to shave myself
with a razor so dull that every time I scraped my face it looked as if
I were in the throes of cholera
By shaving often I,
certain extent circumvent the diabolical malignity of these
– From the diary of Thomas A. Edison, July 13, 1885
Did King Camp Gillette really invent the
invention, conceived – he
– in 1895, was indeed a true innovation – a razor with a
two-edged flexible blade intended to be discarded when dull.
Advertisements proudly proclaimed No
Stropping – No Honing. But
prior to Gillette many inventors had attempted to devise a razor safer
than the common folding 'cut throat' variety.
Edison evidently had not yet seen the newly-invented Star Safety Razor, and he undoubtedly did not have the time to invent a less diabolical shaving instrument. Many other entrepreneurs did. Between 1864 and December 1901, when Gillette submitted his patent application, over 100 razor guard or safety razor patents were applied for and granted by the U.S. Patent Office. Designs were also patented in France, England and undoubtedly elsewhere.
Here is a sampling, in more or less chronological order, of a few of Gillette's predecessors up to the invention of the Kampfe Star razor in 1880, the first razor to be called a 'safety.' We owe a debt to the dedicated razor aficionados past and present who have preserved and researched these artifacts. It is certain that many morer examples await re-discovery.
1762 – Perrett's InnovationWho was the first to devise a safer razor? It is believed the honor goes to Jean Jacques Perret (1730-1784) of Paris, France, a master cutler and famed author of Pogonotomie, au L'Art D'Apprende à se Raser Sol-Méme (Pogonotomie, or The Art of Shaving Oneself) in 1769 and L'Art du Coutelier
(The Art of the Cutler) in 1771. In the former treatise, Perret described a rasoir à rabot – a plane for the beard, which he had invented in 1762. Inspired by a carpenter's plane, it consisted of a wooden sleeve that enclosed the blade of an ordinary folding straight razor, allowing only a small portion of the edge to protrude, thus preventing one from accidentally slicing off a portion of one's ear while shaving. Perret made and sold his razor guard but apparently did not patent it.
In 1787 a German publication reported that a M. [monsieur] Lethien of Paris manufactured a "Rasiermesser
à rabot, with which one can shave oneself without fear of injuries." It was sold with a 6-month warranty. From the name, this razor may have been based on Perret's idea.
Razor Guards and Guard Razors
According to research by Thorsten Sjölin, in July of 1799 a friedlische Rasiermesser (peaceful or pacific razor) was illustrated in a German trade journal and said to be a new idea from England. The razor was manufactured by Harwood & Co. in England and sold by Johann Christoph Roder in Leipzig, Germany. It was offered in a green-velvet-lined box together with a pair of leather strops, one black and one red, with the box fitted into a red leather case.
1847 – Henson's Guard RazorsOn January 10, 1847, William Samuel Henson of Somerset, England filed for a patent showing a detachable comb tooth guard for a straight folding razor and another razor employing a similar guard “…the cutting blade which of which is at right angles with the handle, and resembles somewhat the form of a common hoe.” The handle was attached by screwing it into a tapped hole in a short forged blade.
This may have been first patent for a hoe-type guard razor and one of the first razors to use a short section of a straight razor as a blade. Henson specifically says that he does not claim as new “the use or adaptation of a guard or protector to the ordinary razor,” but does claim a new method of attaching the guard. Henson's guard appears to extended slightly below the the blade edge..
Patent figures of Henson's hoe guard razor.
The patent was applied for in 1847, published in 1857.
Above: Razor and guard marked Poynton. Below: Circa 1800 “friedlische Rasiermesser” (from Die Klinge, 1936).
Courtesy of Renzo Jardella
Patent figures of Henson's folding guard razor.
Courtesy of Thorsten Sjölin
In 1851 Charles Stewart & Company, Charing Cross, London, exhibited a folding straight razor, which they manufactured. Based on Henson's 1847 patent, it had a detachable, non-reversible toothed guard secured by a single screw within a slot in the top of the guard . They called it the Plantagenet razor and marked it Royal Letters Patent with the V-Crown-R indicating it was made during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).
1851 – The Plantagenet Guard Razor
In 1887 Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “The idea of a guarded edge is an old one; I remember the 'Plantagenet' razor, so called, with the comb-like row of blunt teeth, leaving just enough of the edge free to do its work.” Holmes' memory wasn't entirely accurate, the guard extended slightly beyond the cutting edge.
Royal Letters Patent PLANTAGENET RAZOR C Stewart & Co.
1864 – Kinloch's Guard RazorIn March of 1864 John Kinloch of Philadelphia received a patent for a toothed guard nearly identical to Henson's design. At the time Kinloch was in Regiment 71, Company K of the Pennsylvania Infantry. As part of the Union Army of the Potomac the 71st took part in some of the largest battles of the Civil War including Antietam (1862) and Gettysburg (1863). According to military pension records Kinloch survived the war and died in 1896.
His patent states the goal of his invention: With the guard in place , “… the razor may be used without danger of cutting the face by those who are maimed or wounded, and by those who have to shave themselves in situations and under circumstances which render the operation by an ordinary naked razor both tedious and dangerous.”
In Kinloch's design the guard teeth project a short distance beyond the cutting-edge of the blade. Kinloch's guard had the advantage of being symmetrical and reversible, that is, it could be used on either side of the blade (which Henson's guard could not). The guard is attached with a screw into a tapped hole in the blade exactly as in the Henson's design.
Kinloch's patent drawing.
1877 – Michael Price Guard RazorAn 1877 guard razor (unfortunately less the guard) is shown in Bernard Levine's Knife Makers of Old San Francisco. The razor was made by Michael Price, a well-known San Francisco cutler and importer. The razor has a cut-out shoulder to accommodate the guard and probably differed from the Henson or Kinloch attachment method. In 1878 Price advertised himself as "Maker of ... the World-renowned GUARD RAZORS."
Michael Price guard razor (missing the guard) marked 1877. Inset: 1878 San Francisco Directory ad.
Courtesy of Bernard Levine
1879 – The French A. KThis heavy-duty guard razor – it weighs in at about 2-1/2 ounces – was patented in France, December 1879. by François Durand, Eugene Louis Bossin and Jean Jules Brard, all of Paris. The example below is marked A.K / Paris. The razor has a fixed single-edge wedge blade and a roller guard. Both the handle and blade pivot at the ends of the guard, which is adjustable with two screws. The cutting edge of the A.K blade is 2-1/16 inch long and the depth is 7/8 inch edge. The 1881 U.S. Patent also shows the design adapted to a conventional folding guard razor .
Dave Grant collection
Figures from the Durand, Bossin, and Brard U.S. Patent.
1881– Allin's Razor Guard
A razor guard very similar to Perret's was patented in 1881 by Lucius G. Allin of Springfield, Massachusetts. But instead of wood, it was made of “thin elastic metal … hard rubber or other suitable material.” As Allin explained, the metal or other material should be 'springy' enough to clamp itself to the blade.
Allin patent drawings
Figures from the 1881 Fontaine U.S. patent.
An improved version of this razor designed to “facilitate the adjustment of the blade in the holder” was patented in France in 1879 by Pierre Lucien Fontaine of Chartres, France. The U.S. patent (above) was issued in January 1881.
Razors based on the Monks and Fontaine patents were made or sold by the American Safety Razor Co., (at right), John Watts (England), and Auguste Bain (France). Other similar razors bore names such the Pogonotome (below) and MODELE L.N. (France), Astor, Elephant, Perfection, Protector, Uwanta and Victor. They differed in the design of the flat handle and the means of securing the blade in place.
French Pogonotome razor
Figures from the 1878 Monks U.S. patent.
Figure 5 shows a variation usinga clip to secure a thin rigid 'frame-blade' –
a forerunner of today's single-edge rib-backed blade.
These American Safety Razor Co. razors appear to be based on the Monks patent. Both are marked PAT. APL'D FOR / A / S [maltese cross] R / Co.
Dave Grant collection
The Kampfe brothers, Frederick (c.1851-1915), Richard
(1853-1906), and Otto F. (1855-1932) were born in Saxony in
Germany. The two youngest brothers, Richard and
Otto, immigrated to the
United States in 1872, soon after the end of the Franco-Prussian wars.
At the time they were 19 and 17 years old, and most likely had served
several years as apprentice cutlers in
Germany. It is probable that their older brother, Frederick,
had already come to the U.S. In any event, they settled in New
started a cutlery business. Considering their business
success and place in safety razor history, I
have unearthed very little about the Kampfes and their
enterprise, other than patents
and a few census records. Perhaps more
information will eventually surface on
In May 1880 Frederick and Otto applied for a patent on “new and useful Improvements in Safety-Razors.” This is the first use of the term “safety razor” that I have discovered. Trademarks filed in 1903 claimed use of the Star name and symbol since 1 June 1880. Histories written by the American Safety Razor Co. (which acquired the Kampfe business c.1919) have said the Kampfe Brothers began manufacturing the Star safety razor in 1875 ”in a one-room shop in New York City.” By 1899 they occupied space at 8-10-12 Reade St. A 1911 Kampfe advertisement stated: “The Star … has been made and used for thirty-six years. We were expert cutlery manufacturers before we invented the safety razor.” This also implies the razor was first made in 1875. (Some collectors have noted that the early Kampfe safety razors had an 1875 date near or on the top portion of the handle.)
The Star used Henson's idea of a hoe-type razor with a wedge-shaped blade, basically a short segment (4 cm long by 2 cm wide) of a straight razor blade. The blade was held in place by metal clips and did not require a tapped screw hole. A distinguishing feature was the shape of the razor frame or casing, which functioned as a “lather-catcher.” The razor was less expensive to make than some of complex hoe designs subsequently patented by competitors.
Many cutlers produced blades for the Kampfe and similar razors.
A Kampfe blade is top center. eBay
The 1880 utility patent expired in 1897. In order to extend patent coverage, Frederick, Richard, and Otto Kampfe received a 7-year design patent for the tubular handle with a star pattern (1894) and a 14-year design patent for the lather catcher razor casing (1897).
First Kampfe safety razor patent.
15 June 1880, Frederick and Otto F. Kampfe.
Circa 1884 Kampfe razor.
Courtesy of Jerry Rosenthal
Circa 1887 Kampfe razor, blade, and tin.
Early Kampfe razors were packaged in round and rectangular lithographed tins in a variety of label designs.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894).
From a memorial postcard
1899 Kampfe advertisement.
.The Star razor was very successful. In March 1887 Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. described a very useful bon voyage gift in an article in Atlantic magazine (later republished as a book “Our One Hundred Days in Europe”):
“This little affair had a blade only an inch and a half long by three quarters of an inch wide. It had a long slender handle, which took apart for packing, and was put together with the greatest ease. It was, in short, a lawn-mower for the masculine growth of which the proprietor wishes to rid his countenance. The mowing operation required no glass, could be performed with almost reckless boldness, as one cannot cut himself, and in fact had become a pleasant amusement instead of an irksome task. I have never used any other means of shaving from that day to this. I was so pleased with it that I exhibited it to the distinguished tonsors of Burlington Arcade, half afraid that they would assassinate me for bringing in an innovation which bid fair to destroy their business. ... I determined to let other persons know what a convenience I had found the "Star Razor" of Messrs. Kampf [sic], of Brooklyn, New York, without fear of reproach for so doing. ... It is pure good-will to my race which leads me to commend the Star Razor to all who travel by land or by sea, as well as to all who stay at home.”
Holmes' namesake son became famous as a Justice of the Supreme Court, and for years after O. W. Holmes Sr. had died, Kampfe ads proclaimed “Recommended by Oliver Wendell Holmes.”
Even before the first Kampfe patent expired in 1897 the Star razor was widely copied and sold in the U.S. and abroad – often labeled American Model. At that point Kampfe Brothers began to advertise more frequently, often including the statement "All Others are Spurious." They broadened their product line to include a variety of cased sets containing up to seven blades, razors with fancy handles such as rosewood or ivory, stropping devices, and shaving accessories.
The Star blade still required stropping prior to each use and occasional skillful honing. This spawned many patents on stropping and honing devices. The Kampfe brothers ultimately acquired over 50 patents on razors and stropping devices and "automatic" stroppers were included in their high-end razor sets. Over the years the Kampfe Brothers produced over 25 design variations of the Star wedge-blade safety razor.
Competitors were encouraged by the success of the Star. Between 1880 and 1901, over 80 safety razor patents were issued in the U.S. alone. Gillette's 1904 patent inspired an even greater explosion of safety razor creativity, but that is another, and much longer, story.