Skin stretching and lather spreading attachment

Ever so often I find a patent that makes me shake my head and wonder what the inventor was thinking. Although sometimes I wonder what he was smoking. The skin stretching and lather spreading attachment devised by Vance Fulenwider1 is one of the later. Like several other inventions I’ve discussed, I am struggling to figure out what problem he was trying to solve.

So what was he trying to achieve, in his own words?

This invention relates to safety razors and has for an object to provide a skin stretching and lather spreading attachment which may be applied to the handles of all types of safety razors, and which may be easily adjusted longitudinally of the razor handle to dispose the operating rollers above the clamp member of the razor or at the edges of the guard member of the razor to adapt the device to clean or to close shaving, or to different beards.

From US patent 2,196,531

So… Not a razor, but an attachment for a razor. To make it better, I guess – much like other appliances you could clip on to your razor.2

In a way I can understand the idea of an aftermarket accessory for your razor. Today we have a lot more safety razors easily available to us than there was in the late thirties. Back then you were limited to what your local shops had in store. And if it didn’t suit you, you were out of luck.

As for the purpose of the attachment? I can stretch my skin just fine with a couple of fingers and a lot of facial contortions, but apparently enough people had trouble doing that to make other inventors come up with skin stretching razors. And I can spread lather even more easily, with the use of a brush – or my fingers in a pinch. So I guess this is, like so many patents, a solution in search of a problem. In search of two problems, in fact.

Patent drawing showing Vance Fulenwider's  skin stretching and lather spreading attachment for a safety razor.
Patent drawing from US patent 2,198,531

Ignoring the lack of a point, the invention is fairly easy to wrap one heads around. There is a split ring clamp that clip onto the razor. There is two springy bits that holds a pair of wire frames. And there is a pair of rollers that ride on the wire frames.

Moving the split ring clamp up and down on the handle adjusts the position of the rollers. If the clamp is high on the handle, the rollers ride on the top cap. Pull it down a bit, and the rollers are next to the safety bar. Pull it down all the way, and the whole attachment can go in the junk drawer.3

According to the claims in the patent, the rollers do two things:

During the shaving operation the rollers will stretch the skin ahead of the cutting edge of the razor blade 20 and simultaneously smooth the lather over the stretched skin so that the shaving operation will be more easily and more quickly performed than ordinarily.

From US patent 2,198,531

With the rollers riding on the top cap, it would also make it harder to change blades.4 So this is like a kinder egg of bad ideas.

If there is any benefit to the skin stretching and lather spreading attachment, it comes from changing the geometry of the razor. By placing the rollers on top of the cap, the blade will hit the skin at a steeper angle. With the rollers in front of the guard, the blade will hit the skin at a shallower angle. This would make the razor more or less aggressive. But today we can achieve the same by simply buying a razor that is, well, more or less aggressive. Or we can get an adjustable razor.

As an interesting side note, the original application for this patent was abandoned in 1936, before it was refiled in 1939. Part of me really wants to know the story behind that, but it is unlikely that anyone but the inventor knows what happened. There is so much history that is never recorded and thus forever is lost.

You can read the full patent at Google Patents, as usual.


  1. Who styled himself as “assignor of fifty-one one-hundredths to James Jonesboro, Arkansas E. Parr”, whatever that means.
  2. Honestly, I can not imagine that adding bits and bobs to my razor can in any way, shape, or form improve my shaves.
  3. Or straight into the garbage bin, if you prefer.
  4. Something the patent forgets to mention, for some reason.

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