The History of Traditional Safety Razors

Two Centuries of History of Traditional Woodworking Machines.

The history of shavers is not short.

Since the dawn of time, people’s hair and beards have been growing while looking for ways to shave them.

The Ancient Greeks used to shave to avoid looking like barbarians. Alexander the Great believed that beards were a tactical disadvantage in battle, as opponents could grab them by their beards.

The Romans loved the process of shaving and it is reported that Julius Caesar used to shave his beard with tweezers, which certainly still sounds like a step up from rubbing a pumice stone all over your face.

Young Roman men celebrated their first shave with a ritual party since it was considered the first step towards adulthood.

The novacila, a type of early shaving machine was used for shaving, while massage oils and perfumes were used to soften the facial skin.

Men have been shaving their faces for thousands of years. In the Bronze Age they used copper razors, which were often buried with them along with their weapons and jewellery.

Central American Indians used a sharp glass rock called an obsidian and even used pumice for shaving.

Throughout history, shaving has come and gone out of fashion. Sometimes it was banned for religious reasons. On the other hand, soldiers were often discouraged from growing a beard because a beard gave the enemy an advantage!

Whatever the reason, the advent of the first razor can be dated back to prehistoric times, but it wasn’t until much later, in the 18th century in Sheffield, England, that the history of traditional razors as we know it today really began.

The falsetto was truly a dangerous tool that weaponized a sharp blade that had to be used with skill. The first safety razor was invented in 1762 by a Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Perret.

He put a protective bar along one side of the blade. It looked like a small rake and prevented the blade from sliding across the skin. So, Gillette didn’t actually invent the traditional razor, but he improved it significantly.

The first traditional razor blade was forged and had to be handmade one at a time. The disposable replacement was made of metal and mass production was possible. When Gillette began to promote the traditional razor with replacement blades at the beginning of this century, it became involved in a major advertising war with its rivals who made ordinary razors.

Barbers feared losing their trade and fought against Gillette’s safe “do it yourself” method.

Early history of shavers.

An Englishman, William Henson, built the first models of traditional shavers by placing the blade at a right angle, horizontal to the handle.

In the 1700s and 1800s Sheffield was known as the cutlery capital of the world, it was also the place where the falsetto was invented.

However, these razors, although arguably better than their predecessors, were still somewhat cumbersome, expensive and difficult to use and maintain. For the most part, at that time, razors were still mainly the tool of professional barbers.

But it took a long time before traditional razors became popular.

Then, in the late 19th century, the appearance of a new type of shaver changed everything.

The first step towards a safer shave was the protection razor – which added a guard to a common razor. The first protective penknife was probably invented by French knife maker Jean-Jacques Perret around 1762. The invention was essentially a falsetto with the blade surrounded by a wooden sheath. The first razor guards had comb-like teeth and could only be inserted on one side of the falsetto in question.

The basic form of a traditional shaver was first described in a patent application in 1847 by William S. Henson who said: “the blade is at right angles to the handle and somewhat resembles the form of a hoe”.

Within this he also referred to “a serrated guard or guard” which could be fitted to both the traditional shaver in the form of a chisel and a conventional razor.

Gillette and the first commercial safety razors.

The first safety razors were introduced in the United States in 1880.

Patent No. 775,134 was granted to King C. Gillette for a “traditional razor” on November 15, 1904.

King C. Gillette was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin in 1855 and became a traveling salesman to support himself after his family’s home was destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871. His work led him to William Painter, the inventor of the bottle cap. Painter told Gillette that a successful invention was one that sold again and again to satisfied customers. Gillette took this advice to heart.

After several years of thinking about and rejecting a number of possible inventions, Gillette suddenly had a brilliant idea while shaving one morning. An entirely new traditional shaver formed in his mind – one with a safe, cheap and disposable blade. American men would no longer have to regularly send their traditional shavers for sharpening. They could throw away their old blades and reapply the new ones. Gillette’s invention would be easy to use, minimizing cuts and nicks.

These early safety razors were one-sided and looked like a tiny digger and had a steel guard along one edge to protect against cuts. Then in 1895, King C. Gillette introduced his own version of the safety razor, the main difference being the introduction of a disposable, double-sided razor blade.

Gillette blades were cheap, so cheap in fact that it was often more expensive to try to keep the blades of old safety razors than to buy new Gillette blades. At the time, Gillette could not have known that its name would be virtually synonymous with shaving. In fact, it took him nearly six years to figure out how to make the blades cheap enough to make his idea a reality, and even then, he only sold 51 razors in the first year.

However, it wasn’t long before King lived up to his name, selling hundreds of thousands of razors and blades in a single year. Interestingly, although the safety razor handles were considered expensive, he sold them at a loss. It was the blades that made his fortune. It was a genius idea, but it took another six years for Gillette’s idea to come to fruition. Technical experts told Gillette that it was impossible to produce steel hard enough, thin enough and cheap enough for commercial development of a disposable blade.

That was true until MIT graduate William Nickerson agreed to try his hand at it in 1901, and two years later, he succeeded. Production of the traditional Gillette safety razor and blade began when the Gillette Safety Razor Company started operations in South Boston. Over time, sales steadily increased. The U.S. government provided traditional Gillette razors to the entire armed forces during World War I, and over three million razors and 32 million blades were in the hands of soldiers.

By the end of the war, an entire nation had been introduced to the traditional Gillette razor. In the 1970s, Gillette began sponsoring international sporting events such as the Gillette Cricket Cup, the FIFA World Cup and Formula 1 racing. Americans loved disposable razor blades, so much so that medicine cabinets in bathrooms were often equipped with a slot to dispose of razor blades. The blades would fall through the slot and between the wall studs, which strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen, but it was convenient.

The first attested use of the term “traditional safety razor” is found in a patent application for “new and useful improvements to traditional razors,” filed in May 1880 by Frederic and Otto Kampfe of Brooklyn, New York, and issued the following month. This differed from the Henson design in the distance of the blade from the handle by interposing “a hollow metal blade base preferably having a removable handle and a flat plate in front, to which the blade is attached by a clip and rotating handle, said plate having a protective bar or teeth at its lower end, and the lower plate shall have an opening, for the purpose specified’, which is to ‘ensure a smooth passage for the blade across the skin, while the teeth or guard bar shall recede sufficiently to allow the blade to cut the beard without risk of cutting the skin of the face.


‘ The Kampfe brothers produced traditional shavers under their own name taking note of the 1880 patent and improved on the design in a series of subsequent patents. These models were manufactured under the name “Star Safety Razor”. A modern double edge blade traditional razor. A third key innovation was a traditional safety razor using a disposable double edge blade for which King Camp Gillette applied for a patent in 1901 and was granted in 1904.

Gillette made a deal to supply American troops in World War I with traditional safety razors as part of their field kits (providing a total of 3.5 million razors and 32 million blades for them).

Returning soldiers were allowed to keep this part of their equipment and therefore retained the new shaving habit. The subsequent consumer demand for replacement blades set the shaving industry on the path to its current form with Gillette as the dominant force. Prior to the introduction of the disposable blade, users of safety razors still needed to sharpen the tips of their blades. Indeed, skill was required (sharpening was often done by a professional).

Traditional single edge shavers.

The first traditional shavers used single edge blades which were essentially a 4 cm long section of metal.

Single edge razor models were developed and used alongside double-edge razors for decades. The largest manufacturers were the American Safety Razor Company with their “Ever-Ready” series and the Gem Cutlery Company with their “Gem” models.

Although these single – edge razor brands are no longer produced, they are readily available commercially as antiques and are manufactured in compatible modern designs. The blades for these are still manufactured for both shaving and technical purposes.

Schick Razors.

A second popular single edge razor design is the “Injector” developed and marketed by Schick Razors in the 1920s.

In 1935, AC&C introduced the Schick Injector Razor, a concept on which Schick held the patent.

This model uses narrow blades that are stored in an injection device with which they are inserted directly into the traditional razor, so that the user does not have to touch the blade.

The injection blade was the first to stand out from the rectangular dimensions shared by other single edge and double edge blades. The injector itself was also the first device intended to reduce the risk of injury from touching and handling the blades.

The Gillette blade dispenser released in 1947 had the same purpose.

The Eversharp Company eventually purchased the rights to the traditional razor in 1946. The Magazine Repeating Razor Company would become the Schick Safety Razor Company and would use the same concept to launch a similar product for women in 1947. Later stainless steel teflon-coated blades were introduced in 1963 for a smoother shave.

As part of the deal, Eversharp put its own name on the product, sometimes in conjunction with the Schick logo.

The narrow injector blade, as well as the shape of the injector razor, strongly influenced the corresponding details of the razors that were subsequently developed. Both injector blades and injector safety razors are still available on the market, from antique shops and new manufacturers. The injector blades have been the inspiration for a variety of specialized blades for professional use by barbers, some of which have been re-adopted for shaving with modern designs.

Until the 1960s, the blades of traditional shavers were made of plain steel. These types of blades were extremely susceptible to rust and forced users to change blades frequently. In 1962 the British company Wilkinson Sword began to sell stainless steel blades, which did not corrode nearly as quickly and could be used for longer periods of time.

Wilkinson quickly captured markets in the US, Britain and Europe.

As a result, American Safety Razor, Gillette and Schick were driven to produce stainless steel blades to compete.

Today, almost all traditional razor blades are stainless steel, although plain steel blades remain in limited production for lower-income markets.

Because Gillette already held a patent for stainless steel blades but had not gone ahead with their production by that time, the company was accused of taking advantage of customers by forcing them to buy the rust-prone blade.

Plan: Traditional shavers were originally protected by a comb-like bar that had been attached to falsettos in previous decades.
Lifespan: To maintain their sharpness, the blades can be sharpened using an old strip of gin. (they used to try this in the old days).

The blades of traditional razors are usually made of steel special for blades and razors, which is low-chromium stainless steel that can become extremely sharp, but corrodes relatively easily.

The life of a traditional razor blade can be extended by drying the blades after use. Salts from human skin also tend to corrode blades, but washing and careful drying can significantly extend their life.

Double edge safety razors

Double edge traditional razors remain a popular alternative to plastic razors with replacement heads and usually the maintenance costs are lower.

DE safety razors are still designed and produced in many countries. The best known manufacturers include Edwin Jagger, Feather, iKon, Lord, Mühle, Merkur, Weishi, with several of them producing traditional razors marketed under other brands.

Often different models of traditional shavers within a brand share the same head designs, differing mainly in colour, length, texture, material/materials and weight of handles.

Three-piece shavers generally have interchangeable handles and some companies specialise in manufacturing custom or high quality handles.

The traditional butterfly shaver uses a swivel mechanism to open the head to make changing the blade easy and convenient. Variations in razor head designs include straight safety bar, serrated comb-like bar, adjustable razors and razors with a slanted bar. The inclined bar was a widely used design in Germany, where the blade is slightly beveled and and curved along its length to have a longer cut along its length.

A major functional difference between double edge razors and modern razors with interchangeable heads is that DE razor heads are available in a wide range of aggressiveness levels (where aggressiveness is usually defined as less protection than the blade).

The Kampfe brothers, Frederick (circa 1851-1915), Richard (1853-1906) and Otto F. (1855-1932) were born in Saxony in eastern Germany. The two younger brothers, Richard and Otto, immigrated to the United States in 1872, shortly after the end of the Franco-Prussian wars. At the time they were 19 and 17 years old and had probably served several years as apprentice cutlers in Germany. It is likely that their older brother, Frederick, had already come to the United States. In any case, they settled in New York and started a cutlery business.

Considering their business success and their place in the history of traditional safety razors, very little is known about the Kampfe brothers and their business other than patents and a few inventory records. Perhaps more information will appear online at some point.

In May 1880 Frederick and Otto filed a patent application for a patent on “new and useful improvements to traditional safety shavers”. This is the first use of the term “safety razor” that I discovered. Trademarks filed in 1903 supported the use of the name and the Star symbol from June 1, 1880.

Stories written by the American Safety Razor Co. (which acquired the Kampfe business around 1919) state that the Kampfe brothers began manufacturing the traditional Star safety razor in 1875; in a one-room shop in New York City.” By 1899 they occupied space at 8-10-12 Reade St. A 1911 Kampfe advertisement stated: “The Star … has been manufactured and used for thirty-six years.

We were experts in the manufacture of cutlery before we invented the traditional safety razor.” This also means that the traditional safety razor was first manufactured in 1875. (Some collectors have noted that the first Kampfe safety razors were dated 1875 near or on the top of the handle.)

The Star used Henson’s idea of a traditional shaver as a hoe with a wedge-shaped blade, with a short blade section (4 cm long by 2 cm wide) similar to a penknife. The blade was held in place by metal clips and did not require a screw hole.

A distinctive feature was the shape of the frame or head of the traditional razor. The construction of this traditional shaver was less expensive than some complex designs that resembled a hoe which were subsequently patented by competitors.

Kampfe Project.

The 1880 patent of the Kampfe brothers expired in 1897. In order to extend the patent’s coverage, Frederick, Richard and Otto Kampfe received a 7-year design patent for the tubular handle with a star design (1894) and a 14-year design patent for the foam collection case (1897).

The traditional Star shaver was a great success. In March 1887, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. described a very useful gift of beautiful travel in an article in the Atlantic magazine (later republished as “Our Hundred Days in Europe”):

“This little machine had a blade only an inch and a half in length and three-quarters of an inch wide. It had a long thin handle, which could be dismantled, and it was possible to assemble it with the greatest ease. Shaving did not require a mirror, could be performed with almost reckless daring, as one could not cut oneself, and in fact it had become a pleasant amusement instead of a troublesome task.

I have never used any other means of shaving from that day to this. I was so pleased with it that I exposed it to the distinguished friends of the Burlington Arcade, half fearing that they would murder me for bringing a novelty that justly offered the ruin of their business. … I resolved to make known to other persons what I had found in the “Star Razor” of Messrs. Kampf, of Brooklyn, New York, without fear of doing so. …

It is sheer good will that leads me to commend Star Razor to all who travel by land or sea, and to all who stay at home.”

Holmes’ namesake son became famous as a Supreme Court Justice, and for years after O. W. Holmes Sr.’s death, Kampfe’s ads were proclaimed “Recommended by Oliver Wendell Holmes.”

Even before the first Kampfe patent expired in 1897, the traditional Star shaver was widely copied and sold in the United States and abroad and was often called the American Model. At that point the Kampfe Brothers began to advertise more frequently, including the statement “Everyone else is fake.”

They expanded their product line to include a variety of sheath sets containing up to seven blades, traditional razors with fancy handles such as rosewood or ivory, blade grinders, and shaving accessories.

The Star blade still required grinding before each use and occasional deft sanding. This generated many patents on grinding and sharpening devices. The Kampfe brothers eventually obtained over 50 patents for traditional razors and blade grinding devices, and “automatic grinding devices were included in their top razor sets. Over the years, the Kampfe brothers produced over 25 design variations of the Star Safety Razor over the years.

Competitors were encouraged by the success of the Star. Between 1880 and 1901, over 80 patents for traditional safety razors were issued in the United States alone. Gillette’s 1904 patent inspired an even greater burst of creativity regarding safety razors, but that’s another, and much longer, story.

Types of Traditional Woodworking Machines.

Below we explain and differentiate for the beginner in traditional shaving what these different types of traditional shavers mean.

Traditional safety shavers generally tend to come with different styles of shaving head which we are going to mention below.

Traditional closed-type shaving machine.

A traditional closed-type shaver is the most common traditional shaver produced today and is one of the most popular ones used by millions of traditional shaving enthusiasts around the world every day.

A closed-type razor head provides additional protection to the user by using a straight metal protection bar that runs down the length of the razor blade.

This bar may be flat or have small grooves. Its purpose is to stretch the skin just before the blade cuts the hairs. This ensures a smoother, flatter, shaving surface for the razor and thus reduces the risk of nicks or cuts in the skin from the blade.

Examples of traditional closed-type shavers can be found on our site HairMaker.Gr traditional closed-type shavers.

Who should use a traditional closed-type shaver?

A traditional closed-type shaver is ideal for all shavers, both beginners and experienced users. It is the best traditional shaver for everyday use.

You should always remember to properly prepare your face and beard before shaving. Use a soap or oil ,such as a pre shave oil for pre shave and a good quality traditional soap or traditional shaving cream to create a rich, protective lather so you can shave.

Most de safety shavers have what is known as a comb along the edge of the head.

Closed combs look like small grooves along the blade’s protective bar, while open-type combs – as the name suggests – appear as individual teeth, similar to a hair comb.

Open-type are designed to guide the beard onto the blade to more easily cut longer or thicker hair. If you shave regularly, our recommendation is a traditional closed-type shaver.

Traditional open type shaver.

Unlike the closed-type safety shaver, the open-type safety shaver has a different head design. Instead of the straight guard bar, the guard bar has a series of teeth located at the base of the machine head, i.e. below the blade. These teeth help to guide and position the beard hairs closer to the razor blade so that they can be cut more efficiently without clogging the de safety razor.

A traditional open-type razor generally tends to be slightly more aggressive than a traditional closed-type razor. Although the blade is more exposed on an open-type head, these teeth also allow a lot more foam to enter the cutting area to lubricate and protect your skin.

One of the advantages of a traditional open-type shaver is that because they shave deeper, you need fewer passes on your face to get a deep shave. Fewer passes equals less irritation to your skin. Another benefit is for men who only shave once in a while, weekly or less.

The traditional open shaver allows shaving residue, hair and lather to pass through without clogging the blade.

Who should use an open-type shaver?
Given the slightly more aggressive nature of the open-type safety razor, it is best suited to a more experienced user. However, with time and practice, you can practice to give yourself a smooth, deep shave.

The key is to spend time with your traditional razor, use short strokes and make sure you properly prep your face before shaving. Use a pre-shave soap or oil and a good quality soap or shaving cream to create a rich shaving lather.

Features of open-type safety shaver

  • More aggressive shaving
  • Teeth allow more lather to remain on the face
  • Better at pulling hair up, resulting in a closer shave.

It’s true that open-type razors can help with many of these things, but while many remain quite aggressive, many open-comb razors are now gentler and more forgiving than in the past. There are many other factors that affect the aggressiveness of your shave, such as:

  • Razor used
  • The type of razor blade used
  • Blade exposure

We often find that the difference between different open-type shavers can be much greater than the difference between an open or closed-type shaver of the same brand.

Traditional butterfly shaving machine.

The traditional butterfly (or twist) safety shaver was state of the art just before the advent of disposable razors.

Since then, this technology seems to have given way to less convenient, but easier to manufacture, technology. It’s been my long-held belief that we need to take a look back at the traditional butterfly safety razor again.

The traditional butterfly shaver (Twist To Open) was first introduced by Gillette in the 1934 Gillette Aristocrat.

Probably the best known traditional butterfly shaver, the Gillette Super Speed, was introduced in 1947 and by the late 1950s had probably achieved its peak engineering design.

The one-piece traditional shaver, often referred to as the traditional butterfly shaver, has no removable parts as it is a single piece with a simple design.

This design is called the traditional butterfly safety shaver because you twist the handle to open the head of the machine and as the head opens it looks like a butterfly with the wings open. Once the head is opened, a blade is then inserted and clamped into place. The final step is to then turn the handle in the opposite direction to close the head.

The traditional butterfly safety shaver is then ready for use.

One-piece traditional safety razors are great because they are easy to open and you don’t have to worry about dropping parts or losing a piece under the sink.

However, they are mechanical devices that have moving parts and it is possible for mechanical parts such as small hinges to break over time.

Quality made butterfly safety razors last for decades when used and cared for properly, but if you buy a traditional butterfly razor, make sure you don’t over tighten the head and put unnecessary pressure/pressure on the hinges.

Adjustable safety razors.

What is the adjustable traditional safety razors?

An adjustable traditional safety razors allows you to change the amount of blade exposure and the angle that the blade protrudes from the head of the traditional shaver. The more the blade is exposed the deeper the shave you will get.

Many users start with a high setting for the first pass and then lower the setting for further passes. Others find the exact setting that suits them best and stick to it.

  • Merkur of Germany makes two adjustable safety razors , the Futur and the Progress. The Futur benefits from a sleek, modern design, while the Progress’ design is a throwback to the 1950s.
  • Parker released the Variant range of adjustable razors two years ago, they are slightly cheaper than the Merkur Progress, but the quality is comparable.
  • In 2018, Feather of Japan introduced a DER – A Feather adjustable traditional razor with a butterfly opening, made from high quality Resin and has only two settings. It is a very good traditional shaver for an introduction to traditional shaving.
  • Rockwell Razors call their range adjustable, but in reality what they offer is a handle and head and various head base plates with different blade gaps.
  • The Rex Ambassador is made of marine grade stainless steel and offers excellent performance. Finally a compact stainless steel adjustable safety razor, what more could you want?

A good adjustable razor allows you to get the shave you need every time.

How does an adjustable shaver work?

What does an adjustable shaver adjust? There are many specifications that go into the design of a razor head, but two important ones are probably blade clearance (the distance between the blade and the razor’s base plate, between points “A” and “C” in the picture above) and blade exposure (the blade protrudes and touches the skin from the razor’s top cap, between points “A” and “B” above). Adjustments of adjustable safety razors can vary the blade gap to some extent.

The blade gap interacts with the blade exposure to create a softer or more aggressive shave.

Vintage adjustable safety shaver – a historical review.

The history of the adjustable safety shaver is interesting, but ultimately considered a minor aspect in the history of traditional shavers.

There have been very few examples of adjustable safety razors over the years. The original Gillette adjustable safety razor, the “Toggle”, evolved into a few different models. Schick (and later PAL) had a single adjustable model for the Injector blade in the 1960s and 1970s.

Merkur produced the Progress starting in the 1950s, the Futur from the 1980s, and the Merkur Vision 2000 safety adjustable shaver for a short time around the year 2000.


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