
Stage 2 – Safety Razors
The guard razor – also known as a straight safety razor – was the first step toward a safer-to-use razor, adding a protective guard to a standard straight razor. The invention was inspired by the jointer’s plane. It essentially consisted of a straight razor with its blade surrounded by a wooden sheath. Early guard razors had comb-like teeth that could only be attached to one side of the edge; the first improvements to guards were reversible guards.
William Samuel Henson’s 1847 patent application for a comb tooth guard contains the first description of a safety razor with similar dimensions to those used today. This guard, which resembles a standard hoe, may be attached to a straight razor. Or to a razor, “the cutting blade which is at right angles with the handle, and resembles somewhat the form of a common hoe.”
In 1875, the Kampfe Brothers introduced a new design with a smaller blade positioned on a handle. They were marketed as “the best available shaving technique on the market that wouldn’t cut a user, like straight steel razors.”
Types of Modern Razors
There are several types of modern razors. Some look like straight razors but are modified for safety purposes, while others use more innovative designs.
Removable-blade razors became extremely popular in the mid-20th century, and more recently, they have been partly supplanted by disposable razors. In a typically removable blade razor, one or two edges of a razor blade are sharpened and form a cutting surface. The blade is mounted on a handle slidable within an outer casing.
Modern examples include the “Mach 3” and the Gillette Sensor.
Disposable safety razors
Disposable safety razors gained market share throughout the mid-late 20th century. Modern examples of this type include the Gilette Sensor Excel. It features a single blade set at a right angle to a plastic handle scored with lines for adequate grip and easy cartridge changing.
Cartridge razors use a stacked series or “stack” of blades that resemble the earlier safety-razor style. The cartridge is replaced by pulling up on the topmost blade. Which then lifts out of the handle, similar to removing a sharpener from a pencil sharpener. The term “cartridge razor” is used to describe such multi-blade shavers. Because Gillette first introduced this mechanism in 1976 with its Atra and Sensor two-blade models, followed by the four-blade Mach3 shaving system in 1998.
The cartridges vary very little in design and are usually interchangeable between different razors of the same type (from either manufacturer). Both systems can last for about 15–20 comfortable shaves before replacement cartridges must be purchased. Some people find that their skin reacts badly to the cartridge’s lubricant strip, resulting in razor bumps.
The Electric Razor
Electric razors are also available as a form of safety razor on the market today. Most of them come with built-in motors rather than relying on the user to provide all the power, which is inconvenient for ordinary manual shaving. U.S. Army captain Jacob Schick patented the first electric shaver in 1928. Variations on his original design are still sold today under the Remington brand name. Modern shavers use rotary or oscillating blade systems designed to cut facial hair into fine stubble, which can then be wiped away or shaved off by a blade system driven by an integral motor at up to thousands of rpm. The rotary type of electric razor was first introduced by Philips in model Philishave and is now manufactured and sold by other companies.
The fundamental issue with electric shaving is that the motorized cutting blades must be very thin and lightweight; they are about as thick as a sheet of paper on many models. For this reason, such shavers work best on facial hair, which has been trimmed short enough to allow the blade to approach the skin closely. This also means that an ordinary electric shaver may not offer adequate efficiency for those with heavy or coarse whiskers.
For this reason, modern rotary-style shavers include built-in secondary motors which assist the primary engine during heavier use. These “lift” the hair and cut closer to the skin surface, while ordinary floating-head shavers do not.
There you go, now you know who invented the safety razor and how the modern razors came to be!
If you wish to find out who invented other household items around you, check out other articles on WhoInventedStuff!