One of America's Greatest Inventions: The Safety Razor

Facial hair trends have come and gone. Some men have reacted to the current trends and others have just plain ignored them. Over the last few years, facial hair has been the height of popular men’s fashion. One could not fathom seeing Nick Offerman without his signature mustache or Stephen Colbert without his adorable clean-shaven face. I swoon when Paul Rudd fashions his delicious stubble.

Facial hair can be a form of expression, fashion, cultural influence, social status, or used for social awareness such as Movember. Groups have even been organized to honor the beard, such as The Bearded Villains.

The presence of facial hair in everyday society and popular culture is probably something one does not frequently think about. Looking back at images of our U.S. Presidents, prior to 1909, facial hair was more distinguished and groomed. Mutton chops, beards and a variety of styled mustaches were the height of popular fashion. President Lincoln was advised to grow a beard, thinking “This would indicate that it is a great feat to raise both a beard and a presidential boom at the same time, and that the wise man will confine himself to one or the other.” (Source: El Paso Herald, January 1916.) The most recent president to have facial hair was William Howard Taft, who held the presidential office from 1909 – 1913. The United States has not had a President with facial hair since then. Is there an opinion poll that says someone is more likely to be elected, or appear to be more trustworthy, with a cleanly shaven face?

What is interesting are the contributing factors that allowed more men to prefer a clean-shaven face, which is an underlying part of U.S. history and created one of the greatest inventions, the safety razor.

The Gillette safety razor has been ranked one of the greatest inventions ever made that changed men’s appearance and men’s fashion. King C. Gillette patented the safety razor right after the turn of the century. The safety razor first came into men’s everyday cleansing and facial regimen after WWI. Soldiers, heading into combat, were issued safety razors because they needed to have a clean-shaven face in order to properly wear a gas mask to protect themselves from the poisonous gases used in WWI.

After the war, the safety razor could now be found in most American households. Having a razor at home changed the very industry of men’s fashion. One didn’t need to go to the barbershop anymore to get a clean shave. Men’s grooming became more precise, and more accessible. You could have all styles of facial hair, the foo man chu, goatee, mustache, soul patch, or my favorite, the chin strap… (just kidding.) 

Facial hair is a form of expression, and an accessory created by daily grooming. It is good for the soul to style and accessorize every day. It is fascinating that the invention of something so small as the safety razor could impact U.S. history and change men’s facial routines forever, while also giving them the possibility to show some sexy stubble. 

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.