Status: 02.12.2021 10:37 a.m.
US inventor King Camp Gillette applied for a patent for his “Safety Razor” 120 years ago – the modern razor blade was born. Today it is a billion dollar business for manufacturers.
It has hardly any weight, but it is a weighty invention. It’s thin and makes big profits. It is extremely popular and can also inspire fear: the razor blade.
The US businessman King Camp Gillette had the idea of a double-sided blade that – inserted into a safety razor – should revolutionize shaving. On December 2, 1901, 120 years ago today, Gillette applied for a patent for the double-sided blade. The eternally dull razor and the constant regrinding should be an end.
The secrets of the perfect wet shave: Video tutorials on the subject are viewed by millions of people on the Internet.
Bild: picture alliance / Daniel Karman
Up to five euros for a single blade
What only worked so well: Razor blades are still getting duller. According to experts, however, this is not because the cutting surface becomes more and more round over time. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the blade cracks more and more with use and therefore becomes dull.
That makes the razor blades a billion dollar business for the manufacturers Gillette, Wilkinson and Co. You can now spend up to five euros in the premium segment for a single five-fold blade. For women it is usually more expensive than for men with the same blade.
Thousands of hours to shave
The cult around the blade sometimes takes on seemingly absurd forms: There are videos on the Internet in which barbers shear and contour in stylish shops, and 1.6 million people watch them – for 50 minutes. A tutorial on how to properly wet shave has been seen by more than 3.5 million people. But razor blades can also cause horror: Psychology knows xyrophobia. It describes the fear of blades and knives – not to be confused with xylophobia, the fear of wood.
Whether in front of the mirror or in the shower – men spend an average of around 3,300 hours of their lives shaving. The desire for a hair-free, smoother house has usually been preceded by a number of decisions: wet or dry, knife or blade, clip-on or lid clamping, three-, four- or five-blade system. Before the blade existed, people used pumice stones, beeswax or tweezers to get rid of their hair.
Dispute over the patents
The first patent 120 years ago was followed by a few more at Gillette, today a brand of the US consumer goods company Procter & Gamble. In the USA alone, around 1750 patents are said to be filed. And so today’s market leader sues its competitors again and again for patent infringements.
In 2017, for example, the Düsseldorf Regional Court banned its competitor Wilkinson from producing a blade that would fit a Gillette razor. Although the patent would have expired in a few months, the market leader insisted on his rights. In every respect, Gillette has had a sharp blade for 120 years.