Archive for Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Evolution of shaving

February 1, 2012

In the deep, dark past when I was a youth, there were three milestones which meant adulthood. Two including getting a driver’s license and registering for the draft. However, the earliest sign of approaching manhood was shaving.

I remember how excited I was the first time I was allowed to actually use a razor and gingerly scrape off a thin layer of peach fuzz. I don’t know how old I was, but I do know it made me feel very mature. My father warned me that shaving was a lifelong chore, but that didn’t deter my euphoria and I have never minded shaving.

At that time, beards were not that popular and a growth of facial hair was sometimes frowned on. Then, 25 years or so ago, beards became popular again. Now there is every style of facial hair ranging from the ever-popular mustache to full beards. In my case, the only time I had a beard was during the centennial celebration in Mulvane, but I really hated it. No, I have never been tempted to grow a beard since that time, although I did have fairly long sideburns during the 1970s.

The popularity of beards and mustaches is like the stock market – up and down. For example, at one point in history beards were seen as a status symbol, while at other times too much facial hair was regarded as “lower class.” Sometimes being clean shaven might have been a safety factor. I read that Alexander the Great wanted his soldiers to be clean shaven, since in battle an opponent might grab the beard in battle.

I found that the ancient Romans discovered that a wet beard was easier to shave. I’m sure that made shaving a bit less painful.

I had to consult a pictorial history when I read that the first 15 presidents of the United States were clean-shaven. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to sport a beard. From that time beards became back in style and Presidents Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield and Benjamin Harrison all had beards. President Theodore Roosevelt had a mustache and his successor, William Howard Taft, was the last president to have facial hair. Incidentally, none of the present Republican candidates and the incumbent Democrat, President Obama, have a beards or mustaches.

Of course, in the “old days” before disposable blades and electric shavers, being clean shaven was probably an adventure and probably painful. Ancient cave drawings show pre-historic males removing beards by shaving with a clam shell or sharpened flint. I doubt that shaving was part of their daily routine.

In the 17th century long, steel blades became popular in Europe as a tool for shaving. They were extremely expensive and were handed from one generation to another. With use, blades could become chipped and the results could be painful.

A Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Perret is credited with the forerunner of the modern razor. He encased the blade in a wooden handle. The British inventor, William Henson, placed the blade at a right angle, which improved the quality of the razor and made shaving both safer and easier, however neither model proved very successful.

Nearly a half-century later, in 1903, an American named King Champ Gillette decided there was money to be made if a disposable blade could be developed. Knowing he wasn’t an expert, he hired inventor William Nickerson. Their first model resulted in a total sales of 51 razors and 14 dozen blades in 1903. Soon, and largely, due to Gillette’s marketing ability, the disposable razor blade took hold and by the end of World War I, most men were shaving at home and not going to the barber shop. Gillette centered his advertising on sporting events, including the popular series of televised Friday night boxing matches.

The free enterprise system encourages competition and in 1928, a retired colonel Joseph Schick patented an electric razor. It wasn’t long before the lines were drawn and there is an on-going battle between devotees to “old fashioned” razor shaving and those who love their electric razor. As far as I’m concern, I like both. After I got sick, I tried to learn to shave with my left hand and that was a disaster. Then I got an electric razor and started shaving myself. I have come back to being able to lather my face and shave with my right hand. I use the electric razor when I’m rushed and a regular disposable razor when I’m not. It has always been my belief that you may as well use shaving cream since you have to wash your face anyway.

One of the interesting facts I came across is that the average man removes more than 27 feet of whiskers from his during his lifetime. Actually, there is a modern style of stylish stubble, but that’s not for me, on me it only looks sloppy. No, I’m one of those guys who will shave daily and I enjoy it.


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