It’s quite possible you have not heard about Frederick, Richard, and Otto Kampfe despite their innovations and success in the shaving industry. The three brothers immigrated to the United States from Saxony Germany. The two youngest brothers immigrated in 1872, shortly after the end of the Franco-Prussian war. It is not known when the oldest brother, Frederick, immigrated to the United States. It’s possible that at the time the brother immigrated that they had already spent several years as apprentice cutlers in Germany. After coming to the United States, they settled in New York City and started a cutlery business.
In May of 1880, Frederick and Otto applied for a patent for a “new and useful improvements in safety-razors.” This is widely accepted as the first use of the term “safety-razor. Trademarks filed in 1903 use the Star name and symbol and claim the Kampfe brothers began manufacturing the Star safety razor in 1875 “in a one-room stop in New York City.” However, by 1899 they occupied a space at 8-10-12 Reade St. An advertisement from 1911 for Kampfe stated: “The Star…has been made and used for thirty-six years. We were expert cutlery manufacturers before we invented the safety razor.” This would imply that the razor was first made in 1875 and some collectors have noted that early Kampfe safety razors had an 1875 date near or on the top part of the handle.
The Star razor was very successful. In March of 1887, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. described a useful gift in an article that was published in Atlantic magazine. He wrote: “This little affair had a blade only an inch and a half long by three quarters of an inch wide. It had a long slender handle, which took apart for packing, and was put together with the greatest of ease. It was, in short, a lawn-mower for the masculine growth of which the proprietor wishes to rid his countenance. The mowing operation required no glass, could be performed with almost reckless boldness, as one cannot cut himself, and in fact had become a pleasant amusement instead of an irksome task. I have never used any other means of shaving from that day to this. I was so pleased with it that I exhibited it to the distinguished tonsors of Burlington Arcade, half afraid that they would assassinate me for bringing in an innovation which bid fair to destroy their business. ... I determined to let other persons know what a convenience I had found the "Star Razor" of Messrs. Kampf [sic], of Brooklyn, New York, without fear of reproach for so doing. ... It is pure good-will to my race which leads me to commend the Star Razor to all who travel by land or by sea, as well as to all who stay at home.”
Holmes’ son became famous as a Justice of the Supreme Court and for years after Holmes Sr. had passed, Kampfe ads proclaimed, “Recommended by Oliver Wendell Holmes.”
The patent held by Kampfe expired in 1897, but the Star razor was widely copied and sold in the United States and abroad, often under the label American Model. Due to the various copies of their product, the Kampfe brothers started to advertise more frequently, often including the phrase “All Others are Spurious.” They also broadened their line to include a variety of cased sets with as many as seven blades, razors with fancy handles from rosewood or ivory, stropping devices, and other shaving accessories.
The Star blade needed to be stropped prior to each use and of course would also require the occasional honing. Due to this, the Kampfe brothers also applied for, and were granted, patents for stropping and honing devices. In fact, they ultimately possessed over 50 patents on razors and stropping devices. They even included “automatic” stroppers on their high-end razor sets. They also produced over 25 design variations to the Star wedge-blade razor
Due to the success of the Star razor, competitors were encouraged and between 1880 and 1901, over 80 safety razor patents were issued in the United States alone. The Kampfe business was ultimately acquired by the American Safety-Razor Co in about 1919.
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