1904: King C. Gillette Patents The Gillette Razor Blade

By Karen Harris

Gillette razor and packaging, circa 1930s. (IgniteSMA/Wikimedia Commons)

King C. Gillette's parents must have had high hopes when they named him, and fortunately, he lived up to the hype, becoming a wealthy entrepreneur and household name. Gillette didn't invent the shaving razor, but he did create a unique model and business plan that turned into a highly successful shaving empire.

King Gillette

At the end of the 19th century, shaving was a rather barbaric process, requiring a straight-edged razor that had to be constantly sharpened with a leather strap. Some inventors tinkered with prototypes for safety razors, but King Gillette emerged at the top with a design that didn't require constant sharpening—because it was instead thrown awayBefore entering the shaving business, Gillette worked as a traveling salesman for the Crown Cork and Seal Company, whose most profitable product was the disposable bottle cap, and one day, after finding his razor had dulled, he was struck with the idea for a similarly disposable—and profitable—razor blade.

King Camp Gillette. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

The Best A Man Can Get

After a series of trial-and-error experiments, Gillette developed a method of stamping thin, sharp razor blades from sheets of inexpensive steel for mass production. On November 15, 1904, he patented his designbut the key to Gillette's success was his revolutionary loss leader business plan. Gillette reeled in customers by selling his razors for far less than the cost of manufacturing them, but the blades, which they were forced to keep replacing, cost next to nothing to produce, which meant he could mark them up astronomically.

Gillette's competitors were quick to copy his business model, but he had another trick up his sleeve: celebrity endorsement marketing. Gillette tapped some of the top professional athletes of the day, including baseball player Honus Wagner, to endorse his razors. When the United States entered World War I, Gillette spied another opportunity and teamed up with the U.S. military to include his disposable razors in supplies sent to soldiers overseas. The military ordered more than three-and-a-half million Gillette razors in 1918 alone. To this day, Gillette remains a top name in the disposable razor game.

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.