John Rieger and the reciprocating razor

According to the patent filed by John Rieger in 1921, a razor that is reciprocating rapidly as it moves over the face of the user will effectually remove the beard without irritation. Consider me not entirely convinced that this is the case. After all; as another John pointed out in a 1845 pamphlet, a razor is not a saw.

However, there is no shortage of people who believe that sliding the blade back and forth or even vibrate it will magically cut the beard better. Of the top of my head, there was John L King, Stahly, Saul Shaler, Gillette, and others. Common to all is that they never really caught on in a big way. The razor that John Rieger patented seems to have languished in obscurity as well. But in an important aspect it differed from all the other moving and shaking razors I’ve seen soo far:

It was externally powered.

Yes, you read that right. Others crammed a barely insulated electric motor in the handle, or opted for springs and clockwork. Not John Rieger, oh no. He wanted power without the dangers of electricity or fiddly little cogs. So he used a flexible shaft to connect the razor to a power source. The patent don’t specify, but to me the power source ought to be a small steam engine… it could also be used to heat the water and keep the lather warm.

The patent drawing for John Riegel's externally powered reciprocating razor.
Patent drawing for US patent 1,441,172

In the inventors own words:

Rotary movement from the flexible shaft 31 is transmitted to the bevel gear 33 through the medium of the pinion 35, from whence it is taken up in form of reciprocatory movement by the tubular pitman 28. This reciprocal movement of the pitman 28 will be directed to the oscillatory bell crank lever 22 having connection with the blade carriage 4. which carriage by reason of the movement of the free end of said lever 22 carrying the spherical head 24 will be caused to rapidly reciprocate in the groove 3 formed in the razor blade holder 1. Due to this reciprocal or vibratory movement of the carriage a on which the blade “b” is arranged, it will be understood that said blade when moved over the face of a user will faction to cleanly remove the beard therefrom without irritation such as is commonly caused in those types of razors of the so called safety type by the dragging action of the same they are-moved over a users face. Also. by reason of the vibratory motion of the blade hf as the razor is used over the users face, the very desirable sheering cut practiced in shaving will be had.
Should it be desired to limit the extent of reciprocatory or vibratory movement of the carriage 4 with respect to the blade holder 1. it is only necessary to adjust the tubular pitman 28 on the connecting screw 26 which in turn will either decrease or increase the oscillatory movement of the bell crank lever 22, as may be desired.

PART of the patent text for US patent 1,441,172

Clear as mud? If not, the short version is that rotational movement is turned into up-and-down movement. This in turn causes a bell crank to flick from side to side. The bell crank is connected to the blade, so the blade moves too. Easy. And pointless, as well as pointlessly complicated.

It appears, from the drawing, that John Rieger intended for his razor to use standard Gillette style blades. This at least removed one stumbling block that many interesting razors faced, in that there was no need to set up a logistics chain for manufacture and distribution of blades. It also sounds sensible to me that the razor was intended for barbershops and not for the home. The flexible shaft would be a mere annoyance when shaving someone else, but a major pain in the behind if shaving oneself.

The full patent can be found at Google Patents. You may want to check out my other posts on shaving patents and other oddities.

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  1. Pingback: The most adaptable of all razors - Wegian WetshavingWegian Wetshaving

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