Safety razor

"As in a dream I saw the new razor in front of me."

King Camp Gillette (Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, December 9, 1886 – Los Angeles, October 7, 1956)

It's no secret that Willem Elsschot hated the American influence on our culture. As a one-man boycott, he refused to use American products for many years. With the exception of the Gillette razor blades, because he thought they were French in origin.

However, nothing is more American than Gillette. On the other hand, Elsschot was also somewhat right: the first Gillettes were indeed Huguenots, French Protestants from Bergerac, near Bordeaux, who had fled the persecution first to England and later to America.

King Camp Gillette's father owned a hardware store. From the age of seventeen, King worked for a variety of firms as a traveling hardware salesman in Chicago, New York, and Kansas City.

He had inventor's blood in his veins, but his ideas mainly made money for others. "I didn't have enough time and too little money to promote them or to market them," he said afterwards.

In 1891 he joined William Painter, an Irish immigrant who had made his fortune with the invention of the bottle cap. Painter advised Gillette to look for something like that bottle cap, something that a person should throw away immediately after use, a disposable item.

Gillette went through every word in a dictionary looking for utensils that could be used for such an idea. He made an alphabetical list from needles to pins, but no light bulb lit up anywhere.

Until that summer morning in 1895 when he was shaving and realized that his razor belt was worn out and that he needed to get the blade sharpened somewhere. "As in a dream I saw the new razor in front of me," he writes in his autobiography.

Immediately he wrote his wife a note saying, "I found it, our fortune is made." But he was mistaken: he would sweat water and blood for another eight years before he had his dream on the market. Because was the problem?

Rolling steel until it was so thin, so hard, flat, sharp and cheap in later life that it could be used for shaving was simply impossible. Until in 1901 he found an engineer who wanted to try it.

After years of tinkering with a machine, Gillette introduced its first blades in early 1903. The first year he sold 168 blades and 51 devices. Using aggressive advertising, he sold 12.4 million units the following year.

And 90,000 devices. "We must be the aggressor," he told his associates. “We have to stay on the offensive and drive our competitors back behind the point of our bayonet.

Our ammunition will be money for advertising.' By 1909, Gillette factories were in London, Paris and Berlin.

As World War I raged and European soldiers were hopelessly trapped in their trenches, the US government was told that many of them were dying from lack of hygiene. In 1917, the Americans also became involved in the war.

More than a million soldiers crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The government ordered 3.5 million razors and 36 million blades from Gillette in one order. The American 'boys' especially had to be clean, then they stayed healthy.

And with the returning soldiers, Gillette won a million new customers after the war.

King Camp Gillette became very rich. Part of his fortune was lost in real estate speculation, another part disappeared in the construction of huge date plantations.

To make matters worse, the elderly razor king had to watch as a competitor forced him into a merger during the Great Depression. A few days later, on July 9, 1932, he died. He barely owned a million dollars, according to a newspaper commentary.