Wednesday, November 6, 2013

For Those Who Prefer a Buzz in the Morning

Schick Dry Shaver circa 1930.

I was never a fan.  I preferred a Gillette safety razor and with lather applied from a soap mug and boar’s bristle brush.  But my dad, who had a very light beard, was a devotee of the charms of the electric razor.  Although he used a Remington, like every other fan of the noisy contraption, he owned his morning ritual to Col. Jacob Schick who patented the Schick Dry Shaver on November 6, 1928.
Schick was born in 1878 in Ottumwa, Iowa but grew up in New Mexico where his father operated a coal mine.  By the age of sixteen he was managing the railway spur that served his dad’s mine and was showing his skill tinkering with and improving tools and equipment.
The adventuresome young man heard the siren call of war and enlisted in the Army for the Spanish American War.  He was sent to the Philippines.  He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant with the 1st Division 8th Army Corps.  He returned to the islands to serve from 1903 to 1905 with the 8th Infantry.  He contracted dysentery and was sent home.  It took a full year to recover and his health was permanently damaged.
When doctors suggested that a colder climate would be good for him, he transferred to the 22nd Infantry at Fort Gibbon in Alaska.  Schick displayed his engineering and organizational skill by helping lay out hundreds of miles of telegraph lines to the rugged Alaska interior.    
Enjoying the North, he resigned from the Army in 1910 to try his hand at prospecting for gold in Alaska and British Columbia.  On one expedition, he injured his ankle and had to stay alone in camp for days as his companions pushed on.  While laid up, he found trying to shave in the cold uncomfortable and began to tinker with ideas for “dry shaving” using an electrical motor connected to a vibrating shaving head by a cable.  He drew crude sketches of his idea and submitted them to several manufacturers who rejected the clumsy apparatus.
Before he could develop the project more, Schick returned to the Army.  He served in Britain during World War I but his continuing health problems prevented assignment to the front in France.  Instead he finished out the war as a Lieutenant Colonel in Washington in charge of the Division of Intelligence and Criminal Investigation.
After leaving the service in 1919, Schick turned to his obsession for developing his dry shaving idea.  But he needed capital.  He had another marketable idea in the shaving realm—a way in inserting razor blades directly into a holder from a spring loaded, closed clip similar to the ones that injected rounds of ammunition into a rifle, and thus avoiding the cut fingers that routinely occurred using Gillette’s safety razor blades.  He called this invention the Magazine Repeating Razor and formed a company to produce them in 1925.  The invention slowly began to catch on and within a few years was selling briskly.
Meanwhile, Schick continued to work on his electric dry shaver.  By the late ‘20’s he had found away to eliminate the separate motor and cable and have a small motor in the same unit with the head and which could be held easily in one hand.  He obtained a patent but to obtain the funds to build a production plant, he sold his razor company to American Chain & Cable Company.  The dry shaver was on the market in 1929 and in 1939 Schick incorporated his new company as Schick Dry Shaver Inc.  Thus the two shaving products invented by Schick are to this day sold  under his name but marketed by two totally different successor companies.
The Depression was a tough time to launch such a new business.  His wife was forced to mortgage her family home to keep the factory open.  But by the mid-1930 the electric razor had captured a significant niche of the shaving market as improved models were introduced.
In 1936 Schick moved to Canada for his fragile health.  He died there the next year after kidney surgery.  His wife and children inherited the shaver company.
Today Schick razors are owned by the holding company built around Energizer Batteries.  Schick electric shavers are marketed by the Norelco division of Phillips.  The shavers are manufactured abroad, but Norelco has its U.S. Headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut where Col. Schick operated his factory.


  1. I own this machine but cannot find any information about this shaver. Schick flyer dry shaver. Have any idea where I can obtain information

    1. It's been quite a while since I wrote this, but I remember using the Wikipedia biography of Col. Schick and other online sources found by Googling Schick and/or electric razor history.