Most Western men have spent a good part of their lives on the end of a shaver. But the humble shaver has come a long way since the caveman first practiced hair removal. So here follows a short history of the humble razor.
Archaeologists agree that our caveman ancestors removed hair from their faces. They base that on cave paintings and utensils found in archaeological digs. What they are not sure of is whether they did it for hygiene or just for show. In the beginning the razor was a sea-shell or a sharp flint – not the best guarantee of a smooth shave.
The first real razors were found around 3000 BC when man started to tame the science of metal working. Archaeologists have found copper razors in both Egypt and India dating from this period. Scandinavian examples, found in burial mounds, had elaborate carving and decoration. Some razors were even stored in their own custom made leather pouches.
For the period from here through to the 18th Century was a period of small variation on this basic metal blade concept. The fashion for hair removal gained and lost popularity a number of times in the period, but the practice was never lost.
In the 18th century there were two new leaps forward. The Perret Razor was developed. This was an early attempt at a safety razor. The mechanism was a wooden L-shaped case which held the blade and prevented it from cutting too deep. And in England Sheffield steel improved the cutting ability of the blade, but it was found to go dull quickly.
In 1895 a Baltimore salesman called King Gillette developed the idea of a disposable razor blade. He then joined with an engineering expert to perfect the double edged blade. The blade was able to be cut from a template rather than needing to be forged. This allowed mass production to happen. Sales in a year went from almost zero to 90, 000 shaver and 123, 000 blades.
The next leap forward had its origins in World War I. Here an American Colonel, Schick, used the concept of the repeating rifle to create a repeating razor. Razor blades were stored in the handle and could be changed automatically. He later decided to sell this idea to raise capital for his big development – the electric dry razor.
Since then developments to the two main razors have been cosmetic, designed to improve the hair removal process, but in effect just tweaks on a good idea.