February 9, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
King Gillette

The man whose idea was to change the face of half the world's population was King C. Gillette, a tall, distinguished travelling salesman and a good one. Gillette was pulling down as much as $6000 a year before the turn of the century, a very good wage for the time. But he was obsessed with an idea. Although untrained mechanically he was determined to invent something - preferably an item people would use, throw away, and buy again.

To aid his discovery Gillette systematically went through the alphabet listing every conceivable disposable material need, searching for that one big idea.
It came to him one morning in his 40th year in 1895 in Brookline, Massachusetts: "On one particular morning when I started to shave, I found my razor dull, and it was not only dull, but it was beyond the point of successful stropping. As I stood there with the razor in my hand, my eye resting on it as lightly as a bird settling down on its nest - the Gillette razor was born. I saw it all in a moment, the way the blade could be held in a holder; the idea of sharpening the two opposite edges of a thin piece of steel thus doubling its service; and with a handle equally disposed between the two edges of a blade. All this came as though the razor were already a finished thing and held before my eyes."

It all seemed so simple. Immediately, Gillette wrote to his wife, visiting in Ohio: "I have got it; our fortune is made." But five years passed with nothing but a crude model. He toiled with clock springs, a hand vise and files. Toolmakers and cutlers told him he could never make sharp wafer-thin steel blades. Engineers advised Gillette to drop the radical idea.

One Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor agreed to collaborate with him in 1901. Gillette later wrote, "William Nickerson was the only man in the world who could have perfected the razor." Nickerson had invented the push-button system for elevators and by 1903 the two men had a razor ready for market.
First year sales were 51 razors sold for 5$ apiece and 168 blades.

How phenomenal was the growth of the Gillette safety razor?

Gillette had sold blocks of stock to raise $5000. One Pittsburgh bottler bought 500 shares for $250 to curry favor as a possible supplier but he considered the stock of no value and forgot about it in a file drawer. Four years later Gillette had to track him down to buy back the stock for $62,500. By 1908, five years after the introduction of the safety razor Gillette sold 13,000,000 disposable blades.

Gillette searched for a trademark seeking a label as "internationally recognizable as the dollar bill with Washington's face." It was decided to use the picture of the boss. Gillette's familiar visage of heavy mustache, wing collar, stick pin and wavy black hair was printed on blade wrappers. Eventually it would be printed more than one billion times making Gillette instantly recognizable wherever he went.

In World War I Gillette sold 4,180,000 razors to the government at cost, indoctrinating millions of men just reaching shaving age to the razor. Afterwards Gillette sold the razor as a break-even item. Manufacturers gave away Gillette razors with any conceivable product - candy, marshmallows, gum, tea. The company made their money on blades.

Gillette served as president until 1931. When he retired the man who searched relentlessly for a time-saving product people could use, throw away, and buy again had sold over six billion steel razor blades.

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