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Safety razor

A safety razor is a razor where the skin is protected from all but the very edge of the blade.

Drawing from Gillette safety razor patent #775,134

These razors are referred to as "safety" razors as opposed to the straight razor which is sometimes referred to as a "cut-throat razor." It is often thought that the safety razor was designed to eliminate the possibility of a user being seriously injured with the open blade of the straight razor.



Prior to the first safety razor

Prior to the invention of the first safety razor most men used a straight razor. These razors are still available today from several different manufacturers, but they are not very popular, because they require more skill and attention to use properly.


The first safety razor was invented in the late 18th century by a Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Perret, who was inspired by the joiner's plane. An expert on the subject, he also wrote a book called Pogonotomy or the Art of Learning to Shave Oneself. In the late 1820s, a similar razor was made in Sheffield, England, and from the 1870s, a single-edge blade, mounted on a hoe-shaped handle, was available in Britain and Germany. One of the rarest European razors was made by "Comfort"[1] and, while this was not a true safety razor, it remains a landmark in razor design. None of these razors are considered to be true safety razors.

Described as a razor where "a small blade is held in a suitable frame and provided with a guard to prevent the edge of the razor from cutting into the skin", the first American safety razor was patented in 1880 by the Kampfe Brothers.[1] The new razor featured a wire-skin guard along the razor’s edge. Only one side of the actual blade is used to shave, and it must be removed often for sharpening.

Gillette innovation

A modern double-edged safety razor by Merkur Solingen

In 1901, the American inventor King Camp Gillette, with the assistance of William Nickerson, invented a safety razor with disposable blades. Gillette realized that a profit could be made by selling an inexpensive razor and generating a market for disposable blades. This has been called the Razor and blades business model, or a "loss leader", and has become a very common practice for a wide variety of products.To realize his idea, Gillette applied for a patent on December 3, 1901, and was awarded US patent #775,134 on November 15, 1904.[2][3]

In 1902, Gillette manufactured its first razor and began its climb with total sales of 51 razors and 168 blades. In 1904, sales skyrocketed with total sales for the new safety razor reaching 90,000 razors and 123,000 blades. Gillette's particular innovation of safety razors with disposable blades beat out competitors. Gillette's thin blade was covered by the razor housing, thus protecting the skin against deep cuts. This enabled the majority of people to shave themselves safely for the first time. Before this, shaving was done often only by family members or barbers. Other razor manufacturers—such as Wilkinson, Ever-Ready, and Valet—produced similar safety razors but with resharpenable blades. These used a new version of the old leather strop or a stropping machine which the blade was passed through.

World War I

During World War I, Gillette worked out a deal with the U.S. Armed Forces which provided Gillette safety razors and blades to every enlisted man or officer on their way to Europe as a regular part of their standard-issue gear. By the end of the war, some 3.5 million razors and 32 million blades were put into military hands, thereby converting an entire nation of men to the Gillette safety razor.

Switch to stainless steel

Gillette manufactured carbon steel blades up until the 1960s. These rusted quickly and required the user to change blades frequently. In 1965 the British company Wilkinson Sword began to sell blades made of stainless steel, which did not rust and could be used repeatedly until blunt. Wilkinson quickly captured the British and European markets, and Gillette was forced to switch its production lines to stainless steel to compete. Today the great majority of razor blades are made of stainless steel. The older carbon steel type blade is still available today and has come a long way since the invention of the stainless steel blade. The typical modern carbon steel blade does not rust if it is rinsed in alcohol after each shave. Since Gillette held the patent for the stainless blades but had not acted on it, they were accused of exploiting customers by forcing them to buy the rust-prone blade.[4]

Single edge razors

Safety razor is a name given to a wide variety of razors. A less common variety of the safety razor is the single-edge razor. This razor is so named because the blades have a single edge, rather than double edges. These razors are no longer being made, but are still available worldwide. The most common of the single-edge razors were made by the American Safety Razor Company under the name 'Ever-Ready' using its "'Radio' Blades"; the company also produced a shaving brush which it called "The Honest Brush". Another was the Gem Safety Razor Company under the name "Gem Damaskeene Razor". Some individuals today still prefer the single-edge designed razor because it yields an excellent shave and the blades are widely available today in drugstores under the company name Treet. It is possible to use common hardware-store blades for shaving purposes as well, although those who use single-edge blades recommend use of blades that are made strictly for the shaving purposes.[who?]

Modern safety razors

Cartridges introduced

Until the early 1970s, most safety razors were manufactured to accept a single, disposable razor blade. These blades were manufactured with either one or two sharpened edges, depending upon the design of the razor. This style of razor is no longer manufactured in the United States and is instead made by a number of companies such as Merkur of Germany, Treet of Pakistan, Weishi of China, and Parker of India. The blades are still being made today in a wide variety of countries including the USA, Israel, Russia, Korea, Japan, Egypt and the UK. Some of the brand names include Merkur, Feather, Polsilver, Racer, Bigben, Lord, Treet and Bic.

An innovation was the replaceable blade cartridge containing the blade which reduced the risk of the user receiving a cut from the unprotected blades used up until then. These took the form of a cartridge, with the blade fixed within a plastic enclosure of the type still in use today. In 1965 Gillette introduced the Techmatic razor which utilized a cartridge with a steel strip that could be wound forward to expose a fresh section of new blade.[5]

It is often debated why Gillette, ASR, and Schick transitioned to the cartridge type razor. One explanation for the shift was that it gave companies control over the blades that were used with their razors.[6] Before the introduction of cartridges, as many as thirty different companies world-wide were making blades that could fit Gillette's razors, thereby engendering intense competition, driving prices and, consequently, profits down. Currently there are as many as twenty companies world wide making double-edge blades, including ASR, Dinosaur, Goldcow, Bic, Merkur, Wilkinson, Gillette, Panda, Feather, Derby, Crystal, Astra, and many more. However, few of the companies who were making blades when Gillette introduced the Trac II razor are believed to still be in business today. If control could be maintained over the blade, the producer could raise prices at will, something that is not possible with safety razors. At the current time it is possible to find cartridge blades at a price of as much as $3.24 per cartridge [7] while quality double-edge blades are frequently found for as little as $.10 [8]

Twin blades

Circa 1971, Gillette introduced the Trac II, designed by Francis Dorion, which was the first mass-produced multi-blade razor available in the United States. Rather than accepting standard razor blades, this razor was fitted with a proprietary disposable blade cartridge containing two separate blades. By controlling patents on the Trac II razor, Gillette was able to assure repeat sales of its multi-blade cartridges for use in its razor. This was a natural extension of the razor-and-blades sales philosophy. Gillette was able to sell these cartridges at a higher price than the single blades, leading to higher profits. Competitors Schick and ASRCO were quick to follow this change, introducing their own multi-blade razors. The various brands were designed not to be interchangeable: each manufacturer hoped to get customers accustomed to using its own design.

Gillette subsequently introduced the Atra twin-blade razors (known as Contour in many parts of the world), which featured a pivoting razor head that the company claimed would more closely follow the shape of the face. The Trac II Plus and Atra Plus blades introduced later incorporated a "lubricating strip".

Gillette followed the Atra system with the Sensor system, which featured twin blades that were individually spring-loaded to adjust to the contours of the face. The Sensor system was later modified as the SensorExcel system.

Disposable razor

The next innovation came with the introduction of the Bic disposable razor in 1974. Instead of being a razor with a disposable blade, the entire razor was manufactured to be disposable. Gillette's response was the Good News disposable razor which was launched on the US market in 1976 before the Bic disposable was made available on that market.[2] Shortly thereafter, Gillette modified the Good News construction to add an aloe strip above the razor, resulting in the Good News Plus. The purported benefit of the aloe strip is to ease any discomfort felt on the face while shaving. Plastic disposable razors and razors with replaceable disposable blade attachments, often with two or three cutting edges (but sometimes with four and as of recently, five cutting edges), are in common use today. Still, the double-edged blade continues to have adherents, for reasons of cost (4-7 shaves from a blade costing as low as US$0.12 vs. as high as US$3.50 for one of the latest multi-blade cartridges), comfort (some find the multi-blade cartridge hard on their skin), and pleasure (those now using the double-edged blades find such shaves, usually done with a shaving brush and shaving cream or soap, to be pleasurable).

3-blade and 4-blade cartridges introduced

Gillette introduced the first triple-blade cartridge razor, the Mach3. This further escalated the "arms race" with rival Schick. This competition for the most blades on a safety razor has been often parodied, such as in a 2004 article in The Onion titled "Fuck Everything, We're Doing Five Blades", two years before the first five-blade razor was released.[9] Gillette later upgraded the Sensor system by adding a third blade to create Sensor3.

Schick responded with the Quattro, the first four-blade cartridge razor. These innovations are marketed with the message that they help consumers achieve the best shave as easily as possible. Another impetus for the sale of multiple-blade cartridges is that they have high profit margins. With manufacturers frequently updating their shaving systems, consumers can become locked into buying their proprietary cartridges, for as long as the manufacturer continues to make them.

Recent developments

The latest razor introduced by Gillette is the Gillette Fusion brand shaving system, which utilizes a five-blade cartridge razor with an additional single blade for trimming. An entire line of shaving products were introduced as part of the Fusion brand system.

Gillette has also produced powered variants of the Mach3 (M3Power, M3Power Nitro) and Fusion (Fusion Power and Fusion Power Phantom) razors. These razors accept a single AAA battery which is used to produce vibration in the razor. This action, as advertised by Gillette, was intended to raise hair up and away from the skin prior to being cut. These claims were ruled in court as "unsubstantiated and inaccurate."[10] Schick also offers a powered version of their Quattro product called the Schick Quattro Power.

In 2008 British company King of Shaves launched in the United Kingdom the 4-blade Azor, a so-called "hybrid synergy system razor" that they claimed to shave as close as rival products. The Azor uses a much simpler two-shot construction method than other system safety razors and the handle is made in the UK. The Azor has a flexible hinge instead of a pivoting head used by other razors. King of Shaves claimed that the number of blades is not strictly important, it is the sharpness and cleanliness of the blades that is important to getting a close shave. The Azor has now been launched in the USA at Duane Reade.

Difference between men's and women's razors

Woman's razor with disposable blades

Razors are generally marketed in men's and women's versions; the exact difference between the two varies from colour only for most disposable razors to completely different design principles. By and large, men's and women's razor blades and disposable razors are interchangeable; however, there is sometimes a difference in ergonomics; women's razors either have a longer handle for longer reach or a paddle-shaped handle to allow for a lengthwise grip. Specialized handle designs also exist, for shaving such areas as the head or the bikini line.

Availability today

There are many variations on these razors produced by several different manufacturers, including Merkur and Parker. Although they are no longer manufactured in the United States, single blade razors new and old are actively traded through auction sites and some shavers prefer them.

An example of adjustable safety razors, the 1961 Gillette Adjustable (commonly called the "Fatboy")

Single-blade safety razors come in a variety of configurations including the classic sandwich type, adjustable, and the Twist to Open (TTO) model. The sandwich type has a head that may be unscrewed from the body of the razor and disassembled for inserting a new blade. Adjustables may also be sandwich type, but typically have a ring below the head of the razor that may be adjusted to allow for greater or lesser blade exposure, which affects the level of aggressiveness of the shave. TTO razors require the user to twist a knob at the bottom to open butterfly doors where the blade is. The most popular TTO razor is the Gillette Super Speed. Safety razor blades are available from a variety of makers throughout the globe including the American Safety Razor Company (ASRCO), Merkur, Derby, Feather, Dorco, Treet, and Gillette.


  1. ^ US385,462 (PDF version) (1888-July-3) Frederick Kampfe, Richard Kampfe, Otto Kampfe, Safety-Razor. 
  2. ^ Sewell, Karen. "Patent for Safety Razor Issued November 15, 1904". United States Patent and Trademark Office. http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/speeches/01-53.htm. Retrieved 2007-04-27. 
  3. ^ US775,134 (PDF version) (1904-11-15) King C. Gillette, Razor. 
  4. ^ "The Blade Battle". Time magazine. 1965-01-29. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,839192,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-17. 
  5. ^ Appleby, Alan. ""Band Bladed Safety Razors"" (Webpage Article). "Alan G. Appleby". http://www.geocities.com/safetyrazors/schick/bandraz.htm. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  6. ^ ""Why Straight Razors in the 21st Century?"" (Webpage Article). Classicshaving.com. http://www.classicshaving.com/page/page/522848.htm. Retrieved 2007-04-27. 
  7. ^ ""Razor Price Example"" (Webpage Article). CVS.com. http://www.cvs.com/CVSApp/cvs/gateway/shelf?deptid=3&catid=34&subcatid=408&Brand=3556. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  8. ^ ""Red Pack Israeli DE Blades"" (Webpage Article). westcoastshaving.com. http://westcoastshaving.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=4&products_id=15. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  9. ^ "Gilette unveils 5-bladed razor," CNNMoney.com. September 14, 2005.
  10. ^ "Judge rules Gillette M3Power ads are false". Associated Press. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8074882/. Retrieved 2007-02-17.