King Camp Gillette: Meet the Man Who Changed Shaving Forever

We all are more or less familiar with this international brand ‘Gillette’. Although originally known for shaving cream and razors, Gillette today stands as a monopoly in the world of body care products. From deodorants to soaps to fairness creams, Gillette has launched all kinds of cosmetics. The ‘king’ of our story is none other than the founder of ‘Gillette’: King Camp Gillette.

We all know ‘Gillette’ as the international brand synonymous with shaving cream and razors. However, today, Gillette stands tall as a monopoly in the world of body care products, offering everything from deodorants to soaps to fairness creams.

The Birth of the ‘Safety Razor’

The man behind this iconic brand is King Camp Gillette himself. From humble beginnings as a simple salesman, he rose to become one of America’s most celebrated entrepreneurs and innovators. However, success did not come easy. Gillette’s journey began with a desperate desire to launch a novel product that could revolutionize shaving.

Back in the early 20th century, the only shaving tool available was the razor, and it came with significant risks. Accidents while using the razor often led to bleeding, infections, and even death. Gillette himself experienced such an unfortunate incident, leaving him scarred. These scars proved a challenge when he tried to sell razors door-to-door, with customers closing their doors on his face.

Fueled by determination and resilience, Gillette conceived the idea of a ‘Safety Razor‘ – a razor that could minimize accidents and make shaving a safer experience. He envisioned a two-part device – a recyclable stand and a disposable, single-use blade.

Related: The Rise of Electric Razors by Years: How They Changed the Shaving Game

The Long Road to Success

In 1895, Gillette created the blueprint for his ‘Safety Razor,’ but it took six years before it became a reality. As he lacked technical expertise, finding someone who could manufacture his revolutionary device was a daunting task. Many technicians turned him down due to the complexity and low-cost requirements of the disposable blade.

Eventually, an MIT engineering graduate student named William Nickerson took up the challenge. In 1901, Nickerson produced the first prototypes of Gillette razors and blades made of carbon-steel. The blade’s shape and size have remained virtually unchanged to this day.

gillette safty razor old
image source: gettyimages

From Humble Beginnings to Global Domination

In 1903, King Gillette established a factory in South Boston, marking the beginning of commercial production of safety razors. Though the initial sales were modest, things took off rapidly. In 1904, the company sold 91,000 razors and 1.5 million blades. The business expanded to powerful countries worldwide, including Canada, Germany, England, and France.

Gillette’s products even played a crucial role in World War I, where the United States provided Gillette safety razors to its soldiers, using over 32 million blades in the army alone.

A Millionaire’s Legacy

Gillette’s groundbreaking invention transformed him into a millionaire within a few years, making him the richest man in Boston. With his patented safety razor design, he secured his position as the unrivaled leader in the market, protecting his innovation from replication.

The King’s Reign

For nearly three decades, King Camp Gillette ruled the world of shaving, leaving an indelible mark on the industry. Even after his passing in 1932, his legacy lived on, as other manufacturers followed his design for the safety razor blade, which remains virtually unchanged to this day.

Indeed, King Camp Gillette’s story is one of perseverance, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to making the world a better place, one shave at a time.

Gillette’s competitors

Over the years, Gillette has faced competition from various companies in the shaving and body care industry. While Gillette has held a dominant position, there have been several noteworthy competitors who have challenged the brand’s market share and innovation.

  1. Schick (Edgewell Personal Care): Schick is one of the most prominent competitors of Gillette. Founded in 1921, Schick introduced the first electric razor in 1931, competing directly with Gillette’s safety razor. The company has continued to innovate and offer a range of shaving products, including disposable razors and cartridge-based systems, to compete with Gillette’s offerings.
  2. BIC: BIC, famous for its ballpoint pens, entered the shaving market in the 1970s with its disposable razors. BIC’s razors gained popularity for their affordability and convenience, providing stiff competition to Gillette’s disposable razor lines.
  3. Dollar Shave Club (Unilever): Dollar Shave Club is a subscription-based shaving service that gained significant traction in the early 2010s. The company offered affordable razor blades delivered directly to customers’ doors, disrupting the traditional retail model. Unilever acquired Dollar Shave Club in 2016, allowing the brand to benefit from Unilever’s global reach and resources.
  4. Harry’s: Harry’s, another subscription-based razor company, launched in 2013. Like Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s aimed to offer high-quality razors at a lower price, attracting a significant customer base. In 2020, Harry’s planned to merge with Schick’s parent company, Edgewell Personal Care, but the Federal Trade Commission blocked the deal due to concerns about potential reduced competition.
  5. Personna: Personna is another long-standing competitor in the shaving industry. The company produces a range of razors and blades for both men and women. They have been a notable player in the private label market, supplying razors to other brands under different names.
  6. Feather: Feather, a Japanese company, is renowned for manufacturing extremely sharp and precise razor blades. They have a strong presence in the high-end shaving market, catering to professional barbers and shaving enthusiasts who prioritize quality and precision.

Despite facing fierce competition from these and other players in the market, Gillette has maintained its position as a leading brand in the shaving and body care industry.

The company’s ability to continually innovate, introduce new products, and adapt to changing consumer preferences has been key to its enduring success. Additionally, Gillette’s widespread global presence and brand recognition have been instrumental in fending off competition and remaining a dominant force in the market.

gillette old blades
image source: gettyimages

Which other industries did Gillette enter?

While Gillette initially gained fame and success as a leading brand in the shaving and personal care industry, the company expanded its product offerings over time. Gillette’s diversification into other industries aimed to leverage its brand recognition and innovation to explore new markets and capitalize on consumer needs. Some of the industries Gillette entered include:

  1. Oral Care: Gillette entered the oral care market with the introduction of toothbrushes and toothpaste. Leveraging its reputation for quality and innovation, the company launched various toothbrush models, including electric toothbrushes, to compete in the oral hygiene market.
  2. Personal Grooming: Beyond shaving products, Gillette expanded its personal grooming line to include grooming accessories such as trimmers, body groomers, and hair care products. These products catered to the growing demand for comprehensive grooming solutions.
  3. Feminine Care: Gillette expanded into the feminine care market with products like razors and shaving gels specially designed for women. They also introduced Venus, a brand exclusively focused on women’s shaving needs.
  4. Deodorants and Antiperspirants: Gillette ventured into the deodorant and antiperspirant market with a range of products for men and women. The company’s deodorants were promoted for their long-lasting protection and fresh scents.
  5. Fragrances: Gillette introduced a line of men’s fragrances, capitalizing on its reputation as a trusted brand among men. These fragrances offered a variety of scents to cater to different preferences.
  6. Skincare: Gillette launched skincare products like face washes, moisturizers, and post-shave balms to cater to consumers’ skincare needs.
  7. Body Washes and Shower Gels: Expanding into the personal care market, Gillette introduced a range of body washes and shower gels for men and women, aiming to provide a complete body care experience.
  8. Sunscreen and SPF Products: To cater to consumers’ sun protection needs, Gillette developed sunscreen and SPF products, offering various options for different skin types.

It’s important to note that Gillette’s diversification into these industries was not always met with the same level of success as its shaving products. The company faced competition from well-established brands in each market.

Nonetheless, Gillette’s expansion into various personal care segments allowed it to maintain a strong presence in the broader grooming and personal care industry. Additionally, Gillette’s strategic alliances with parent company Procter & Gamble (P&G) provided access to a wide distribution network, further aiding its efforts to enter and compete in these new markets.

FAQ: King Camp Gillette

Q1: Who is King Camp Gillette, and why is he famous in the shaving industry?

A1: King Camp Gillette was an American entrepreneur who revolutionized the shaving industry with his invention of the “Safety Razor.” His innovative razor design made shaving safer and more convenient, becoming a global sensation.

Q2: What is the story behind King Camp Gillette’s invention of the Safety Razor?

A2: King Camp Gillette’s invention of the Safety Razor was born out of desperation. After a painful accident while using a traditional razor, he conceived the idea of a safer alternative. This led to the development of the Safety Razor, with a disposable blade and a recyclable stand.

Q3: When did King Camp Gillette create the blueprint for the Safety Razor?

A3: King Camp Gillette created the blueprint for the Safety Razor in 1895, envisioning a device that would reduce the risk of accidents during shaving.

Q4: How did King Camp Gillette overcome challenges in bringing his Safety Razor to market?

A4: While Gillette had the blueprint, he lacked technical expertise to manufacture the Safety Razor. After facing rejections from technicians due to cost constraints, an MIT engineering graduate named William Nickerson took up the challenge and produced the first prototypes in 1901.

Q5: What is the significance of the Safety Razor’s design by King Camp Gillette?

A5: The Safety Razor’s design, with a disposable blade and reusable stand, set the standard for modern shaving tools. The shape and size of the blade he created have remained virtually unchanged for over a century.

Q6: How did King Camp Gillette’s Safety Razor gain popularity worldwide?

A6: King Gillette’s Safety Razor gained popularity due to its superior design and safety features. By 1904, the company sold 91,000 razors and 1.5 million blades. The product’s success led to widespread adoption across powerful countries like Canada, Germany, England, and France.

Q7: Did King Camp Gillette’s Safety Razor play a role in World War I?

A7: Yes, during World War I, the United States purchased Gillette razors and blades in bulk to provide soldiers with a reliable shaving tool. Over 32 million blades were used by the army during the war.

Q8: How did King Camp Gillette’s Safety Razor business make him a millionaire?

A8: King Camp Gillette’s Safety Razor was an enormous success, turning him into a millionaire within a few years. His patent protected the razor design, making it impossible for other companies to reproduce the device.

Q9: What industries did Gillette enter besides shaving?

A9: Gillette diversified into various personal care industries, offering products in oral care, personal grooming, feminine care, deodorants, fragrances, skincare, and more. The brand leveraged its reputation and innovation to explore new markets.

Q10: What is King Camp Gillette’s lasting legacy in the world of shaving?

A10: King Camp Gillette’s invention of the Safety Razor forever changed the way people shave, making it safer and more accessible. His razor design remains a standard in the industry, solidifying his status as a pioneering entrepreneur and the driving force behind modern shaving.

Bradley Martyn

Bradley Martyn is a lead Product tester at Trimmereo. Previously he has been in consumer products industry for 8+ years. His passion for helping people flows through in the expert reviews he provides.