The History of Electric Razors

Men have always had the need to curb their facial hair growth in some ways. Before we had good cutting edges, people would simply pluck out the hair. There’s evidence that clamshells may have been used as crude tweezers for this purpose. Something that doesn’t exactly sound fun or even effective.

Some cultures used chemicals to dissolve or remove hair, stones to rub them off, or sharp materials such as obsidian.

Metallurgy and metals such as bronze and eventually steel would make the close and precise shave a hallmark of civilization. Mankind has put in thousands of years against the problem of dealing with facial hair.

Hot Fuzz

If you look at the role of facial hair in various cultures over history it’s clear that the fuzz men have on their faces has always supported a very cut-throat history, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Having styled or cultivated facial hair has always been a status symbol, whether you were a viking or a member of the Chinese royal court; what you were able to do with your beard or the fact that you could be clean-shaven was a clear symbol of your status.

Keeping your face kempt was always something that took skill and money. Sharp cutting tools have been high-tech and valuable objects. If you had access to a steel weapon, for example, you could maintain a clean shave not available to peasants.

In the latter centuries and decades a professional shave with a straight razor under the hands of a trained barber were reserved for the upper-middle class or higher.

Mechanical Men

The industrial revolution and the advent of home electric appliances made life less of a drudge. Inevitably, personal grooming was not going to be left untouched by this revolution.

In 1930 Jacob Schick filed a patent for the first ever electric razor. The first ever electric dry shaver. Schick was driven by a rather weird belief. Apparently he thought that if a man were to shave every day on a regular basis, he could live to be well over a century. It seems, however, that this didn’t work out so well for Jacob, who died a mere seven years later at age 59.

Like most first-generation products, Schick’s first model was pretty terrible and did not become very popular. It was a pretty unwieldy thing to use and could only be operated by using both hands. Eventually Schick would get the whole mechanism into a single device that could be used with one hand. He also made it cheap enough so that average people could afford it. This was successful enough to sustain the company and make it good profits. By the year of Schick’s death over 1.5 million units had been sold.

While the Schick company is still around today and doing very well, it was actually Remington that did the most development immediately following the patenting. In 1937 the Remington shaving brand came to the fore, alongside the company’s existing firearm business.

Foiled

Remington was the company to bring the foil to market with their close shaver. This design adds a little screen over the blades, which until then had been exposed directly to the skin. This made electric shaving much more comfortable and safe compared not only to electric shavers from before, but to straight razors.

Rotary Dial

It was actually a researcher from the German Philips company that gave us the rotary shaver. Even though foil shavers are still considered the device that closest approximates a razor’s shave, rotary shavers were affordable and effective, doing their part to make the electric razor successful.

Ever since rotary shavers hit the market in 1939, the two technologies have vied against each other. To this day, although they make all kinds of razors, Philips is still synonymous with the rotary design. Likewise, Remington is still best known for foil shaving.

Getting Wet

Given that these were relatively crude devices that were fed from early mains electricity, it’s no surprise that the first razors were only meant for dry shaving. Even today in the 21st century we still haven’t made electric devices universally waterproof.

Wet shaves are, however, generally superior, and if the electric razor was going to really compete with the venerable straight razor or even cheap safety razors, it was going to have to provide the option of a wet shave. Unbelievably, it took until the early 2000s before waterproofing was ready for the mass market.

So today we have razors that can be rinsed and used with shaving creams and gels. For a large part of the electric razor’s history, however, you had to make do with special moisturizers that helped the skin deal with this new way of shaving that lifted and cut hairs.

Free as a Bird

Today most electric shavers are cordless, battery-operated devices. This seems like such an obvious feature that it is hard to imagine that in the beginning the only option you would have was a corded model.

We first started seeing battery-powered razors in the 1950s, but of course the technology was awful at the time. They only started becoming usable and popular in the 1960s.

Remington was still at the forefront when it came to these developments. They not only brought battery power to razors, but rechargeable batteries. Even today, disposable batteries quickly become unaffordable, so making them rechargeable early-on was a revolution of sorts.

In general, battery power solved the main drawback of electric razors in that they were not portable. If you traveled at all they weren’t really an option, but batteries made it possible for businessmen and other frequent travelers to keep a clean shave wherever they went without having to pack a whole bathroom.

Until only recently, battery power has still been a bit of a pain. The way it all worked meant that the voltage would drop over time and as the battery depleted the razor would become slower and weaker. Modern batteries don’t make the blades slow down until they are empty, maintaining the voltage until the end.

Heads Up

In the late 1960s rotary shavers got a kick in the pants with the introduction of a third rotary head. Until that point rotary shavers only had two heads. Today the triple-head design is iconic and the two-head shavers are the outliers. It’s mostly travel shavers that still use this design, because it is more compact.

The triple head design would become even better in the early 90s when better technology allowed for a flexible head that would follow the curve of the skin. This helped rotary shavers catch up to the closeness that was possible using a foil shaver, which was at the time better at following the contours of the skin. Of course, floating heads are now common for both types of razor.

The Present

Today electric razors are affordable, convenient, easy on the skin, and rival manual razors in the closeness of the shave, getting down to as little as 0.5mm. The future is anyone’s guess, but maybe it will involve lasers or something.

Reviews Of The Top Shavers, Clippers, & Beard Trimmers