King Camp Gillette (January 5, 1855 - July 9, 1932) is popularly, and incorrectly, known, as the inventor of the safety razor. (The Encyclopędia Britannica, among others, has falsely so credited him.) The safety razor was in fact invented in the mid-1870s by the Kampfe Brothers, but it still used a forged blade. (See picture of my personal Kampfe Brothers razor, with patent dates.) While Gillette did improve the design of the safety razor, his true invention was an inexpensive, high profit-margin stamped steel blade and a unique business model.
Born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and raised in Chicago, Illinois, King Camp Gillette's family was devastated by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. While working as a traveling salesman to support his family in the 1890s, he hit upon an idea. He realized that a profit could be made by selling a safety razor at a reduced price and then making a nice profit margin on the inexpensive disposable blades. This has been called the Razor and blades business model, or a "loss leader".
To try out his idea he founded the American Safety Razor Company on September 28, 1901. The company's name was changed in July 1902 to Gillette Safety Razor Company. The first razors were produced in 1903, selling a total of 51 razors and 168 blades that year. The followng year 90,884 razors and 123,648 blades were sold, thanks in part to his low prices, automated manufacturing techniques and good advertising. By 1908 they had established manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada, England, France and Germany. Razor sales reached 450,000 units while blades sales exceeded 70 million units in 1915. King Camp Gillete died in Los Angeles, California, but his legacy continues. Today the Gillette Corporation continues to thrive and sells products under a variety of brand names including Gillette, Braun, Oral-B, and Duracell.