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  • Writer's pictureMax Sprecher

The History Of Shaving

Old West Barber Straight Shaving
Old West Barber Straight Shaving

We will never know the exact stage in man's evolution when he first observed his own reflection in some still pool of clear water. We suspect that, then and there, he must have decided he did not care for the dreadful appearance caused by the heavy growth of hair on his face. Ridding himself of the hair must not have been a difficult decision to make. Anthropologist inform us that in the prehistory past, before even a trace of recorded civilization was known to exist, it was common to find tribes, even whole cultures, where removing unwanted facial was a practiced ritual amongst men. We do know that the removal of facial hair, as it was practiced in those times, was a far cry from the shaving we know today.

Fast forward the prehistoric times and bronze age it takes us to a time before 1000 B.C. also knows as the age of Iron and Metal alloys. A tribe of herdsmen in near East or Western Asia built a very hot fire in the confined area of a roasting pit. The fire just happened to contain some stray meteorites or other stones that were rich in iron ore. For some reason, perhaps due to a hefty residue of unburned charcoal left in the ashes, the fire generated enough heat to melt the ore and leave a glowing puddle of raw iron in the ashes. When the ore cooled, its unnatural weight and intense hardness became immediately apparent. From there on, man's natural curiosity took over. His tinkering with the ore resulted in the initial discovery of iron, a metal superior to bronze. It was a metal more suitable for use in making cutting tools, weapons and shaving devices. Travel and commerce spread the knowledge of iron smelting and forging. The process became known far and wide. Of course the first razors made of iron were not folding instruments. In reality, they were more similar to the modern day cook's meat chopper than any razor style today. Some have been discovered to have handle material fashioned from bone or wood in more refined pieces. After centuries of use and experience, the realization must have dawned that the smaller the razor's size, the easier it is to shave with it. So, with time, the massive blades grew smaller and in most cases, sharper and more refined.

When we pursue the evolution of shaving instruments, we find that the original, old straight-frame folding razor was in use for multiple centuries before it finally began the transformation which gave it the familiar look it presents today. So, in all likelihood, it was the barbers of the 1800's and 1900's who called the shots for bringing about most of the major improvements in the straight razors. We know that the tempering of steel and steel alloys were developed to a high degree of perfection. Also the long standing system of grinding the blades at a slant from the spine down to the cutting edge was developed. This was known as the wedge grind. It was mostly abandoned in the 17th century for the more productive concave shape hollow grind. The hollow grind blade was in fact a vast improvement over the wedge grind. It was doubtlessly the last improvement for the straight razors (before their decline).

Research indicates that straight razors, which are also known as cut-throat razors, reached the peak of their popularity during the late 1800's and early 1900's. During this time they were regarded as essential items for every household in the civilized world. Their decline was hastened by the introduction of the safety razor. At the beginning of the twentieth century every major cutlery company in America manufactured an abundance of straight razors for the domestic trade. However, because of a diminished demand, by mid century, most American companies had ceased production of straight razors. It had become more profitable to sell imported razors from Germany and the England than to manufacture their own.

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