Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the "Diamond Owl" intellectual game "What? Where? When?"
Liberal Arts
7 minutes for reading

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
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Photo: fineartamerica.com


The most useful thing was made from the best steel that could be afford at the moment, otherwise it just wouldn’t work.

But that surface of it, which, in fact, worked, was negligible compared to the entire mass of this thing – most of the steel practically disappeared.

What did the man with the royal name manage to do with it?

The answer is a little later.




About 30,000 years ago, people became what they are now. Dress up a Cro-Magnon man in a modern suit, wash, cut, shave and let him walk outside – no one will turn around until, he sees a trolley bus and climbs a street lamp out of fear.

But you will have to wash, cut and shave – the ancient people did not bother themselves with these formalities. The ancient man Ötzi, found frozen in the Alpine snow, was not only very hairy, but quite mustachioed and bearded, and it seemed that everyone then walked like that – how else?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
Ötzi 5000 years ago

But the representative of the first truly noticeable earthly civilization is the mysterious Sumerian. Сan you see what a curly beard? At that time everyone had such a curly beard. The people were like that in those places, and the beard was long, because it was not clear how to shorten it. It grew as it wanted.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
Typical Sumerian

Their successors, the ancient Egyptians, had more opportunities. Every pharaohs there could afford a neatly trimmed beard and shaved cheeks. The sacrificers generally shaved not only their faces, but also their heads so that the congregation would respect them. And it required sharp knives. Not necessarily iron – ancient Egyptian barbers used sharp flints or oyster shells.

The ancient Greeks usually did not shave their beards, but trimmed them to taste – in the morning, right on the agora, and you can put yourself in order and exchange gossip. But Alexander the Great has already shaved all his soldiers in one style. No beards, the enemy can grab it and pull it, and what will you do? The quality of the steel then already made it possible to shave without self-harm.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
Alexander the Great

The Romans used to shave their faces smoothly. The first bearded emperor was Hadrian, everyone shaved before him. Look at Julius Caesar – clean-shaven, neatly trimmed. And Hadrian, they say, just had a scar on his face – he hid it under his beard.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
Julius Caesar




Developing ancient traditions, medieval hairdressers, without knowing it, followed one of the Soviet slogans of the era of developed stagnation: “Study related professions!” Moreover, the number of these professions can amaze the imagination.

Even in ancient times, hairdressers often combined the profession of a priest and a medicine man. For many peoples (Maya, Iroquois, Vikings, Mongols, Aztecs), the type of haircut of a person spoke a lot about his place in society, influence and power – such an important matter will not be trusted by just anyone.

Almost automatically, hairdressers usurped the position of the head of a club in a given village, town or urban area – people while shaving, since there was nothing to do anyway, shared their problems with them, learned the news and led a social life. But what to say – everyone knows Figaro!

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
Old barber shop

And the possession of a sharp steel razor, which can cut not only hairs, quickly allowed hairdressers to assign the functions of surgeons, and at the same time dentists. Bleeding, putting leeches and even an enema, opening an abscess, removing a corn, pulling out a tooth – everything smoothly flowed from the learned doctors to the hairdressers, they even began to be called “hairdressers-surgeons”.

One American in the 19th century wrote about a typical barbershop (usually Negro): “It is a complex and contradictory microcosm of the big world. It is an environment that can support the ego… a place where fake men can be destroyed or shamed… It is an escape from annoying wives and worldly concerns. It is the place where men can be men”. Beautiful!

Not to mentioning the fact that the king’s barber automatically became the confidant of his secrets, sometimes dangerous and awe-inspiring. A typical example is Olivier le Deng, the barber of the treacherous Louis XI, who knows so much that after the change of monarch they preferred to hang him.




And what did the barbers shave their clients with? Quite early, even before the new era, razors similar to modern ones appeared – with one blade and a handle. Ancient people adopted their razor from the Egyptians – something like a bronze scraper, but later returned to more familiar ones.

At the end of the 17th century, the whole city became famous in the world because they learned to make really high-quality razors from the best steel – British Sheffield. A little later, Westphalian Solingen joined it, and for a long time they have been suppling the whole Europe with razors.

These razors were distinguished by steel of very high quality and remarkable recessed sharpening. While shaving with such a razor, a person heard a specific slight rustle with which the razor cut hair, and for this characteristic sound Solingen razors were nicknamed “singing blades”.

After the war, there were many captured Solingen razors in the USSR – these razors were used by my grandfather and father. I remember them well – mainly because I was not allowed to touch them, and I did not obey. After shaving, they were gently wiped with a towel, sometimes with an army belt or with a special emery stone, and they served many years.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
Razor strap

Then they were already called “razors”, and until the end of the 19th century, there was not even a word like that. If they are dangerous, which is safer? Can I cut myself? Then the ladle is also dangerous: if you hit it on the head, you can kill. A razor is not complicated, if used correctly – nothing dangerous.




Nevertheless, in such a razor, as in everything, with a careful look, one could see flaws. Let’s say that this common piece of good and expensive steel uses only an insignificant part – the cutting edge. The rest doesn’t work.

Well, the notorious danger has not gone anywhere – there wasn’t the word “straight razor”, but there was a real danger. So in 1874, a safety razor with serrated edges appeared in England, from under which a permanent forged blade peeped out – it was more difficult for them to cut themselves.

But such a razor was almost impossible to sharpen and change. An idea came up – this blade is sometimes replaced. You took it out, put in a new one, sharpened the old one and then returned it. Two blades are better than one – you can always choose and use a less dull one. Of course, if the blade is easy to change.

But the first razors were still far from ideal. They were disassembled and assembled without much convenience, the razors in them could be warped and become truly dangerous, and making a replaceable forged blade was not particularly cheaper than making a whole razor.




As a result, the whole situation was changed by a man whose ancestors left France due to religious strife. They were Huguenots, a kind of Protestant, and the ruling Catholics in France hinted to them that they could not get along together. The hint was called St. Bartholomew’s Night.

The ancestor of our hero understood this hint and moved to England, and from there to America. For more than a hundred years, France had survived from the country its co-religionists, many of whom were business people and not mediocre, and achieved their goal. And, moreover, received the Great French Revolution – such upheavals often begin with the survival of minorities, national or religious.

At birth, he was given the splendid name King Camp, in translation – “royal camp”. With such a name, you need to be at least a general or a landlord, and from the age of 17 he was engaged in the quite respectable, but rather modest profession of a traveling salesman, traveling around the country.

To sell something, you need to have a trustworthy appearance – in particular, be clean-shaven. It’s even hard to say how many provincial hotels he used to whip up the foam with a shaving brush, scrape his cheeks, and then ruled a razor on a leather strap. But finally, he was tired of this troublesome job only at the age of 40 – while shaving, he had a new idea!


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Why waste so much good steel on a straight razor? It’s easier to make a small blade out of worse steel.

They can’t shave for years, but they don’t need to – it’s cheap: shaved, thrown out and replaced! I fixed it in a special machine, and shave – every time with a new one!




From what it was necessary to make replaceable blades, it immediately became clear – from simple and inexpensive carbon steel. The most convenient technology for their manufacture was stamping. But I had to work hard with this technology – such steel was difficult to process and sharpen.

He went to the hardware store, bought a steel band for the clock springs, a whole roll at 16 cents a pound, drawing supplies and paper and designing of a new disposable blade began. If he knew how difficult it was, he probably would not have done it in a few years. But he did not know it and in a week created a pretty decent version of the blade.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
Disposable blade

Nevertheless, many trifles prevented him from bringing his idea to mind. It took him several years and all his savings are $ 25,000, now it is several hundred thousand. It’s not even clear how it would have ended if it hadn’t been for the help of William Emery Nickerson, a gifted MIT graduate.

Nickerson immediately solved many problems: he changed the machine so that the disposable blade was firmly held in it, and also came up with an assembly for the production of the blades, and even a method for hardening and sharpening them. Then he became a member of the board of directors of the company that started their release.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
Gillette’s patent




Only 6 years after the idea that dawned on him, our inventor, King Camp Gillette, was able to find partners and start production. In 1903, 51 razors and 168 blades were sold – it was not enough to recoup the costs. But the following year, 91,000 razors and 123,000 blades were sold!

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
King Camp Gillette

Within two years, Gillette launched a whole network of sales of his disposable machine tools in Europe. Remembering his experience as a traveling salesman, he used a brilliant marketing ploy: razors were sold very cheap, but the blades were a little more expensive.

Gillette is not the inventor of this business pattern – he only successfully applied it. But his success was so great that now everyone calls this template “Razor and Blade”. In our column, we have already written about this template – with its help Rockefeller increased the sales of kerosene in multimillion-dollar China, selling kerosene lamps to the Chinese at a symbolic price.

The First World War was a huge impetus for the sale of safety razors. The point was not only that there was no need for company barber – there was a more serious reason. All soldiers were ordered to shave, because with a beard, it was impossible to fit a gas mask tightly.

In 1917, the US government ordered 36 million blades from Gillette for US soldiers on the battlefields of the First World War. However, by this time he was already selling a million machines and 120 million blades annually. The ideas developed by him are more surprising.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save expensive high-quality steel?
Gillette’s first razor

He decisively opposed capitalism, was going to build a society without competition, where all Americans would live in one city near the Great Lakes, powered by Niagara Falls. He offered to lead the campaign for the construction of this city to Theodore Roosevelt, but he replied that he did not trust the man who produces razors, but wears a mustache.

Gillette realized that you couldn’t prove anything, retired (also because he lost a lot of money at the beginning of the Great Depression) and died peacefully in his bed. But the Gillette razors are still in demand all over the planet. I think that many of those reading this text use them, as I do.




Your hairstyle is not your own business. The way you shave or cut your hair already gives everyone you come across a lot of information about you, and it’s better not to be mistaken about what that information is.

While you are being cut or shaved, the hairdresser not only engages you in conversation – he learns a lot about you. Hairdressers are very knowledgeable people, and now it is no less important than in the Middle Ages.

The word “Solingen” is no longer just the name of a city – it is a trade mark, and Solingen knives are sold no less successfully than razors. If the reputation has already been earned, it is easy to extend it to something else, and one must remember to use it.

For 23 years, Gillette has worked as a traveling salesman, and only after that he had his brilliant idea. If he brushed aside the thought that came to him while shaving, it would all have been invented by someone else – but not him. Don’t miss an important thought – it will appear when it wants to!

Louis XIV was the last king under whom France was the world leader – he expelled the Huguenots, and the country went downhill. If you reduce the diversity of society, it becomes easier to manage… But soon there is no one to manage and there is no need.

Gillette’s idea of ​​turning America into a phalanster is now only mentioned as a curiosity. And without Gillete’s razors now it is impossible to imagine life. Good ideas, fortunately, are also more tenacious than bad ones.


All illustrations from open sources

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