Upcoming History of Razors Lecture by Bill Green

Professor Bill Green will give a lecture on April 11th at 2:00 p.m. in Hancock 100. Continue reading to get a sneak peek of what he has in store!

I always like to give one lecture each semester for the Thursday lecture series. It’s a nice opportunity to communicate with students that aren’t in my class. They’re usually on whatever I’m really interested in at the moment. So, I asked myself, “what’s next?” I already had all of these shavers by the Braun Company. It’s a German company that operated in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and they made hairdryers, shavers, and radios. I have virtually everything they have ever made. And they made a lot of shavers, like 50. I thought, “well, why don’t I just get all the other shavers?”

I was mostly thinking about electric shavers, both for men and women. Women’s are more interesting because guys tend to be pretty conservative. They have to be properly macho, even when nobody’s looking. Which, when you’re shaving, nobody’s looking. And yet you’re somehow telling yourself how cool you are. Whereas women buy the more elegant looking shaver. So, I got all of those, starting with the first electric shaver made by Schick around 1925 or so. It’s a beautiful thing… very expensive, beautifully made, and designed to last forever. They all still work, even the old ones can be plugged in and still work.

Then I said, “well that’s interesting, but that’s just half the market. I’m gonna get all the others.” I didn’t really have too many, but then I bought ALL these razors. And then I got one bronze razor from the Bronze Age, which is from about 2 or 3000 BCE, from Europe. Then I got an ancient Roman one, that’s made of iron, rusted solid, looks like a little pocket knife. And then I got a few Japanese ones made by samurai sword makers.

In the late 18th/19th century, they came out with what they called “cut-throat razors” and I bought a bunch of those. Replaceable blades came out in 1901 – it was an American innovation. All of a sudden, they became a commodity, and they had names, so people know what’s what. Before that, it was just a razor made by somebody, but you didn’t really know by who.

In a way, this lecture will be the history of shaving, but in the eye of the designer. I never expected for this to be so interesting. Nobody’s ever really looked at this very carefully or taken it very seriously, because it’s just so normal. And yet these things are really interesting and quite beautiful.