The history of the shaving industry can be described – in part – as being a fight over control. As long as a company controls the patent, they control the manufacture – and thus the cash flow. A very good example of this is the blade. As long as Gillette’s patent for the three hole blade was in force, no one else could legally make three hole blades. Once the patent got close to expiration, Gillette started to innovate again. One constrain was that a new blade should fit old razors too – but new razors shouldn’t be able to use the old style blade. The result was a new slotted blade – but not quite the blade we know today.
I stumbled over an advertisement from the “United Farmers of Alberta” magazine, dated 1st April 1930. The ad shows the new blade, and the new razor that could use it. Today we know this razor simple as the Gillette New, easily identified by the slot and bar in the head.
The blade and razor is depicted in several US patents – among others 1,772,432, 1,841,223, 1,814,418, and 1,853,831. The slot and bar in the head means that the razor cannot use the old style blade.1 At the same time, the three wider areas of the slot means that the old Gillette razors2 could use the new blade.
The advertisement has a dozen quick facts as to why the new slotted blade and razor is better:
- New slotted blade can be used in your old razor.3
- Better steel, less likely to rust.
- Recessed corners.
- Easier to clean.
- A better guard.
- A better guard, again.
- No posts that might dull the blade.
- Recessed corners, again.
- Blade shape.
- A possible lie.
- Same price for the blade.
- And same price for the razor.
Why am I getting the feeling that the list have been padded slightly?
For Gillette, the new slatted blade must have looked like a win-win. Existing shavers would use it in their old Gillette razors. New shavers would be locked into buying blades from Gillette. And at ten cent per blade, Gillette probably figured they would be printing money.
Ten cent would be the equivalent of 1.72$ US today – or about 1.62€, 1.38£, or 16.26 kroner. Not at all cheap, compared to what we pay for double edged razor blades today.
As I alluded to in the beginning, Gillette’s new slotted blade is not quite the blade we know and love today. That blade was developed from the Probak blade – and the story of Gillette and AutoStrop4 is… complicated.5
- The one with three holes, that everyone would be allowed to manufacture once the patents ran out.
- The type we now call Gillette Old.
- Only valid if your old razor is a Gillette though.
- AutoStrop Co was one of Gillette major competitors, and was behind the Probak.
- Seriously, follow that link – Glenn Conti’s site is an awesome resource, and he has the best explanation of the AutoStrop Gillette Merger I’ve ever read.