Shaving aboard Titanic


Richard Coplen

Hey all,
as I was staring into the mirror, shaving with my "Gilette Mach.3 Turbo" razor, this morning I began day-dreaming (as you do!). I recalled seeing a "Gilette" razor complete with packaged blades at the Titanic exhibition in Hamburg, Germany back in 1997. The razor, as with the other items on display, had been recovered from Titanic wreck-site. The blades were contained in a small paper envelope with a moustached gentleman on the front and had the caption which is still used today "Gilette - the best a man can get!". I found it amazing how present-day brand-names were around back then and apart from the actual product, how little has changed. Then I was wondering which class of passenger would the razor have belonged to - 1st, 2nd or 3rd or crew?! Were such "hi-tech" safety razors available only to those that could afford them, while the lower-classes used the more economical, but deadly cut-throat razors?! Or were they affordable by all? Any ideas people? Look forward to your ideas!
Far more brand names than you might ever suspect were around then, and for many years before. There's been some discussion in the 'Gilded Age' thread about them. Here's a link
Bob Godfrey is the man for this sort of info, mind you I think he's got a beard, but that wouldn't stop his tireless researches .....
Gilette? Never 'eard of 'im - I use sandpaper. But always ready to rise to a challenge.

Mr G invented his safety razor and put it on sale in 1903 as not only a safer but also a cheaper alternative to the cut-throat - or so it appeared to be on first purchase. This was at a time when most men shaved about as often as they bathed, which wasn't very often at all, but when they did feel the need they were more likely to visit a barber than buy a razor.

Gilette's product was designed to popularise do-it-yourself shaving. There had been earlier versions of safety razors which worked on a similar 'carpenter's plane' principle but they didn't use a disposable blade and were relatively expensive. Gilette's version made a rapid impact after selling just a few dozen in its first year of production in 1903. By the time that men were shaving with Gilette razors on Titanic there were millions in use and manufacturing plant had been established in several European countries as well as the US and Canada. Gilette knew he'd got it made when the US Government included a Gilette razor in the field kit of every member of its armed forces in 1917. The British army followed suit in 1920.

King Camp Gilette (how can you go wrong with a name like that!) was of course a very smart fellah - he was marketing a product that customers needed to buy not just once but over and over again - one of the first steps towards a throwaway consumer society. That bearded gent on the wrapper, btw, is King Camp himself. And for those who like an unhappy ending, he lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929.
>>Gilette? Never 'eard of 'im - I use sandpaper. But always ready to rise to a challenge.<<

Uhhhh...thanks...I'll keep my beard. BTW, Monica, for some reason, that link didn't work.
Fascinated, Bob, to learn that the BEARDED gent on the wrapper is KCG himself. Most interesting (to a marketer, as you know). Nobody, today, would decide to put a bearded man on the wrapper of a razor blade, it doesn't make sense, does it? This might form part of the answer to Richard's question re class, and suggest the basis of the great success of safety razors. I would surmise that the upper classes were, in the early 1900's, still expected to sport beards and moustaches (rather as we discovered in the corsets-for-men exchange) but the stubbled lower classes might have been expected to clean themselves up a bit. So Gilette aimed at the masses. The (excellent from the viewpoint of profit) idea that you load the consumables is obviously the source of Gilette's fortune. Flog the razor cheaply, and charge extortionate prices for the extras. It works in razor blades still, and in other things like printer cartridges, as I know to my cost. On a practical note, though, being a woman, I don't know if beard-wearers have to use razors to do the trimming etc.? Or sandpaper.
Lost the lot in the crash of '29, eh? Well, it shows the problem of investing in other businesses.
Michael, I think Wikipedia might have gone south....pity.
Well, he actually doesn't have much of a beard. Ok, no beard at all - just a 'tache. Looks a lot like Sir Cosmo. Pardon also my spelling - Should be Gillette with two l's. I should think that in 1912 the First Class passengers visited the barber for a shave and the mass market penetration of the safety razor might not have reached far into the lower classes, so my bet would be on a 2nd Class passenger as the owner of that razor from the wreck. Or maybe a member of the crew who was expected to look presentable on a daily basis, like a deck officer or a steward.
Painful memories there, Bob, from the link. The ladies' Nymph razor. Ouch. Also Rolls Razor - from the washing machine debacle, maybe? I'm convinced by the middle market proposition for Gillette. Never could spell it myself.
Being a hoarder, I have at the back of my bathroom cabinet a Nymph ladies' razor which was left there by (well, never mind) sometime in the '70s. The point is that it's exactly the same as that 1938 model, even down to the same bilious green colour. Illustrates an important design principle - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And yes, that's the Rolls Razor Co of washing machine fame. Nothing to do with the cars, of course, but they traded on the fact that a lot of people assumed a connection. I am reminded also of the memoirs of Lord Denning who, as 'Master of the Rolls', was forever receiving letters from earnest young men in foreign climes who sought employment 'helping to build the finest cars in the world'.
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See Bob's second post above, Sam. Obviously KCG was persuaded of the practical necessity of endorsing his own product and contented himself with a luxuriant 'tache. Owner endorsement seems to run in the razor market - that guy who bought Remington, was it, not sure? Liked it so much he bought the company, I think the tagline ran. Great Lord Denning story, Bob.
Although this may be a case of asking for too much information, I have noticed that Victorian and Edwardian women seem to have covered their shoulders, even when wearing evening dress. Does this imply that they did not need to shave their arm pits? Assuming, on the other hand, that they did require a hairless look, how did they manage to shave their armpits in the days of cut-throat razors?
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Before the arrival of safety razors, ladies used the same type of straight ('cut-throat') razor as did men. Models made for ladies were rather smaller (generally with a four inch blade) and sometimes more ornate, but of the same basic design.
If you've ever had your neck shaved by a straight razor you'd remember it. My barber said, "This is trust" when he brought the blade to my throat. I could only think of Mafia-styled executions!
>>If you've ever had your neck shaved by a straight razor you'd remember it. My barber said, "This is trust" when he brought the blade to my throat. I could only think of Mafia-styled executions!<<

The Don Lynch/Ken Marschall "Titanic - An Illustrated History" has a photograph (Page 62) of the barber shop on the Olympic.

"For gentlemen accustomed to a daily hot
lather and shave, the Titanic provided
two barber shops, one in first class and
another in second."

Did third class passengers have to fend for themselves(as in other areas)or would they have been permitted there ? Of course, the barber shops probably charged First and Second Class prices, so in the first place it would have been out of the question for the financial situations of most Third Class passengers in need of "a daily hot lather and shave"...even if they might have been accustomed to same...which again,might have been doubtful.