Adjustable Safety Razor History

In an age where semi-disposable cartridge shaving razors dominate the market, the adjustable safety razor is making a quiet but urbane comeback. Just what is an adjustable safety razor and how did it evolve? What kind of man is using the razor and why?

The first distinction that needs clarifying is the difference between an adjustable safety razor and a regular safety razor, because at first glance, they are obviously of the same genus. Interestingly enough from my point of view, is that some of you younger readers out there may not even know what a safety razor is or what it looks like, so let's go back to the very origins of this simple yet revolutionary shaving gadget.

The safety razor made its debut in the 1890's and by 1920 was an indispensible item in a man's toilet kit. Before then, men mainly went to a barber for a shave, which was performed with a long, unprotected straight edge razor and sharpened with a leather strap. We still see this in movies today (I actually saw it done on a street corner in India), and I suppose one can still find barbers who perform such services.

In the hands of a professional, the straight razor was a safe way to get baby-smooth shave, although there must be health issues involving blood exchange that people were unaware back then. In any case, at that time shaving was very inconvenient because few men could handle a dangerous straight razor on their own beards. Men went around with a lot of stubble in those days.

Then a Frenchman in the 1870's named Jean-Jaques Perre came up with the ingenious idea of a razor that a man could use individually without fear of injuring himself. The design included a handle and a guard that protected the edge of the razor, allowing it to protrude just enough from the head to cut whiskers but not skin. The design was improved and patented by the Kempfe brothers in U.S. in 1888, after which it's popularity grew enormously. It was also in a sense the first disposable razor as thin flat disposable replacement razors were bought in boxes. As the blade dulled, instead of sharpening the razor, the user simply replaced it by inserting a new one. The razor went into a encasing that could be opened and closed with a screw device in the handle of the safety razor.

The original razor was a very practical and pragmatic invention and the adjustable safety razor differs little from its ancestor in nearly all respects. For most men, the original safety razor did a fine enough job of providing a daily close shave. But it wasn't long before different manufacturers were making modifications and improvements on the safety razors, including the introduction of stainless steel blades to replace graphite.

The biggest modification though was simple enough but sensible and enduring. It allowed the user to adjust the blade's edge so that it protruded more or less from the head of the razor according to his shaving requirements. Thus the adjustable safety razor was born and is pretty much a standard feature on all safety razors today. The only problem with the device is that it does allow for a very close shave, so some caution is warranted in the blade's adjustment.

More and more men are switching back to safety razors over disposable cartridge razors. They're economical, simple, good for the environment, and chic as well.