February 9, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Jacob Schick

Shaving, in one grisly form or another, has always been with us. The first shaving implements of which we have any record were made approximately 2000 BC. They were little more than sharp shells and flints. Throughout history men gouged and hacked at their faces for various reasons.

The Egyptians regarded a clean-shaven face as a symbol of status. Alexander the Great required his soldiers to shave their beards less they be grabbed as handles in sword fights. The first barber appeared in Rome in 300 BC, using bronze and iron to provide a less than smooth shave. And then, for 2000 years, there were no advances in shaving.

King Gillette changed shaving forever with replaceable blades and then came the Schick Dry Shaver in 1928. The original idea for a shaving instrument which could operate without water, soap and scraping blade first occurred to Colonel Jacob Schick while on Army duty in Alaska. The prospect of blade shaving in minus-40 degree temperatures would undoubtedly start any man's mind racing.

Schick, a career Army officer, had come to Alaska after a colorful career.
An Iowan, Schick grew up in the southwest where he supervised the building of a New Mexico railroad spur at the age of 16 for his father's coal company. In 1896 he enlisted in the army, serving with the first expedition to the Philippines.

On his second tour of duty in the Philippines in 1905 Schick contracted dysentery which hospitalized him for a year. On the advice of physicians Schick was transferred to Fort Gibbons, Alaska. The cold climate helped restore his health and Schick played an active role in laying out more than 1000 miles of telegraph lines in the interior of the territory.

On a hunting trip Schick sprained an ankle so badly he was unable to walk.
A slain moose provided food and frozen stream water supplied water until he was able to walk again. During his forced idleness he worked out a system for shaving without lather or water. He sent his blueprints to an American company but they were rejected.

Schick retired from the army in 1919. Over the next several years he marketed many inventions. None met any real commercial success but two, the "Pencilaid" and the "Pencilnife" - devices for sharpening pencils - did provide him enough capital to resume experiments with his dry shaving system. At one time his wife Florence mortgaged the family home to raise $10,000 to enable Schick to continue tinkering.

Up until that time there had been no electric motor small enough and powerful enough to drive a shaving head and fit within the case of a shaver. The impulse motor Colonel Schick developed for this specific application was the most powerful of its size in the world. He patented his new electric razor in 1928.

But why would millions of satisfied Gillette blade shavers want to switch? Potential investors were happy with their blade shaves and apparently so too were consumers. Schick sold his interest in the Magazine Repeating Razor in 1930.

Schick did not give up on his razor. He set up a factory in a small loft in Stamford, Connecticut and started turning out a few shavers a day in 1931.
He sold the razors in New York City for $25 each - an astronomical price in the heart of the Depression.

He realized a small profit the next year and poured the money back into national advertising. For the next few years Schick advertised his new shaver with whatever monies he could find. Despite the hard times Americans responded to the new advance in shaving comfort. Within five years Schick had one million electric razors in use.

The Colonel died in 1937 of cancer in the midst of a suit against patent infringers. Judge Manton, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals in New York, handed down a blatantly wrong decision voiding Schick's patents. The judge was to be found guilty of taking bribes in rendering many dishonest decisions, including the Schick case, the highest ranking juror so convicted to that time. But the damage was done. Some 60 companies raced into the electric shaver business, many of dubious standards, and electric shaving got a bad reputation which persisted until a post-World War II resurgence.

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