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King Gillette

AKA King Camp Gillette

Born: 5-Jan-1855
Birthplace: Fond du Lac, WI
Died: 9-Jul-1932
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, CA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor, Business

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Safety razor

In King Gillette's time, men shaved using a long blade that would dull after a few weeks, and was then re-sharpened with a leather strop. In 1895, Gillette envisioned a small, thin blade encased in a metal case -- the safety razor -- with disposable blades. Several metals experts told him it would be impossible to mass produce such a sheathed blade, and it took Gillette several years to find an engineer who could make what he wanted. MIT-trained William Emery Nickerson was up to the task, and the two men began manufacturing the new razors and interlocking blades in 1901. Sold in an introductory package of one razor with four blades, the price was so low that Gillette actually lost money on the original sale, but he had calculated correctly that the customer's need for new blades would make the business profitable. This business model is now known as the razor and blades method or freebie marketing.

Gillette was a self-made millionaire, and an eccentric character. Prior to his invention, he had worked for many years as a traveling salesman, but became disillusioned after a long stint selling bottle caps to patent medicine makers. In 1894 he wrote The Human Drift, a utopian call for an economy reorganized without competition, with one company providing all the products humanity needs and with all adults as shareholders in that omni-company. Poverty and crime would be minimized or eliminated, he believed, if most people were housed in giant apartment buildings with shared, centralized kitchens to improve efficiency. Given his idealistic dreams, it is ironic that Gillette's invention is widely seen as the beginning of America's "disposable society" -- his shaving system replaced the straight razor and sharpening strop, pieces which could last for many years, with blades that could not be sharpened and always needed to be repurchased, replaced, and soon discarded. In his company's first four years, Gillette sold 90,000 razors and more than 12,000,000 blades. Gillette lost his personal fortune in the stock market collapse of 1929. His company, Gillette, has been owned by Procter & Gamble since 2005.

His mother, Fanny Lemira Gillette, collaborated with White House steward Hugo Ziemann to publish The White House Cookbook, which for several decades was one of America's best-selling recipe collections, and remains in print to this day. King Gillette's unusual first name was intended to honor a family friend, whose surname was King.

Father: George Wolcott Gillette (patent agent, b. circa 1824, )
Mother: Fanny Lemira Camp Gillette (author, b. 1828, m. 1848, d. 25-Dec-1926)
Wife: Alanta Ella Gaines Gillette (m. 1890, one son)
Son: King Gaines Gillette (real estate agent, b. 18-Nov-1890, d. 18-Jun-1955)

    Gillette Founder (1901)
    National Inventors Hall of Fame 2007
    English Ancestry

Author of books:
The Human Drift (1894)
Mining in the San Juan Country (1908)
World Corporation (1910)
The People's Corporation (1921)


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