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Updated on January 7, 2012
Photo by Ergio Ianni
Photo by Ergio Ianni

Since ancient times, Man has used razors made of various materials as cutting instruments for shaving hair from the skin.

One of the first 'modern' razors was the straight-edged type which was sharpened on a leather strap. The center of its hollow ground steel blade was ground thinner than the section near the cutting edge and it was fastened by a rivet to a handle of two pieces of metal, ivory or bone. The best blades of this kind were made in Sheffield, England, but blades of high quality are now produced in Germany and the United States as well.

Early in the twentieth century, the American inventor King Camp Gillette (1855-1932) produced the safety razor. The blade was a thin length of strip-steel cheap enough to be replaced when blunted, held between two plates in a metal T-shaped handle with only the cutting edge exposed.

The blade was guided by the slightly protruding lower plate, which also guarded against deep cuts. Today there are many disposable razors on the market, most incorporating the same design and safety elements.

Electric razors were first introduced by the American manufacturer, Joseph Schick in the 1930s and became very popular after the Second World War. These razors are powered by small electric motors. The cutting head, consisting of rotary cutters, passes over the skin and shears the hair. Cutting heads need sharpening or replacing after continued use and most can be adjusted for different thicknesses of beard growth.

Straight-Edge Razor

During the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly, shaving became the custom. This was due largely to the efficiency and availability of the popular straight-edge razor, which was perfected for general use. Many of these razors were made from superb metals, and with considerate care, frequently lasted their owners two or three generations. Sheffield, England, became world renowned for the quality of steel blades which it manufactured. These straight-edge razors possessed thin blades, a keen edge, and concave sides. Hollow handles of ivory, silver, or wood, protected the blade when the razor was folded. In use, the razor was held in a position which placed the sharp edge firmly against the skin at a slight angle and cut the hair as the razor moved across the surface of the skin. Shaving soaps, creams, and other compounds were used to aid both in the efficiency and comfort of shaving.

Safety Razor

The safety razor was developed at the beginning of the 20th century. It utilized an inexpensive wafer-type, mass-produced, strip-steel blade, which was disposed of when it became dull. Unlike the straight-edge razor, the well-guarded blade of the safety razor could do little harm to a clumsy shaver. Today many types and designs of safety razors are manufactured. They have been extremely popular, as they are simple to use, require little maintenance, and blades may be changed instantly.

Electric Razor

One of the most common household appliances today is the electric razor, invented by Jacob Schick. It is powered by an electric motor or vibrator which moves small cutters at tremendous speeds. As the head of this shaver is pressed against the skin, the hairs protrude through small openings and are clipped as the cutters glide past. Multicutter heads are available which may be adjusted for light, medium or heavy beards. Electric razors are designed to operate on standard house current, car battery, dry cells or even by a self-contained rechargeable power cell which may be used as long as two weeks without cord connection or recharging.


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