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March 18, 2024

March 18, 1931: The First Viable Electric Dry Shaver Goes on Sale in the U.S

Jacob Schick was the inventor. He served in the U.S. Army, and during the Spanish-American War was in the Philippines; he got dysentery, a disease common in the tropics. After Schick recovered (which took a year!), the Army transferred him to Alaska—the opposite of the tropics. There Schick helped lay down a thousand miles of telegraph lines.

After retiring from the Army, Schick explored for gold in Alaska and Canada. He hated shaving with water in the bitter cold and tried to invent a better (drier, less cold) way to shave. He came up with an electric shaver that was bulky and required two hands: one hand to hold the shaving head, and the other to hold the bulky motor, which was connected to the shaving head by a cable.

Schick’s earliest prototype for the electric shaver was a bulky, two-handed affair.

Manufacturers didn’t like his idea.

During World War I, Schick served in the Army again. After the war, he started working on his idea again. He manufactured it himself and brought it to market in 1929—just in time for the Great Depression!

Schick’s razor didn’t sell well. But he didn’t give up. He mortgaged his house to get enough money to keep the business alive, and he finally got the motor and shaving head to the size so that the razor was handy instead of clumsy. With the entire razor-and-motor in one unit that fit comfortably in one hand, the electric razor that Schick brought out in 1931 finally began to sell.. .and sell, and sell.

Actually, it’s almost surprising that this early razor sold as well as it did. It cost only $25—but that’s like $400 in today’s money! Still, customers compared that cost to the cost of blades and shaving cream and other expenses of a wet shave, and decided the price was just fine.

In just 6 years, 1.5 million razors sold.

Ad for the Schick "20" electric shaver, printed in the Saturday Evening Post, October 3, 1953. Notable as the source for Neon Park’s cover art for the Frank Zappa album Weasels Ripped My Flesh.

Schick got rich and retired to Canada. But his lingering health problems caught up with him, and he died in 1937. He said the lifespan of a man who shaved correctly every day would be 120 — he lived less than half that time.


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