Shaving can be traced back to prehistoric times when early man first started to pull hairs from his face. In the following centuries various tools were employed to scrape hair from the faces and bodies of both men and woman – a lot of the methods seem very painful!
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the art of shaving became technical with the advent of the industrial revolution when men learned how to harden and work steel.
The evidence for shaving in prehistoric times comes from cave paintings which show that two sea shells working in a pincer movement were used as tweezers to pluck the facial hairs. Ouch!
One reason for this early procedure was to minimize the breeding grounds for lice, fleas and small rodents whilst another was to eliminate the beard as a hand-hold during combat. Also, early man found it nearly impossible to eat without doing some trimming. Further, being of a superstitious nature, man associated a heavily bearded man with old age and death - that was a man nearing the end of his life. Somewhere along the line, vanity entered the picture.
Flint blades were used as far back as 30,000 BC to scrape the hair from the face.
Copper razors were discovered in India and Egypt dating back to 3,000 BC.
Various other tools and creams or potions were used over the next millennia and in 500 BC barber shops were seen in Rome where the barbers, or tonsors as they were called, used iron razors.
Women resorted to using a lamp to remove their leg hairs as well as using razors, pumice stones, tweezers and creams.
Up to 100 AD the Greeks and Romans continued to shave face and head, some say for hygiene reasons so that lice and other such nasties could not use the hair as a breeding ground. In the military shaving the head and face prevented the enemy from using the hair as handholds.
Then Emperor Hadrian decided to make beards fashionable.
The trend for ladies in the years 476-1270 AD was to remove (painfully) all hair from the eyebrows, eyelashes, temples and necks in order to look chic.
In the Twelfth Century radical changes were made in the way many societies dress and groom. In the beginning, French men are wearing non-stop beards, but by the close of the century, almost all chins were clean-shaven.
In the mid to late 1700’s both men and women remove all hair from the forehead to wear artificial press-on mouse skin eyebrows.
French barber JEAN-JACQUES PERRET wrote what is believed to be the first book on shaving. La Pogonotomie or the “Art of Learning to Shave Oneself” gave information on razors and other shaving products including the first safety razor. The PERRET RAZOR is actually manufactured, which is an L-shaped wooden guard that holds a razor blade in place. This will prevent one from cutting too deeply into their skin. Still, it lacks the real "safety" capabilities that everyone wants and needs, and therefore is not considered to be the first true safety razor. This is, however, the beginning of the safety razor’s evolution.
In Sheffield, England, in the 18th – 19th century straight steel razors were produced, and remained in demand until the mid 1800s. The bad news was that these razors become dull quickly, so they have to be honed and stropped frequently in order to use over and over.
A significant invention was made by an Englishman, William Henson, in 1847 who made the “hoe type” razor with the blade perpendicular to the handle, just like a garden tool.
This grip provided for greater manageability and became an overnight success.Shaving soaps and after shave lotions made from cherry laurel water appeared in the late 1800’s.
Also, around this time in the US a patent for the first safety razor was filed by the Kampfe brothers. This featured a wire skin guard along one side of the razor’s edge. Only one side of the actual blade is used which has to be removed often for sharpening.
This was the best available shaving method on the market that won’t cut a user, like straight steel razors. Blades then are manufactured by forging, which require frequent special sharpening.
Also at this time in the US, a name that will remain forever associated with shaving was born. King Camp GILLETTE originated the disposable razor blade. In 1901 he and William Nickerson modified the safety razor by manufacturing a double-edged blade that is disposable and replaceable. This became a ‘T’-shaped razor which opens at the top so the user can insert a new blade after tossing out its dull, used predecessor.
This Gillette invention soon flooded the market and continual, successful modifications have ensured that they remain a major force in today.
In 1910 an American, Willis G Hockey, received a patent for the first type of electric shaver. The “wind up safety razor” incorporated a wind-up-by-hand flywheel that operated for a short period of time before being needed to be wound up again.
In 1915 the Wilkinson Sword Company, a manufacturer of razor blades for men, launched a campaign to encourage women to shave their armpits. This was based on the premise that it was both unhygienic and unfeminine to keep underarm hair.
Another America in 1921, Lt. Col. Jacob Schick invents a new type of razor called the ‘magazine repeating razor’, which has replacement razor blades stored inside its handle. Blades for this razor were purchased in clips, which were inserted with ease into the razor. Schick also begins to develop his 'injector razor', which would become an extremely popular shaver in the years to come.
In 1927 the same Colonel invents the World’s first electric dry shaver, with oscillating blades. This became available for purchase by the public in 1929 but did not meet with much enthusiasm.
The Philips Company, of Philishave fame, produced electric razors in the years 1929 – 1948 obtaining no less than 136 patents. During the war years Philishave marketed the first double headed electric razor.
GILLETTE launched safety razors with long lasting stainless steel blades in 1904. Later, other inexpensive injector-type cartridges and disposable razors become available.
Disposable razors, which can neither be sharpened nor replaced, hit the market for both men and women in the 60’s and 70’s. Numerous manufacturers economically design them in simple shapes, which make them inexpensive to produce and sell. While the razors may be cheap the quality of the shave has suffered.
We can remember the advert in 1978, in which Victor Kiam decides that his Remington electric shaver is soooo cool, he buys the whole company.
Today's manufacturers are constantly developing razors with improved edges, smoother coatings together with a wide range of creams, soaps gels and brushes and other products to ensure that the shavers of today have never had it so good. The rest is History!
Today men are going back to the traditional safety razor with a single, flat sharp blade, somtimes the new ways simply cannot match the traditional ways.
Long live the safety razor!