King C. Gillette

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King Camp Gillette
King Camp Gillette.jpg
Born (1855-01-05)January 5, 1855
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Died July 9, 1932(1932-07-09) (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery
Nationality American
Employer Gillette Safety Razor Company
Partner(s) Clara Bryant married in 1888
Patent drawing of the Razor.

King Camp Gillette (January 5, 1855 – July 9, 1932) was an American businessman. He is popularly known as the inventor of the safety razor, although several models were in existence before Gillette's design. Gillette's innovation was the thin, inexpensive, disposable blade of stamped steel.[1]

Gillette is widely credited with inventing the so-called razor and blades business model, where razors are sold cheaply to increase the market for blades,[2] but in fact he only adopted this model after his competitors did.[3]

Biography[edit]

Born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and raised in Chicago, Illinois. King Camp Gillette's family was devastated by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. His Yankee ancestors came from England to Massachusetts in 1630.[4]

Razors and blades[edit]

While working as a salesman for the Crown Cork and Seal Company in the 1890s, Gillette saw bottle caps, with the cork seal he sold, thrown away after the bottle was opened. This made him recognize the value in basing a business on a product that was used a few times, then discarded. Men shaved with straight razors that needed sharpening every day using a leather strop. As existing, relatively expensive, razor blades dulled quickly and needed continuous sharpening, a razor whose blade could be thrown away when it dulled would meet a real need and likely be profitable.

Safety razors had been developed in the mid-19th century, but still used a forged blade. In the 1870s, the Kampfe Brothers introduced a type of razor[5] along these lines. Gillette improved these earlier safety-razor designs, and introduced the high-profit-margin stamped razor blade steel blade. Gillette's razor retailed for a substantial $5 (about $140 in 2014 dollars) — half the average working man's weekly pay — yet sold by the millions.

The most difficult part of development was engineering the blades, as thin, cheap steel was difficult to work and sharpen. This accounts for the delay between the initial idea and the product's introduction. Steven Porter, a machinist working with Gillette, use Gillette's drawings to create the first disposable razor that worked. William Emery Nickerson, an expert machinist and partner of Gillette, changed the original model, improving the handle and frame so that it could better support the thin steel blade. Nickerson designed the machinery to mass-produce the blades[6]

To sell the product, Gillette founded the American Safety Razor Company on September 28, 1901 (changing the company's name to Gillette Safety Razor Company in July 1902). Gillette obtained a trademark registration (0056921) for his portrait and signature on the packaging. Production began in 1903, when he sold a total of 51 razors and 168 blades.[7]

The second year, he sold 90,884 razors and 123,648 blades,[7] thanks in part to Gillette's low prices, automated manufacturing techniques and good advertising. By 1908, the corporation had established manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada, Britain, France and Germany. Razor sales reached 450,000 units and blade sales exceeded 70 million units in 1915. In 1918, when the U.S. entered World War I, the company provided all American soldiers with a field razor set, paid for by the government. Sales and distribution was handled by a separate company, Townsend and Hunt; it was absorbed by the parent company for $300,000 in 1906. Gillette vetoed a plan to sell the patent rights in Europe, believing correctly that Europe would eventually provide a very large market. Gillette and a fellow director John Joyce, battled for control of the company. Gillette eventually sold out to Joyce, but his name remained on the brand. In the 1920s, as the patent expired, the Gillette Safety Razor Company emphasized research to design ever improved models, realizing that even a slight improvement would induce men to adopt it. [8]

The company continues in the present day as the Gillette brand of Procter & Gamble.

Personal life[edit]

Gillette was also a Utopian Socialist.[9] He published a book titled The Human Drift (1894)[10] which advocated that all industry should be taken over by a single corporation owned by the public, and that everyone in the US should live in a giant city called Metropolis powered by Niagara Falls. A later book, World Corporation (1910)[11] was a prospectus for a company set up to create this vision. He offered Theodore Roosevelt the presidency of the company, with a fee of one million dollars.[12] (Roosevelt declined the offer.) Gillette's last book, The People's Corporation (1924),[13] was written with Upton Sinclair and later inspired Glen H. Taylor.

In his later life he traveled extensively, and was universally recognized from his picture on the packets of razor blades. People were surprised that he was a real person rather than just a marketing image. A Gillette company history stated that in non-English speaking countries people would often ask for "the kind with the Man's Face" blades.

Around 1922 or 1923, he built a residence at 324 Overlook Road, in "The Mesa" district of Palm Springs. A 4,800-square-foot (450 m2) main home and 720-square-foot (67 m2) guest house. The homes, sitting on 1-acre (4,000 m2) of land, are what remain of the original estate.

Sometime in the late 1920s, Gillette was known as a frequent guest of Nellie Coffman, proprietor of the Desert Inn in Palm Springs, California. He was often seen wandering about the grounds and lobby in a tattered old bathrobe. When Coffman was asked why she allowed such a low life to hang out at her establishment, she responded, "Why that is King C. Gillette. He has practically kept this place in the black the last few years."

Death[edit]

Gillette died in Los Angeles, California, and was interred in the lower levels of the Begonia Corridor in the Great Mausoleum located at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[14] He was almost bankrupt at the time of his death, due both to his having spent large amounts of money on property, and to his having lost much of the value of his corporate shares as a result of the Great Depression.

Legacy[edit]

Some peers in the marketing industry quote him as one of the innovators who revolutionized the Freebie marketing ideas.[15] The Gillette Company continued to thrive and sell products under a variety of brand names including Gillette, Braun, Oral-B, and Duracell. In 2005, the Gillette company was sold to Procter & Gamble for $57 billion USD. It is now known as Global Blades & Razors, with the Gillette (brand), a business unit of Procter & Gamble.

King Gillette Ranch[edit]

King Gillette Ranch Mansion

King Gillette purchased property for a large ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains near Calabasas in Southern California in 1926. The master plan and new buildings on the ranch were designed and built for Gillette in the late 1920s by renowned architect Wallace Neff. The architectural style was Spanish Colonial Revival. After his death, his wife sold the home to Clarence Brown, an MGM film director who held A-List Hollywood parties at the ranch. In 1952, Bob Hope bought the property, immediately giving it to the Claretian Order of the Catholic Church, which operated a seminary on the grounds for 25 years. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, founder of the Church Universal and Triumphant, purchased the property in 1978, and ran her New Age church at the site until 1986 when Soka University of America bought the land.[16]

The King Gillette ranch was most recently collaboratively purchased for $35 million by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, National Park Service, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and California State Parks who then made it available for public use.[16] Those agencies are also funding an $8.4 million visitor's center on the property.[17] On June 30, 2007, the 588-acre (2.38 km2) King Gillette Ranch opened to the public as a park. The ranch is situated adjacent to Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains, at 26800 West Mulholland Highway in Calabasas, California.[18]

On September 19, 2012, the ranch was used for the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ US 775134  "Razor"
  2. ^ see, e.g. Martin, Richard (2001-08-06). "The Razor's Edge". The Industry Standard. Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  3. ^ Randal C. Picker, "The Razors-and-Blades Myth(s)", John M. Olin Law & Economics Working Paper No. 532, University of Chicago Law School full text PDF
  4. ^ Biography: King C. Gillette: The Man and His Wonderful Shaving Device, by Russell B. Adams, Jr. (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1978).
  5. ^ "The First Safety Razor". creekstone.net. 
  6. ^ Adams (1978)
  7. ^ a b Spang, Joseph P. (1951). Look Sharp! Feel Sharp! Be Sharp!. Boston, Massachusetts: Newcomen Society of England. 
  8. ^ Frank N. Magill, Great Events from History II: Business and Commerce Series, volume 1:1897-1923 (1994) pp 75-79
  9. ^ "Advertising, Utopia, and Commercial Idealism: The Case of King Gillette". Cambridge Journals. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  10. ^ The Human Drift. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  11. ^ World corporation. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  12. ^ "No. 738: King Camp Gillette". Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  13. ^ The people's corporation. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "K.C. Gillette Dead. Made Safety Razor. His Invention Led to Output by His Company of Nearly a Billion Blades Annually. Fame Became World Wide. Wrote Books Favoring Organization of Super-Socialistic Concern to Abolish Competition's Evils.". New York Times. July 11, 1932. 
  15. ^ "Free! Why | Is the Future of Business". Wired. February 25, 2008. 
  16. ^ a b Behrens, Zach (June 30, 2007). "King Gillette Ranch Opens Today". LAist.com. Retrieved 2008-02-26. 
  17. ^ [1][dead link]
  18. ^ "King Gillette Ranch". LAMountains.com. Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Retrieved 2008-02-26. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Adams, Russell B., Jr. King C. Gillette: The Man and His Wonderful Shaving Device (Little, Brown & Co., 1978).
  • Magill, Frank N. Great Events from History II: Business and Commerce Series, volume 1:1897-1923 (1994) pp 75-79, historiography

External links[edit]