Electric razor

The highly educated engineer who also wanted to be a crazy inventor

Alexandre 'Sacha' Horowitz (Antwerp, March 24, 1904 – Zug, Switzerland, June 18, 1982)

In addition to light bulbs, the Philips factories in Eindhoven mainly marketed radio sets in the 1930s. Already in 1932 the millionth copy was shipped.

A Philips delegation that visited RCA (Radio Corporation of America) at Rockefeller Center in New York in 1936 included the promising young engineer Alexandre Horowitz.

Despite the crisis, RCA was a thriving company at the time, pouring millions of dollars into the development of television, among other things. Undoubtedly an inspiring place for the Philips engineers.

In the boardroom, Horowitz saw a wall saying that read, "The wise man said it couldn't be done, but the poor fool who didn't know, simply did it." (Roughly translated: 'The wise man said this couldn't be done, but the poor fool who didn't know just did it.') She struck the young engineer like a thunderbolt; the sentence said exactly what he felt.

In 1959 the motto was given in his speech at the acceptance of his professorship, and in 1974, at the age of seventy, he revisited it in his valedictory lecture.

Throughout his life, Horowitz was the two at the same time, the learned engineer with two diplomas from Delft University of Technology and the crazy inventor who wrote 135 patents to his name.

Alexandre 'Sacha' Horowitz was born in Antwerp in 1904 as the son of a Jewish-Russian diamond trader who had married in Antwerp in 1895. The family spoke French, hence the French spelling of his first name.

In 1914 the German army invaded Belgium and the Horowitz family, like many Belgians, fled to the Netherlands. It settled in Amsterdam, that other major diamond center.

The young Horowitz studied mechanical engineering and electrical engineering at TU Delft and joined Philips in Eindhoven in 1927. Research and development was his assignment.

For the radio, the success product of those days, he developed a new rotary switch - a rotating wavelength switch - which served until the 1950s. Horowitz had to be there when a Philips delegation visited the RCA laboratories in 1936.

In the crisis decade of the 1930s, Philips needed new products. The young engineers were amazed in the States. And they discovered, among other things, Jacob Schick's electric razor (from 1929), a machine with back-and-forth cutting blades.

In 1937, a New York executive returned with an entire case of it. It was Horowitz who thought that rotating blades could provide a better shave.

According to tradition, Anton Philips, the founder, in 1937, when he heard that a dry shaving machine was being worked on in the laboratory, said: 'That is nonsense. I didn't build for that, for a barber shop.'

However, Philips' commercial department was guided by the success in the US and urged Horowitz to continue his work. He was given an amount of 5000 guilders to make a few prototypes without attracting much attention.

He ordered the Bakelite housing from the department that had been manufacturing Bakelite radio cabinets since 1923. Incidentally, Philips gave the bakelite its own name: 'philite', by analogy with 'bakelite'.

With the bicycle dynamo in mind, Horowitz rolled up the existing device and fitted it with a rotating cutting blade. The result was named 'steel beard'; it had one head and was rod-shaped. The production of the first machines dates from March 9, 1939.

Five days later, Philips had them tested at the Spring Fair in Utrecht. She called on the men to come to the fair unshaven and shave electrically. Many Dutch men accepted the proposal, the excitement was great. But World War II was in the air.

The way in which the Jewish Horowitz family survived World War II unscathed is a different story.

Namely, thanks to documents written by the Amstelveen doctor and anthropologist Arie de Froe, who showed with measurements of noses and skulls that some Jews were not Jews at all. With a well-developed fake theory, he cheated the German occupiers with their own racial doctrine.

In this way he saved the lives of many Jews. Posthumously, de Froe was also officially honored for this in 2006.

In 1948, the well-known industrial designer Raymond Loewy transformed the device into the Egg, an elegant, egg-shaped device that would conquer the world under the name Philishave. That same year, Sacha Horowitz left Philips behind after twenty years of loyal service.

Maybe not with slamming doors, but still. According to a source, because no one at Philips was listening to his new ideas, which created friction with the leadership.

He himself says in one of his speeches to several Philips directors: 'When I later preferred to go my own way, you respected this and the relationship has remained good.'

Early Philishave advertisements

In 1948 he and others founded Polynorm NV, which focused on metal quick construction for private homes. Just after the war, there was a shortage of both homes and construction workers in the Netherlands, and you didn't even need masons, plasterers or painters for those 'Meccano houses'.

Polynorm started from a metal skeleton on which concrete exterior facade panels were mounted with bolts, screws and clamps. The construction company used wood, cement and asbestos for the finishing.
Sacha Horowitz built houses 'like automobiles'. About a thousand are said to have been built in the whole of the Netherlands. In Eindhoven, in 1950, Philips commissioned the working-class neighborhood Lievendaal, with 212 homes. They would not be scrapped until 2006.

By 1953, however, it became apparent that part of the process might be useful for factory halls, but not profitable for private homes.

That same year, Horowitz founded Multinorm, an engineering firm that developed agricultural tools, household appliances and production machines, among other things. CCM (Centre for Concepts in Mechatronics) dates back to 1969, which still exists and employs just under a hundred engineers.

It is not easy to give an idea of what emerged from those centers of Horowitz and continues to emerge.

The Vicon spading machine, for example, a tractor-driven machine where the spades mounted on a rotor rotate as if spading by hand. In case the soil is too heavy to be plowed up classically.

They are still produced today.

Or his contribution to the DAF Variomatic, the automatic transmission that replaced the classic gearbox and was devised by Hub van Doorne, the founder of the DAF car factories. At its core was a rubber V-belt.

Horowitz developed a steel belt variant for this in 1970, which has been used in the automatic versions in many car models around the world. But also a machine to industrially produce cotton swabs was not too bad for him.

A crane that could work stably at sea, an improved Wankel engine, or was it a sterling engine?

At the same time, from 1959 to 1974, he was also a professor of mechanical engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology.

In his speech on assuming office, he speaks at length about Thomas Edison and his statement that invention requires 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

He spoke at length about the relationship between artist and inventor: "The work of both requires a creative nonconformist mindset." 'Moreover, if you have sufficient imagination, combination and perseverance, and also the necessary fighting spirit, you will be able to practice inventing and experience the special joy that this creative activity can give,' he told his students.

In his valedictory lecture fifteen years later, he said: 'The true inventor will continue to think about his problems outside the actual work situation.

In particular, musing between being awake and sleeping can give rise to solutions, most of which are useless, but a few turn out to be original and good on closer examination.'
Statements that give a good idea of how he saw himself. Horowitz encouraged all his employees to think along: 'He saw almost everything positively, also in ordinary life', according to one of his sons.

In June 1982 Sacha Horowitz died during a business trip in Switzerland. He was then 78. The Dutch physicist, writer and politician Jan Terlouw, married to a niece of his, wrote on his death: 'He was a very happy man.

A technical genius, who enjoyed his genius, who proliferated with it, who cherished it. A much-loved person too… It's a pity he's gone, but few in this vale of tears have lived as happy a life as he did.'

In 2005, Philips announced that the 500 millionth copy of the electric razor with rotating blades had left the production line.

Product placement

Shortly after Philips launched the twin-head razors and wanted to become number one in the US market, the moviegoer saw famous actors in popular movies shave with Philishaves (in the US with the brand name Norelco).

In The Long Wait (1954), based on a book by Mickey Spillane, protagonist Anthony Quinn shaves for a long time

Product placement: Anthony Quinn shaves with Norelco (Philishave in the US) in The Long Wait. with an egg.

With an image of Quinn shaving, Philips announced the film: 'See Anthony Quinn use the new Norelco Double-Header Electric Shaver in The Long Wait.' As if today a car brand were to advertise with the text: 'See what the new Ford looks like in the movie X by X in which X drives around with the new model.'

Other 'dry shaving films' included Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly; and Sabrina (1954) by Billy Wilder starring Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn.

On the other hand, well-known actors also appeared in Philips commercials, such as Buster Keaton. The dry shaver in 1950s film is undoubtedly an early form of product placement.

The wise man and the fool

The incantation that accompanied Horowitz throughout his life is a somewhat less common Japanese Zen Buddhist incantation of the genre: 'The wise man says…'.

Originally she is even more concise and powerful: 'The wise man says: “This cannot be done.” Then the fool came and he did it.'

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