March 18, 2010

Anniversary of First Electric Shaver – 1931

On this day in 1931, the first practical electric shaver went on sale.

Jacob Schick was the inventor. He served in the U.S. Army, and during the Spanish-American War was in the Philippines; he got dysentery, a disease common in the tropics.

After Schick recovered (which took a year!), the Army transferred him to Alaska—the opposite of the tropics. There Schick helped lay down a thousand miles of telegraph lines.

After retiring
from the Army, Schick explored for gold in Alaska and Canada. He hated shaving with water in the bitter cold and tried to invent a better (drier, less cold) way to shave. He came up with an electric shaver that was bulky and required two hands: one hand to hold the shaving head, and the other to hold the bulky motor, which was connected to the shaving head by a cable.

Image: National Housewares Manufacturers Association

Manufacturers didn't like his idea.

g World War I, Schick served in the Army again. After the war, he started working on his idea again. He manufactured it himself and brought it to market in 1929—just in time for the Great Depression!

Schick's razor didn't sell well. But he didn't give up. He mortgaged his house to get enough money to keep the business alive, and he finally got the motor and shaving head to the size so that the razor was handy instead of clumsy. With the entire razor-and-motor in one unit that fit comfortably in one hand, the electric razor that Schick brought out in 1931 finally began to sell...and sell, and sell.

Actually, it's almost surprising that this early razor sold as well as it did. It cost only $25—but that's like $350 in today's money! Still, customers compared that cost to the cost of blades and shaving cream and other expenses of a wet shave, and decided the price was alright.

In just 6 years, 1.5 million razors sold. Schick's “Schick” razors made him rich.

(By the way, Schick invented
several other things in his life, before he made a hit with his electric razor.)

Do you know...?
  • How do you think astronauts shave? Remember, whiskers or hairs floating around the space station or shuttle would not be a good thing!
It turns out, most astronauts use an electrical razor because it automatically collects hairs! Find out more here.
  • How did ancient peoples shave? You've seen pictures of ancient Egyptians, right? Don't most of the men look clean-shaven? By and large, the pharaohs had skinny beards, but most men apparently shaved. What do you suppose they used for razors?
According to the "Tour Egypt Net" website, early shaving tools were sharp stone blades set into wooden handles. Later, Egyptians learned how to make copper razors, and in the Middle Kingdom, they began to use razors made of bronze. Barbers also used pumice stones to rub short hairs off and exfoliate and smooth skin.

Apparently fine barbers lived in the homes of the very wealthy; other barbers made house calls to shave clients with moderate wealth and set up outdoors salons, of sorts, to shave lower-class customers.

Now, about those skinny beards on the pharaohs—turns out, they were fake beards that were tied on as a sign of manliness! Hatshepsut, who was one of very few female pharaohs, tied on a fake beard, too.

It's not so strange that rulers used fake beards on carefully shaved chins—because it turns out there was a lot of “fake” about Ancient Egyptian hair. Many men and women shaved their heads and then wore wigs. This was partly to achieve coolness in the hot Egyptian temperatures and partly had to do with cleanliness and avoidance of lice.

The idea of cleanliness going along with lack of hair got taken to extremes with the priesthood, whose members apparently even shaved their eyebrows! By eliminating almost all body and facial hair, Ancient Egyptians were probably trying to separate themselves from both hairy animals and foreigners, who they thought uncouth in their full mustaches and beards.
What about those who DON'T shave?

Can you name these bearded men?












ANSWERS: 1.Confucius 2.Abraham Lincoln 3.Santa Claus 4.Galileo 5.Charles Darwin 6.Shakespeare 7.Aristotle 8.W.E.B.Dubois 9.Vincent Van Gogh 10.Frederick Douglass 11.Jack Sparrow

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