King Camp Gillette (January 5, 1855 – July 9, 1932) was an American businessman, popularly known as the inventor of the safety razor. While Gillette did improve the design of the safety razor (patent US775134), his true invention was an inexpensive, high profit-margin stamped steel disposable blade and a unique business model that later became known as freebie marketing. This beat out competitors and became the most popular razor of its time.
While working as a traveling salesman for the Crown Cork and Seal Company to support his family in the 1890s. Gilette would see bottle caps, with the cork seal he sold, thrown away after opening the bottle. This made him realise the value in basing a businss on a disposable product. Gillette hit upon an idea. Earlier razor blades needed continuous sharpening, becoming worn out quickly and making them expensive. He realized that a profit could be made by selling a safety razor at a reduced price and then making a profit margin on the inexpensive disposable blades. He developed a blade made out of very thin sheet-steel. Once the blade became dull, it was discarded and replaced by a new one, using the same holder. This has been called the Razor and blades business model, and is an example of a "loss leader".
Safety razors had first been developed in the mid-1800s, but still used a forged blade. In the 1870s, the Kampfe Brothers introduced a type of razor along these lines. Gillette improved these earlier designs of the safety razor and also introduced his true innovation of high profit-margin stamped steel blades (along with his unique business model). Gillette's razor retailed for a substantial $5 (almost $134 in 2006 dollars) — half the average workingman's weekly pay — yet it sold by the millions.
The most difficult part of the development was making the blades, as cheap thin steel was very difficult to work with and very difficult to sharpen. This accounts for the long delay between the initial idea and the first production.
In order to apply his idea, Gillette co-founded the Gillette Safety Razor Company on September 28 1901 under the name of American Safety Razor Company. The company's name was changed in July 1902 to Gillette Safety Razor Company. Gillette obtained a trademark registration (0056921) for his portrait and signature on the packaging. Production began in 1903 when he sold a total of 51 razors and 168 blades. The following year, 90,884 razors and 123,648 blades were sold, thanks in part to Gillette's low prices, automated manufacturing techniques, and good advertising. By 1908 the corporation had established manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada, England, France and Germany. Razor sales reached 450,000 units and blade sales exceeded 70 million units in 1915. In 1918, when the U.S. entered World War I, the company provided all American soldiers with a field razor set, paid for by the government.
Gillette was also a Utopian Socialist, publishing a book The Human Drift in 1894 advocating that all industry should be taken over by a single corporation owned by the public, and that everyone in the US should live in a giant city called Metropolis powered by Niagara Falls. A later book, World Corporation (1910), was a prospectus for a company set up to create this vision. He offered Theodore Roosevelt the presidency of the company. His last book, The People's Corporation was written with Upton Sinclair and later inspired Glen H. Taylor.
In his later life he traveled extensively, and was universally recognized from his picture on the packets of razor blades. People were surprised that he was a real person rather than just a marketing image. A Gillette company history stated that in non-English speaking countries people would often ask for "the kind with the Man's Face" blades.
Sometime in the late 1920s, Gillette was known as a frequent guest of Nellie Coffman, proprietor of the Desert Inn in Palm Springs, California. He was often seen wandering about the grounds and lobby in a tattered old bathrobe. When Coffman was asked why she allowed such low life to hang out at her establishment, she responded, "Why that is King C. Gillette. He has practically kept this place in the black the last few years."
Around 1922 or 1923, he built a residence at 324 Overlook Road, in "The Mesa" district of Palm Springs. A 4,800 square foot main home and 720 square foot guest house. The homes on one acre of land are what remain of the original estate. The original adobe guard/gate house is located South East of the property at lat=33.7971646982, lon=-116.545822743.
On June 30, 2007, the 588-acre King Gillette Ranch opened to the public as a park. The ranch is situated adjacent to Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains near Calabasas, California. Many of the buildings on the ranch were for built for Gillette in the 1920’s by architect Wallace Neff.
King Gillette purchased the property in 1926. After his death, his wife sold the home to Clarence Brown, a MGM film director who held A-List Hollywood parties at the ranch. In 1952, Bob Hope bought the property, immediately giving it to Claretian Order of the Catholic Church, which operated a seminary on the grounds for 25 years. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, founder of the Church Universal and Triumphant, purchased the property in 1978, and ran her New Age church at the site until 1986 when Soka University of America bought the land.
The ranch was most recently collaboratively purchased for $35 million by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, National Park Service, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and California State Parks who then made it available for public use.