From shells to the classic razor: What do you know about the History of the razor?
For some, shaving is a moment totally assimilated into their daily routine. For others, it’s a self-care ritual, an excuse to spend some time with themselves. It’s also a rite of passage: the door to adulthood, a memory we’ll treasure forever —when our father taught us how to shave.
Surely, from then on, you integrated shaving in your daily life in a more or less automatic manner —just something you don’t think too much about. But when did men start to shave? What did they use to do it? When did they go from the straight razor to the traditional razor? In the next few lines we’re going to answer all these questions. Keep reading to learn about the History of the razor!
Shaving in Prehistory
You surely think that men in Prehistory had other things to worry about instead of shaving, but they also had their ways. Thanks to cave paintings found in Ukraine, we know that men from the Ice Age used stones and shells to cut (or pull up) facial hair. Later on, they developed tools that they use for shaving as well, such as obsidian plates or silex knives, which could be considered as a precursor of straight razors.
Great civilisations also thought about their beards. For the Ancient Egyptians, personal hygiene was very important —they used pumice stones and even golden blades to groom. Besides, they were the first who “invented” shaving products, since they used ointments made with beeswax, quicklime, sugar or starch. In fact, it’s considered that the first barber shops were also found in Ancient Egypt —the first known barber in history, Meryma’at shaved the heads and the bodies of Amun’s priests.
In Rome and Greece, they also used tools similar to blades to shave. Beards could be inconvenient in combat, because the enemy could grab them, so shaving became a very common routine… One of almost life or death importance! In fact, it’s believed that Alexander the Great forced his men to shave so the beards wouldn’t be an issue during battle.
The first straight razor in the world
The real progress in the History of shaving happened in the 17th century. The first straight razor was invented in 1680 in Sheffield, England. It was made of steel; it had a handle and it was even exported to the Gulf of Finland. The first known manufacturer of straight razors as we know them today was Benjamin Huntsman. In 1740, he was manufacturing and selling straight razors with decorated handles that he produced with a process of his own, which was later adapted by the French —in France, these tools would become popular very quickly.
From the first safety razor to Gillette’s discovery
It was in fact a French who invented the first safety razor: the master cutler Jean Jacques Perret. In 1771, Perret, who had previously written a treatise about shaving, invented a straight razor that was much safer and less likely to cut (and thus its name): it was a flat model with a sort of metal guard that prevented the blade from sliding, which helped avoid lesions.
However, Perret’s model wasn’t perfect, and it was improved by King Camp Gillette, an American whose name must surely sound familiar to you. In 1n 1903, Gillette realised that he didn’t really like the straight razor: the edge ended up being too worn and not sharp enough, and he realised that it was the only thing he needed to shave: a sharp blade. Wouldn’t it be much simpler to change the blade instead of sharpening it? So that’s how Gillette invented the double-edge razor, in which you could simple change the blade when it wasn’t sharp anymore —what we nowadays know as a traditional razor!
Gillette’s razors didn’t sell too well at the beginning, but shortly after they experienced great success. The army of the United States bought a full load of them for the soldiers who were going to fight in World War I, and this is how his invention spread around the whole world. When the war was over, the Gillette Safety Razor Company, the company founded by Gillette, had sold more than 32 million blades and 4 million razors, and he was a multimillionaire.
After this, a whole market was established, with new products and improvements constantly launching. Among them, we must highlight the invention of stainless-steel blades, commercialised in the first place by the English company Wilkinson Sword. And so on, until today: we have lots of brands and different models of razors, straight razors, shavettes, blades… Surely, pre-historic men who shaved with shells could have used some of those!