On December 3, 1901, King Camp Gillette filed a patent application that would revolutionize the way men and women shave.
For decades, others were hard at work trying to perfect a razor blade that wouldn’t get dull. But Gillette, then a 46-year-old bottle cap salesman living in Brookline, had a better idea: a disposable razor blade.
At the time, shaving was a daunting and time-consuming task, and razors required constant sharpening.
“A main object of my invention is to provide a safety-razor in which the necessity of honing or stropping the blade is done away with, thus saving the annoyance and expense involved therein,’’ read the patent application. “I am able to produce and sell my blades so cheaply that the user may buy them in quantities and throw them away when dull.’’
Gillette sold only 51 razors and 168 blades in 1901. But by 1903, business had skyrocketed, with 91,000 razors and more than 12 million blades sold. The razor sets sold for $5 apiece at first, but prices were later dropped when the patents expired.
The blades came in paper the color of money, with Gillette’s face printed on the wrapper, according to Fortune.
By 1910, surging razor sales had made Gillette a millionaire, Fortune reported.
But it was World War I that really put sales through the roof. Gillette struck a deal with the U.S. military, and each enlisted man received a Gillette shaving kit. Sales tripled over the previous year, with 3.5 million razors and 32 million blades sold in 1918.
As sales grew, so did Gillette’s appetite for spending on advertising, which he thought would make – or break – the business, according to Fortune.
Gillette was also an early user of sports figures to endorse the product.
This 1910 advertisement featured Pittsburgh Pirates star Honus Wagner, and others.
By 1930, the company spent $10 million in advertising, according to The Boston Globe.
Gillette lost most of his fortune when the stock market crashed in 1929, and he died in 1932.
Since his death, Gillette has dominated the razor market, enhancing its founder’s initial invention with lubricating strips, pivoting heads, conditioning strips, microfins, vibrating handles, swiveling hinges, and – of course – additional blades.
In 2005, Procter and Gamble acquired Gillette in a deal valued at $57 billion.
And despite intense competition, the brand that sprung from Gillette’s 1901 patent lives on.
As of 2015, the Gillette brand had $7.9 billion in sales and accounted for 70 percent of the world’s razors, according to Forbes.
Gillette remains headquartered in Boston, where it has both manufacturing and research and development facilities.