The history of shaving

For thousands of years, people used knives to shave themselves. But the last century saw an abundance of new shaving inventions. Dutch engineers played a vital role in this development.

By NEMO Science Museum

Razor (1910/1930) by J.A.F. BestNEMO Science Museum

Since time immemorial, shaving and maintenance of beards and moustaches was done by barbers, who used razor-sharp blades for this purpose. 

Shaving belt (1910/1930) by unknownNEMO Science Museum

Barbers used leather straps to sharpen their blades and keep them in optimum condition. 

Safety razor (1955/1970) by Max HerderNEMO Science Museum

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

US Patent J. Schick shaving machine (1928-04-23/1930) by Jacob SchickNEMO 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. 

Electric razor (1932) by SiemensNEMO Science Museum

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

Electric razor (1951) 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. 

Ladyshave (1975) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

Razors for women soon followed. 

Ladyshave (1958) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

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

Safety razor (1955/1970) by Max HerderNEMO 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. 

Credits: Story


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.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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