Since time immemorial, shaving and maintenance of beards and moustaches was done by barbers, who used razor-sharp blades for this purpose.
Barbers used leather straps to sharpen their blades and keep them in optimum condition.
At the dawn of the last century, various ‘safety razors’ appeared, including one by an American named King Gillette. The razors were easy to use and safe, making people less dependent on barbers.
Once electricity became available in more and more places in the early 20th century, new shaving accessories were marketed...
...such as this shaving water heater from 1920.
Electric shaving kettle (1910/1930) by unknownNEMO Science Museum
The Canadian inventor Jacob Schick invented the first electric razor. Companies did not seem very interested at first, but Schick obtained a patent in 1930 and started his own company.
Competitors quickly followed suit, with devices such as this Siemens Rasier Maschine from 1932 that runs on batteries and uses small blades that move from side to side past serrated edges like hair clippers do.
Philips marketed the Philishave in 1939 which was nicknamed ‘the cigar’ and was designed by Belgian-Dutch engineer Alexandre Horowitz.
A new feature was the round shaving head. Behind a thin grating, three tiny chisels operate that cut off the hairs entering through grooves.
Electric razor (1939) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum
“Gone are the days of soap, knives and brushes!” claimed an add...
...intended to market and sell the new Philishave.
Advertisement for Philishave (1939/1940) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum
A later version of this razor from 1946 was called ‘steel beard’ and became hugely successful thanks to great marketing.
Electric razor (1946/1950) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum
The famous French designer Raymond Loewy created a new design especially for Philips. The device from 1951 was nicknamed ‘the egg’ and boasts two shaving heads. The product became a bestseller.
Those initially looked a lot like the ones for men, but afterwards a rectangular shaving head was designed.
With innovations such as springy and moving shaving heads, manufacturers guaranteed extremely smooth shaving.
On top of that, practically all designs could be recharged. The electric razor had been perfected.
Electric razor (1975) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum
But safety razors have not been pushed out of the market. In fact, 56 percent of men use them, as demonstrated by Sanoma | SBS research published in 2016.
Object of the Month – March 2021
Every month NEMO Science Museum showcases one of the 19,000 extraordinary objects in its collection. These objects, which were once part of people’s everyday lives, show us how technology has changed over time.