Thursday March 18, 2021
With electricity against the stubble
Electric shaves have been used for 90 years
Wet or dry? We owe this question, which men – and women too – are still asking, to a historic breakthrough 90 years ago. The invention of the electric shaver was also driven by the icy cold in Alaska.
There are these questions that sometimes bring salvation to halting conversations. Mountains or sea? Dog or cat? Everyone has an opinion on this. Exactly 90 years ago, a certain Jacob Schick laid the foundation for another: dry or wet? In this case that means: electric shaver or not? On March 18, 1931, Schick helped the electric beard trimmer achieve a breakthrough. Years of tinkering had preceded this.
Facial hair sprouting wildly bothered people thousands of years ago, because according to tradition, our ancestors used shells and sharp-edged stones to get rid of their beards. Eventually copper razor blades were invented and beardlessness found one of its first fashion icons in Alexander the Great.
Laborious fetching of water drove plans forward
The blades became sharper, the razors more professional: at the beginning of the 20th century, finally, thanks to wet shaving with foam, beard hair tailoring was carried out without bleeding wounds, at least for experienced users. But that was not enough for the US soldier Jacob Schick. In the 1910s he was stationed in Alaska and – at least as legend goes – he was fed up with breaking through the ice cover of a lake in freezing temperatures every day to draw the water he needed for his wet shave.
Since there wasn’t so much else to do in Alaska, Schick had plenty of time to advance his plans for one of the first electric razors. Version number one left a lot to be desired, especially in terms of handiness. The external motor, connected to the shaving head by a cable, was the size of a grapefruit – manufacturers rejected the product.
On sale from 1931
Only after the First World War did Schick advance his invention. He developed a significantly smaller motor that fit into the actual razor and by the end of the 1920s his device was ready for the market. (Here is a drawing for the patent filed by Schick.) He started a company and brought his razor to stores in New York City in 1931. At first the sales figures were limited, but the inventor continuously expanded his business and finally reached sales in the millions.
It should come as no surprise that Schick’s competition grew rapidly – including the brands Remington and Braun, which are still known today. The devices quickly became cheaper and more technically sophisticated, and the electric shaver has since experienced a real hype.
But there was one thing he didn’t manage to do: to completely oust his currentless colleague: The foam procedure still holds up well – and is even understood by some as an attitude towards life. Wet or dry? That will probably remain an issue in the future.