The humble safety razor seems to be taken for granted these days. Use of a safety razor, sometimes called a double edge (DE) razor, is going through a resurgence as of late. With the resurgence in popularity, have you ever stopped to think about the history of the safety razor?
A brief history:
A protective device for razors has been in existence since the 1700s when French cutler Jean-Jacques Perrett added a protective guard to a regular straight razor. However, the first time the word “safety razor” is known to occur was in a patent from 1880 for a razor in a contemporary configuration with a handle and featured a removeable blade (though the form predates the patent application).
The first safety razors used single-edge blades that were about 4cm long and were a segment of a straight razor blade. These safety razors required stropping before and after each use and would eventually need to be honed by a cutler. An early example of this is the Rolls razor, which has a handle, a blade, guard, case and a strop and stone on opposite sides of the case.
A single edge safety razor with a replaceable blade was popularized by the American Safety Razor Company with the “Ever-Ready” series. The Gem Cutlery Company had the “Gem” models. Both of these razors take a replaceable, single edge blade. The blades for the Ever-Ready and Gem razors look like the same blades that one would use in a paint scraper, but rest assured you can not simply go to your local hardware store, pick up some blades and expect to have a great shave with these styles of razor. These razors were being developed and produced at the same time as many double-edge safety razors.
Another form of safety razor is the “injector” that was developed by Schick Razors in the 1920s. The injector razors use a narrow blade that is stored in an injector device where a “key” is inserted directly into the razor, and then the blade is slid into the razor handle. This made it so the blade never had to be handled, thus reducing the risk of injury. The design of the injector blades and razors was an influence on the design of modern cartridge razors.
Figure 1Joe Haupt from USA - Vintage Eversharp Schick Injector Safety Razor, Circa 1946 - 1955
The safety razor was popularized in the 1900s by King C. Gillette and his invention of the double-edge safety razor. Where Gillette’s invention differed is that the blades were sharp on both sides, and disposable. The double-edge, or DE razor became a popular style during and after the first World War due to the U. S. Army issuing soldiers Gillette shaving kits.
Figure 2Gillette safety razor patent drawing By K. C. Gillette - US patent 775134, p. 1, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7144286
Whether you use a vintage Rolls type razor, GEM style razor (modern or vintage), or a double edge razor, you are using a piece of history that goes back hundreds of years. Had it not been for the innovations made dating all the way back to the 1700s, we all would be relying on a barber for our shaves, or we would all learn how to use a straight razor and hone our own edges. Thankfully for the modern resurgence in traditional wet shaving, we have the option to use any of the types of razors mentioned. What are your favorite types of razors to use?