John Joice’s automatic razor

Laziness is the mother of inventions. At least, it seems to have been an important reason why John K Joice filed a patent for an automatic razor in 1906. It was made specifically so that people with no skill could shave. To qoute:

The object of my invention is to provide a razor which may be used without special skill on the part of the person who is shaving himself, in other words, a razor of the safety type.

From US patent 899,870

Perhaps I am a little hard with Mr Joice. Any safety razor can be described as letting people with no skill shave. And while novel when patented, being a safety razor is not the outstanding part of his invention.

No, what makes his automatic razor stand out is that it was, well, automatic. And by this Mr Joice meant that the blade moved with great rapidity.1 And how was this rapidity of motion achieved? By connecting the razor to a source of electric current, of course. And given the state of the power grid when his razor was invented, he wisely chose to use a battery. This had the – unintended, I’m sure – side effect of making the shave less shocking.

The patent

The automatic razor were powered by a simple solenoid2 and spring. This was arranged so that the motion of the core disconnected the power source, and the spring then pushed it back into contact. This happened, according to the patent, many times in a minute.3 The back and forth motion of the solenoid was changed into a shearing motion of the blade, by means of levers and guide lugs.

And even if Joice had the foresight of not connecting his automatic razor to the power grid – unlike some inventors – he also made sure to specify an insulator around the motor. In addition he also used rubber seals to keep moisture out of the sensitive parts of his invention.

While I am not sad to see that the automatic razor failed to unseat the simple three piece razor, it is an interesting early take on the electric razor.

The full patent can be read at razors.click4 as well as on Google Patents.


  1. Even though, as was pointed out 1845, a razorblade shouldn’t be used for sawing through the beard.
  2. He also described a variation with a double solenoid, which did away with the spring.
  3. Although, depending on the strength of the spring and other factors, it may well have been many times in a second.
  4. I recommend reading it on – the formatting is better and the drawing is interactive.

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