The history of razors

The history of razors – from Ancient Egypt to your teenage safety razor

Razors had primitive beginnings. From the moment hair seemed to get in the way, men invented ways to get rid of it. Clamshells, rocks, daggers, obsidian stone, flint, string and the odd trusty piece of bronze filled the animal-skin kitbags of your great, great, great…1000 times great grandadio’s. Their shave was more like a heroes journey than a quick tidy-up.

Before your time, son.

Whether it was out of respect for that big man in the sky, proof of how much gold you had or didn’t, a silent protest or simply a dose of hygiene. Men reached for the closest and sharpest thing to hand. Some handmade tools worked a charm, others, not so much. Razors are probably as old as vanity itself, the boffins reckon around 100,000 years ago give or take a whisker or two. 

Facial hair has been through a lot over the years. Picking up praise, flak, the odd bit of food and even it’s own symbolism. Darwin believed that men grew beards to say to other men ‘look mate, if I can grow a magnificent beard, I can also throw this spear at you, so out the way babyface, she wants me more!’  Whether a man is more of a man if he has hair on his chops is a conversation for another time. So for now, back to the humble razor, that has no opinion either way. 

Stone Age razors.

Around 3,000 BC, men used seashells as crude pincers to whip out their hair. Take a look at the cave paintings around that time; tons of bows and arrows, stick men, fat animals, star systems, even weird alien creatures but no beards, not one single strand.

Maybe the Stone Age artists never mastered hair or it took too long to draw in, especially when there was a sabre-tooth licking its lips outside the cave. It was also bloody freezing in the Stone Age and wet beards in minus temperatures meant only one thing; nobody was getting anywhere quick with an iceberg stuck to his face. Frostbite would kick in sooner or later. Shaving as it turns out might have saved our ancestor’s hairy asses.

Ancient Egyptian razors.

The average Egyptian used pumice stones to rub away any stubble. It’s a sort of volcanic rock; that looks like a dried sponge that’s been in the sun too long. Hairlessness was a sign of cleanliness to these highly civilised folk. These angular-chinned dudes were sticklers for outing any vermin sharpish.

They wanted to be doubly clean when they reached out to their gods atop those great sandcastles. So body hair, a breeding ground for lice was a real no, no. And besides, the desert sun really didn’t give anyone a chance to grow out their locks without sweating like a pig. So they donned wigs made of animal hair or flax to protect their exposed bonce and they could give it an airing now and again. But not out in public, that was akin to today’s trench coat flasher. 

The Pharaoh’s were the slickest brothers (and sisters) out there and they welcomed in the era of fake beards and glorious chin-straps to pay homage to the divine who had real beards. They also did the stone-rubbing-thing or got someone else to do it for them. But when they were feeling extra Pharoahy they reached for circular blades, like a small scythe made of Bronze for a shave fit for the gods or if he wasn’t careful as a way to join them.

Ancient Greek and Roman razors.

Zeus was the poster boy for the otherworldly beard back in Ancient Greece. His beard had a complete life of its own and could impregnate any woman who stroked it. So, it’s not surprising that Greek men wanted one of their own and they didn’t care how long it took to get.  So they let it grow and grow.

That happened for a few centuries until the Romans came along and neatened the beard back to ‘respectable’. Mostly due to Mr Alexander the Great who told his countrymen something along the lines of ‘a beard is a weakness, your enemy can grab it and lead you around like a dog, so chop it off!’. He began the clean-shaven craze of 350BC. And many Romans followed suit either choosing servants who were pretty nifty with an iron novacila –a razor that looked a lot like a toy knuckle duster. Or they would pop-out to the tonsor, the town barber, for a going over. 

Photo by Peter Chiykowski 

Middle ages razors.

Errr…Not much improving on anything happened in The Dark Ages until someone turned on the light in France around 1715. People could, at least, see each other again. And they looked to their Monarch for facial hair-fashion advice.

Some Kings sported beards, some didn’t, some Queens even got away with it. But for most people in the kingdom, finding scraps of food and trying to avoid being trampled on by the Princess’s horse or hiding from the plague was more important than shaving. 

Modern razors.

By 1700 the first steel-edged straight razors were being pumped out of the Steelwork factories in Sheffield, England. Even making their way as far as barbershops up in Finland. Along the way, cut-throats picked up decorative handles, inscriptions, and even an urban legend.

The straight razor established itself into the culture. And if you poke your head into any hip barbershop today you’re bound to see the flash of a cut-throat. As it’s slapped up and down a leather strop by a badly tattooed barber. 

In 1770 the French knifemaker Jean-Jacques Perret published a book on ‘The Art of Shaving Oneself’. It went over the different ways to shave and with what. But more importantly it introduced the idea of the safety razor. And then a few years later he went ahead and built one.

It was basically a straight razor with an ‘L’ shaped wooden guard. It didn’t really stop men nicking themselves. But it was a move, albeit an awkward one, in the right direction. 

The safest a man could get?

Enter King Camp Gillette. That’s not a shaving summer camp, that was the guy’s actual name. In 1901 KCG patented a design for a disposable double-edged safety razor. And two years later, after calling in some favours, the Gillette razor was out on the shelves. And made totally affordable, even for the dustman. 

If you want to know more about Gillette and it’s ‘crazier every year’ innovations…ask your grandad. 

Electric razors.

Jacob Schick is considered to be the big daddy of the electric razor. His 1928 patent became the blueprint for a no water, no lather, dry shave. Before that, he’d also designed a razor that you could load-up like a gun, with cartridges and everything. This guy really knew his blades and he also made improvements to the everyday pencil sharpener for a hobby.

Most electric razors either have round rotating blades or a horizontally shavers foil and cutter block tech. Running on batteries or straight off the mains. Today most electric shavers come out of the laboratories of Phillips- the light bulb guys. 

Change your razor. Change your shave.

Hand holding the Boldking razor for really sensitive skin –  Boldking
Boldking razor for really sensitive skin.

That was the long and short history of the razor. And if you got this far, you just added some firepower to your pub quiz knowledge. 

Now, what did stay pretty constant over time is that most shavers just wanted to get things done and dusted quickly. Straight in, straight out…clean and fresh…with the least amount of showbiz. Boldking made a razor with a sort of stone age philosophy. Something simple, to hand, that gets the job done.

Of course, we had the trial and errors of 100,000 years of shaving to guide our hand. And the changing shaving habits of modern man to meet – ‘Give me something I can use to shave what I want when I want’. Our patented flexible blades was born out of real demand, not an overnight fad, just ask the half a million and counting Boldking users of Europe who are putting us into the history books one shaven armpit at a time.

And… rinse.

Let us know what you think.