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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Metropolis

     Well I know what all of you out there are thinking from the title. But I assure you that this has nothing to do with Superman or the Fritz Lang movie. This is a story about a man and his dream...and most of you out there will likely recognize the name. Gillette. Yes, just about every man and woman in America has used a product with that name on it. We are all hairy people...and we all remove that hair with razors. The man who really revolutionized shaving in America and indeed throughout the world was King Camp Gillette. When most of the world was using old "cut throat" straight razors, King C. Gillette patented a new "safety razor" that allowed men and later women to remove hair more easily and much more safely. He built an empire on selling razors cheap, often near cost or even at a loss, to ensure that people would spend their lifetimes buying blades. But he also wanted to build another empire of sorts, and that is what this story is all about.

     While King Gillette was certainly a master of capitalism, he was at heart a very outspoken Socialist. Now, we tend to equate socialism with the Marxist or Leninist sort of socialism. People waiving red flags, speaking of class struggle between proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and calling for a revolution. Well certainly that was the most "successful" and visible form of socialism that came out of the late 19th and early 20th century, but it was certainly not the only brand out there. Gillette was typically referred to as a Utopian Socialist which does not use class struggle and revolution in it's playbook. Gillette and other socialists like him (Charles Fourier for example) sought to use moral and logical arguments to convince others of the benefits of their ideal system. Gillette used his fame and money to publish several books to spread his ideas, and some are rather bizarre.

     In his 1894 book The Human Drift, Gillette suggested that there should be a single corporation that controlled everything for the United States Economy. It would be the only business in America and ownership would be public. Of course even with the advances in communication in the late 19th century such as the telegraph and telephone, the idea of operating one giant corporation across the United States was seen as impossible by Gillette. In order to compensate for this, Gillette suggested that the entire population relocate to a new city called Metropolis in order to centralize things. Metropolis would be powered through the harnessing of hydro electric power, specifically at Niagara Falls which was currently being explored for that use by such scientists at Lord Kelvin and backed by the rich Astor and Rothschild families. Of course, the idea of abandoning the rest of America, especially the breadbasket of the mid west certainly would leave some issues to be addressed in regards to feeding the populace.

     In 1910, Gillette further explained his ideas in the book entitled World Corporation, Gillette suggested how the single American corporation would be run. He proposed none other than former President of the United States and known progressive Theodore Roosevelt as the chairman. Gillette offered a salary of one million dollars(nearly 24 million in today's money) to Roosevelt is he would accept the offer. Naturally Roosevelt declined the generous offer, as he was a progressive and not  a socialist of the caliber of Gillette...already a well known eccentric by this time. In his last book Gillette partnered with the famous muckraker progressive journalist Upton Sinclair (author of The Jungle) to produce The Peoples Corporation in 1924. Of course by this time, the roaring 20's were well underway, and the heydays of progressiveness had fallen away and a more Laissez Faire form of government was in vogue in urban America.

     After failing over a quarter of a century of trying to convince people of his political views, Gillette became even more eccentric. Often seen walking around disheveled and in a bath robe at various resorts that tolerated him simply because his money was worth more than the complaints of patrons about the "bum" loitering around. Ironic that a man that made an empire on grooming products looked like a hobo of sorts in his later years. No one recognized him as the portrait then on ever Gillette razor and blade package.


King Camp Gillette in his earlier years

Gillete made his millions by offering his patented safety razors at a very low price and made his real money on his razor blades. A model similar to today where the newest Gillette razors cost very little but their razors make them their profit.

Convenience, safety, and speed made Gillette millions selling his products. It also allowed him to use his fame and millions to advance his socialist ideas.

Gillette put his face on every pack of blades. His photo became synonymous with the brand, especially in non English speaking countries, his portrait made his blades stand out.


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