The History Of Gillette: Innovation Across 120 Years
— Updated on 10 June 2020

The History Of Gillette: Innovation Across 120 Years

— Updated on 10 June 2020
Boss Hunting
Boss Hunting

It’s hard to imagine a world without Gillette in this day and age. The razor and personal care brand has been a staple of not just men’s grooming and lifestyle, but masculinity in general. Though as you will have probably guessed by now – that wasn’t always the case. 

The history of Gillette is a tale rich with persistence, a lasting legacy, and above all else – innovation. And like all tales of innovation, it began with nothing more than a man and his dream. The man, in this case, was King Camp Gillette (no, really). Here’s how the iconic brand has gone full circle from selling straight razors with handles to the groundbreaking Gillette Heated Razor.

The world before safety razors

The science and technology involved with shaving prior to Gillette was… crude. Back then, a close shave was only possible if the straight razor was handled by someone with a rock steady hand and the right training. These straight razors could skin a spider live. In other words, one less-than-delicate move spelt disaster. To this day, even, those required to use a straight razor are forced to practice on balloons before they can touch a human being. 

King C. Gillette obviously saw this as a convoluted way of living. The majority of men desired a close shave, yet only a select few were capable of providing one. Not to mention the time consuming and expensive process of: 

  1. Softening the face
  2. Lubricating the skin
  3. Before working away at the hair
  4. All while you pray the guy cleaning you up wasn’t going to Sweeney Todd you

The idea was simple – make a close shave affordable and convenient. More specifically, make these sharp as hell razor blades easier to use and less deadly to blunder with. In 1895, King Gillette himself started working on concept models and sketches – submitting them to the Patent Office six years later after figuring out the bare bones of what we use today. 

King Camp Gillette
King Camp Gillette

When production came around, there were only more and more challenges. This had truly never been accomplished before, and it was so far beyond the comprehension of many. So much so that MIT trained scientists – yes, from the very same MIT renowned for leading civilisation into the future – had deemed forging a blade so thin yet so strong impossible. As you now know, they were proven wrong. In 1901, the ball had started rolling.

In the first year, the Gillette razors were a little slow on the draw. Only 51 razors and 168 blades were sold. The second year was when it sincerely exploded – total sales ran up to 90,884 razors and 123,648. This was history in the making, but it was just the beginning of a greater modern revolution.

The ‘Razor & Blade’ model

Diverting just a moment from the innovation of Gillette’s products, let’s delve into something equally fascinating, if not more so – Gillette’s ingenious approach towards larger scale business success.

The ‘razor & blade’ model is something you might not have heard of but have definitely encountered. Once thought to be pioneered by Gillette – though technically only popularised by them – it remains one of the most profitable vertically integrated business models in the history of commerce. 

How does it work? A company sells a ‘razor’ (base product) and makes recurring revenue by selling ‘blades’ (ancillary products). In terms of Gillette, the razors are actually razors and the blades are actually blades… perhaps creams and what have you as well. You get the general idea.

So where exactly has the ‘razor & blade’ model been adopted and to what degrees of success? Off the top of my head, here are some of the most notable examples:

  • Apple devices (i.e. iPhones) and Apple service subscriptions (i.e. Apple Music)
  • Amazon’s Kindles and e-books
  • Kodak’s cameras and 35mm film
  • Nespresso coffee machines and their coffee pods

It’s a proven recipe for success – keep it all in the family, and watch the seeds of success grow. Sometimes, in the way of becoming the world’s first trillion dollar company as with the case of Apple. Something that Gillette were among the very first to recognise and capitalise on.

Gillette Blades

The evolution of Gillette

It almost goes without saving that the Gillette razors we know and love today have had quite the storied development since the late 19th century. For a better understanding of the game-changing product’s beat by beat evolution, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to compile an abridged timeline for your consideration.

  • 1900 – The Prototype
    King C. Gillette has the revolutionary idea of disposable blades so thin and so strong, that they were initially deemed “impossible” to forge by MIT-trained scientists. 
  • 1920 – New & Improved
    The Gillette Safety Razor Company set their sights on creating the first ever mechanical innovation in the then-young business’ history – by devising a way to let the blade angle itself more accurately and improving the grip… the first “instrument of precision.”
  • 1957 – Enter: Adjustability
    At this point in time, Gillette had come up with the first adjustable razor with three different settings – for light, medium, and heavy beards. Later on down the track, additional settings would be added totaling to nine whole configurations. 
  • 1965 – Techmatic
    The Techmatic was the first system razor featuring what’s known as a ‘continuous band’. What this meant is that you’d no longer have to touch the blade. This same design was also the earliest iteration of what we use today – in terms of aesthetic and function.
  • 1971 – Trac II
    Gillette introduces the first twin-blade shaving system
  • 1985 – Atra Plus
    Gillette introduces the first razor with a lubricating strip.
  • 1998 – Mach 3
    Gillette once again sets the benchmark with triple-blade technology. If there’s anything men from all across the globe should be thanking for the current quality of a close and smooth shave in the present day, it’s this.

“We’ll stop making razor blades when we can’t keep making them better.” – King C. Gillette

You’re probably wondering why we ended the timeline in 1998; at a time when Michael Jordan had just led the Chicago Bulls to their sixth championship, Savage Garden were topping the music charts, and our greatest collective fear involved technology failing at the end of the millennium. And that’s because we could practically go on and on about the products Gillette has released since then. From the Fusion 5 in 2006, all the way to the Fusion 5 Proglide & Proshield. It just doesn’t end… nor will it ever. Due to one simple philosophy – there can always be a better razor blade.  

The story of Gillette in 2020 has quite poetically come full circle with the Gillette Heated Razor – something that leverages modern technology to make every stroke of the blade feel like a hot towel shave (similar to the simple luxury that inspired the safety razor all those years ago). That isn’t creative hyperbole, either – the heated bar warms up in mere seconds to quite literally offer the comfort of a hot towel with every stroke. 

Gillette Heated Razor Bar

King C. Gillette’s dream has evolved into this elegant solution. Smooth at every turn. Ergonomic. The perfect balance of high-performance and support. A delight to the face and hand. Completely waterproof. Speaking from personal experience, the Gillette Heated Razor easily takes the crown for being the best in the world. In comfort, convenience, and cost in relation to value. The pinnacle of innovation, if you will. But it represents more than just innovation – it also represents the evolution of masculinity itself. 

Throughout the ages, Gillette’s products have reflected what it means to be a man of the era. To take matters into your own hands. To want more out of life. To seek the smarter solution. And naturally, to take pride in oneself, starting with your grooming habits. The Gillette Heated Razor is no different – it embodies the spirit of the smarter man, the ambitious man, the man who cares, the man capable of a gentle touch. As Gillette believes it can always do better, it’s almost as if it’s encouraging us to be better.

That, in essence, is what it means to use Gillette and be a man in 2020. That’s what the history of Gillette comes down to. We won’t stop trying to be better until we’ve achieved the best possible version.

This article is proudly presented in partnership with Gillette. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who help support Boss Hunting.

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