Happy Birthday King Camp Gillette: The Inventor Who Eased The Way We Shave

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A man who had no background in manufacturing or metallurgy but his cutting-edge idea proved to be a game-changer in the men’s grooming industry. There was a famous Russian proverb, ‘It is easier to bear a child every year than to shave every day.’ Prior to the 1900s, the razors used to have an unprotected sharp blade that was dangerous, time-consuming and caused skin burns and cuts. One needed to sharpen the blade every time before shaving. However, where there is a problem, there is also an opportunity, which King Camp Gillette identified well in time.

I dared where the wise one’s feared to tread

After losing everything in a fire in Chicago city in 1871, King Camp Gillette’s family relocated to New York. Later in life, he became a successful travelling salesman who enjoyed tinkering and inventing new products, though he was often unsuccessful. His tinkering drew the attention of one of his employers who suggested Gillette try his luck on some use and throw product so that the customer gets used to it.

In 1901, Gillette Safety Razor Company was incorporated with King Camp Gillette as its President. In 1903, the company recorded sales of 51 razors and 168 blades. The sales skyrocketed to 90,000 odd razors and 12,400,000 odd blades the following year, making Gillette the undisputed king of the newfound market. Today the brand value of Gillette stands at $14.5 billion and ranked #42 on the Forbes list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands 2021. Proctor and Gamble Co. bought Gillette in a $54 billion deal back in 2005.

The tagline of the Gillette Company is ‘The Best A Man Can Get,’ and his product fits that description.

Birth Date: January 5, 1855

Died: July 9, 1932 (aged 77)

A visionary, an inventor, and a successful entrepreneur ‘King Camp Gillette’, who turned his idea into a masterpiece, was never got dissuaded by the negative comments about his company or product. Let’s dig deeper into the achievements of the founder of Gillette:

  • King Gillette was an avid reader with strong political beliefs who craved for changes in the United States’ social and economic systems. After being inspired by his mother’s best-selling recipe book, ‘White House Cookbook,’ he tried his hand at political writing. He finished his book ‘The Human Drift‘ in 1894.
  • The mentor: In 1891, William Painter, the inventor of crown cork bottle cap and bottle opener, encouraged Gillette to try his hand at creating a use and throw product. Gillette couldn’t get this idea out of his head, so he started working on it.
  • ‘Eureka’ Moment: While shaving once, his razor dropped and its blade got damaged which gave birth to the idea of a disposable razor blade. He quickly purchased files, brass pieces, and a vice to begin moulding his idea. Later, he wrote a letter to his wife, who was visiting her family, in which he expressed his joy by writing: “I have got it; our fortune is made.”
  • Idea: A T-shaped handle will house the new double-edged razor in place of the conventional single-edged blade and instead of sharpening the blade it would be disposable and cheap.
  • Faced Criticism: After filing for the patent on August 11, 1989, his idea was criticised by his friends and technical experts, but he never gave up. Experts considered the design to be an impossible task to achieve.

The razor was looked upon as a joke by all my friends, A common greeting was,”Well, Gillette, how’s the razor?’ If I had been technically trained, I would have quit.

  • The birth of Gillette Safety razor Company: The meeting with William Emery Nickerson, a graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, brought kudos for Gillette. In 1903, Nickerson developed the magical machine to manufacture the disposable blades. In 1904, about 90,000 razors and 12,400,000 blades were sold by company.
  • Buy the competitors: King Gillette had spent a significant amount of time and money acquiring competitors and and protecting the company’s rights. By 1910, he was a millionaire and also a celebrity as every single razor package has his image imprinted on it.
  • In 1910, he vainly offered $1 million to the former President Theodore Roosevelt to act as the president of his experimental ‘World Corporation’. However, he turned down the offer.
  • Alladin’s Lamp: The World War I was surprisingly proved to be the Alladin’s Lamp for ‘Gillette Safety razor Company ‘. By 1917, every soldier was carrying a Gillette shaving kit along with their other equipments, resulting in a large customer base that continued to buy the products for refills.
  • Retirement: King Gillette retired in 1913 but remained President until 1931 when his focus was shifted towards writing. In addition to ‘The Human Drift’ (1894), Gillette was the author of ‘The Ballot Box’ (1897), ‘World Corporation’ (1910) and ‘The People’s Corporation’ (1924).
  • Today, Gillette is a $15 billion company that offers safety razors and other personal care products.

There are two kinds of men who never amount to much: those who cannot do what they are told and those who can do nothing else.

The post is a part of a B’day Series where we celebrate the birthday of renowned personalities from Tech Industry, very frequently. The series includes Entrepreneurs, C-level Executives, innovators or renewed leaders who moved the industry with their exponential skill set and vision. The intent is to highlight the person’s achievements and touch base the little known, but interesting, part of his life. You can see the list of all earlier celebrated tech personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayor, Sean Parker, Andy Rubin, Julian Assange, Sir Richard Branson, Sergey Brin by following this link or subscribe to your daily newsletter.


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