the disposable razor blade — 8/26/15

Today’s selection — from Who Built That by Michelle Malkin. In business, the “holy grail” is to get long-term, recurring business from the same customer, rather than having to make a new sale each time. In the late 1800s, William Painter had achieved this with cork, a disposable sealant. He encouraged a young employee named King Gillette to invent something with this same disposable quality, and Gillette came up with the idea of a disposable razor blade:

“In 1891, William Painter invited King Gillette to join the Baltimore Bottle Seal Company and soon after, Crown Cork & Seal, as a traveling sales rep in New York and New England. ‘It was at [Painter’s] solicitation that I joined the company,’ Gillette recalled fondly. Given their mutual passion for invention, a deep friendship was inevitable. Painter welcomed Gillette into his home for ‘intimate talks on inventions.’ He freely dispensed business advice to Gillette as he had done with countless other aspiring tinkerpreneurs pursuing the American Dream. Gillette soaked up Painter’s wisdom and fully understood the business significance of his bottle cap innovations. He appreciated the miracle of the mundane.

‘Mr. Painter was a very interesting talker when interested in his subject and thoroughly conversant with all the details and possibilities of his own inventions,’ Gillette reflected, ‘which though little in themselves seemed without boundary to their possibilities when one realizes their unlimited fields of applications.’

“As Gillette told it in his own company’s history, Painter steered him toward the practical and the disposable. The razor-sharp businessman gave Gillette the consumer-driven focus he had been lacking. ‘[Y]ou are always thinking and inventing something,’ Painter told Gillette. But he had never sustained a viable business. Painter advised Gillette: ‘Why don’t you try to think of something like a crown cork, which, once used, is thrown away, and the customer keeps coming back for more — and with every additional customer you get, you are building a foundation for profit?’

“Those words, Gillette said, ‘stuck to me like a burr.’ When Gillette doubted that he could come up with anything beyond the ‘corks, pins, and needles’ that had already been conceived, Painter persisted: ‘You don’t know. It is not probable that you ever will find anything that is like the Crown Cork, but it won’t do any harm to think about it.’

“Gillette’s famed epiphany that led to the creation of the ubiquitous safety razor struck in 1895 as he stood in front of his bathroom mirror: “[W]hen I started to shave, I found my razor dull, and it was not only dull, it was beyond the point of stropping and it needed honing, for which it must be taken to a barber or a cutler.’

“At age forty, his long-sought ‘Aha!’ moment had arrived.

” ‘As I stood there with the razor in my hand,’ Gillette recalled, ‘my eyes resting on it lightly as a bird settling down on its nest — the Gillette razor was born.’ He ‘knew practically nothing about steel.’ His idea ‘was looked upon as a joke by all my friends.’ Experts told him that putting an edge on sheet steel for shaving couldn’t be done. His own father and brothers, preoccupied with their own new endeavor manufacturing horse clippers, blew him off.

“But as William Painter had counseled family, friends. and colleagues: ‘The only way to do a thing is to do it.’ … Gillette continued to work for Crown Cork & Seal while he conducted experiments, sought financial support, and solicited technical help in perfecting his blades. He ignored the mockers and detractors.”

Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs

Author: Michelle Malkin
Publisher: Mercury Ink an Imprint of Simon and Schuster
Copyright 2015 by Michelle Malkin
Pages 136-139

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Delanceyplace.com is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

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