On My Bookshelf: An Excess of Razor Blades

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"It was a good question: what should you do with your old blades? The idea that America wholeheartedly embraced the throwaway concept is undermined b the obvious difficulties people had in adjusting to it in this case. Several 'dinguses' came on the market designed to allow shavers to strop disposable blades in order to eke out a few more shaves out of them. One Gillette imitator, the AutoStrop, came with a special attachment which allowed its single-edge blades to be stropped in situ. Some barbers even offered a re-sharpening service. Newspapers held contests asking for clever ways to dispose of dull blades, and consulted celebrities about what they did with theirs: HL Mencken insisted that he put them in the collection plate; in a 1927 magazine article King Gillette himself suggested men 'take them to be resharpened, and then never call for them'. People kept old blades to rip seams of cut tape; some soaked them in salt water or buried them until they rusted beyond threat, but simply throwing away something which seemed even marginally useful was actually deeply un-American, and took some getting used to. The remedy which finally prevailed says a great deal about the nation's ambivalent attitude towards the disposable dilemma: eventually most medicine cabinets were fitted with a slot for old blades that corresponded with a hole in the bathroom wall. The blades dropped into the dusty gap behind the plaster, where the multiplied over the years - out of sight, if not quite out of mind." ~ from Inventor of The Disposable Culture: King Camp Gillette, 1855 - 1932 by Tim Dowling

Image via Flickr user The Giant Vermin


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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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