Two Gillette Blue Blades from 1962. (Image courtesy Mr. Razor)

Gillette Blue Blades, 1962. (Image courtesy Mr. Razor)

I was walking on the beach not long ago and came across a sight not entirely uncommon in Southern California – a pile of trash. Scattered amongst this little hill of debris situated along the foamy line where surf meets sand, was: A plastic lighter, an empty Dasani water bottle and a Gillette disposable razor. Further down the beach lay a Bic ballpoint pen. Now, how is it that both Gillette and Bic, who’ve won over consumers with the offering of cheap lighters, razors and pens, keep us convinced that plastic is the material of choice? When did men’s little personal effects become so cheap, so… disposable?

My dad told me his father used one of those classic steel razors rarely seen in bathrooms today. It was a Gillette safety razor, the kind that used inexpensive double-edged blades and had been around in some form or another since the beginning of the 20th century. I can still remember seeing it sitting on the sink: beautiful, simple and functional in the way mechanical objects often are, with its two hinged doors that opened like some mechanical flower to reveal the razor.

Combination set from the Gillette catalog, 1914. (Image courtesy Razor Archive)

Combination set from the Gillette 1914 catalog. (Image courtesy Razor Archive)

When he first bought it, it took carbon steel blades (that had to be cleaned with alcohol so that they wouldn’t rust), but eventually switched to stainless steel blades in the ’60s. Though few improvements were introduced in the coming years, the basic design left little to be desired in the hands of one as capable and as patient as my grandfather. For over 40 years, he spent a good 25 minutes a day shaving with that razor, making sure his skin was properly lubricated, holding it at just the right angle so as not to cut himself, and cleaning it thoroughly.  As far as I can remember, I never saw a nick on his chin.

Gilette Knack C, 1968. (Image courtesy Mr. Razor)

Gillette Knack C from 1968. (Image courtesy Mr. Razor)

My father, the scientist in the family, was much more willing to try different technologies (he was also the one with the bits of toilet paper sticking to his face). Back in the mid ’70s he used a Schick Injector, a razor that had been introduced to market 50 years earlier by U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Schick (1878 – 1937).

The Schick razor was made popular by a clever engineering feat allowing the user to load a fresh new blade by inserting the end of a clip into the head. This convenience was something that appealed to my mechanical-minded father and many fathers like him. Though his razor was nowhere near as aesthetically interesting as Grandpa’s old double-edged blade version, it was still made of steel and looked much better than the plastic multi-blade razors that would come a few years later.

Schick Injector mechanism, 1961.

Schick Injector mechanism, 1961.

Nowadays, razor blades have been almost entirely replaced by cartridges and the competition between the giants, still Schick and Gillette, is fiercer than ever. Before I grew out my beard I invested a tiny fortune in one of these, a Gillette Mach 3, a razor whose name alone promised a close shave in record time. I forked over twenty bucks every few months for cartridges (eight, to be precise, three blades each, replete with rubber fins and lubricating strip). The Mach 3 did shave amazingly well, but it also created a measurable amount of trash in the form of spent cartridges and packaging.

Cheaper Blades: PAL Razor Blade advertising

Ad for PAL razor blades

There are many theories why companies like Gillette and Schick made the jump to the cartridge-type razor; one explanation was that the transition gave each company control over the blades that were used. In the ’60s, a plethora of manufacturers around the world were making blades that could fit Gillette’s razors creating intense competition, driving prices, and consequently drove profits down. Today, most brands use proprietary cartridges with each cartridge only fitting the razor of the same brand, ensuring profits remain optimal.

Still, the classic safety razor found a loyal following. Various companies continue to make very affordable versions that use double-edged blades which can still be bought for about a quarter each. But will this type of razor outlive nostalgia? Is it inferior to the modern version, with all its fancy bells and whistles? Does it simply lack practicality?

Gilette Thin Blade (B1), 1956. (Image courtesy Mr. Razor)

Gillette Thin Blade (B1), 1956. (Image courtesy Mr. Razor)

According to a number of blogs on the subject, it’s about the modern man getting reacquainted with the daily ceremonies of his masculinity, with the tools of these ceremonies, and with his own face. My grandfather seems to think as much. He, like thousands of other men throughout the world, have become the practitioners of patience in the bathroom and are more than willing to show us how to “do it right.”

FURTHER READING

Gillette Safety Razors

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14 Comments

  1. Posted February 6, 2010 at 6:20 PM | Permalink

    This is a really well researched article with some wonderful pictures. I will inform my customers about your blog. It's great to see the safety razor making a come back. I should tell you that I designed a new razor that guys feel is great for them.

  2. Posted February 7, 2010 at 6:18 AM | Permalink

    Being a beard wearer, the art of shaving is something that I often feel like I'm missing out on. It's conflicting, because in some ways I am jealous of those "getting reacquainted with the daily ceremonies of his masculinity," but at the same time am an advocate for the manliness that comes along with beard wearing. In a terribly ill-advised move, I shaved for the first time in 10+ years recently, in part due to that jealousy. Never again. I'll just have to enjoy the experience vicariously. I have always loved the accoutrements though, particularly brushes and straight razors.

  3. satbhajan
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 4:49 PM | Permalink

    I love a man who uses a real razor (even if it is just for the little areas to shape his beard). I agree that men should reacquaint themselves with their old friend masculinity. really enjoyed your article!

  4. Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:16 AM | Permalink

    Excellent Article.

    It is time to buy an affordable safety razor kit and enjoy wet shaving.

    We sell affordable Safety Razor Starter kits at http://www.SafetyRazorKit.com

    Hope it helps!

  5. Marco
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:48 AM | Permalink

    Great article and pics.

    I just made the switch to shaving with a DE safety razor. I can't believe how much more I was paying for those disposables, not to mention that the chrome razor looks cool in my bathroom counter. Most people don't realize that shaving with a DE razor doesn't require all that time, a special cream, or a brush.

    Also, I don't see why there little marketing for these razors for women.

  6. Nick
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:39 AM | Permalink

    Well said. As for myself, I take it one step further and do away with all disposable components by using a straight razor. People gawk and marvel that I'm able to wield it, but just like riding a bike or learning to cook, it just takes a little patience, and part of the joy of learning is the sting of cutting yourself the first few times. Once you've mastered it, you really feel like you've earned it.

  7. Richard
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:46 AM | Permalink

    With safety concerns, how do you dispose of the old fashioned safety razor blades now?

  8. Donna w.
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 10:20 PM | Permalink

    Is the 1961 injector available? Use it to trim sideburns. Nothing better!

  9. Carmen Chiodo
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 2:49 AM | Permalink

    I need razor for single injector blade??

  10. Neil
    Posted September 16, 2013 at 3:34 PM | Permalink

    I switched to a DE safety razor about 7 years ago. By far the best shave, next to a straight razor. Afterwards, I put rosehip seed oil on my face.

  11. Susan
    Posted November 2, 2013 at 3:58 AM | Permalink

    I have looked all over the town of Nevada where I live for some of your razor blades. My husband has used the same blades sine we got married 41 yrs ago. For some reason I can not find them in our hometown. Of course Walmart and Dollar General is all we have anymore. Is there a website where I can buy them.

  12. Michael
    Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:28 AM | Permalink

    I switched to a safety razor about a year ago and will never go back to a cartridge razor. There is definitely something about the ritual and I get a much better shave.

  13. Posted January 1, 2015 at 3:31 AM | Permalink

    Loved your point of view that man should use real razor. Can you share some of the ideas of razor which are best for shave.

  14. Posted April 18, 2015 at 3:41 AM | Permalink

    I always used to study post in news papers but now as I am a user of internet therefore from now I am using
    net for content, thanks to web.

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