Prospects

Research Article

Advertising, Utopia, and Commercial Idealism: The Case of King Gillette

Gib Prettyman

In the history of American consumer society, the case of King Camp Gillette, the “Razor King,” is at once strange and typical. Gillette — named King after a friend of his father — is recognized as the inventor of the modern safety razor and the namesake of the corporation launched to produce and sell it. As a tale of individual entrepreneurial triumph, Gillette's life follows a familiar pattern: hard work, visionary zeal, ridicule and adversity, persistence, trial and error, and conspicuous success. His story also functions well as a case study in the evolution of modern corporate business practice. The commercial genius of Gillette's invention was its disposable blade, and given a product (the razor) which created its own perpetual market (for the blades), the corporation used the modern tools of patent enforcement, stock offerings, public relations, market research, distribution, technology, diversification, and especially advertising to build and maintain its market share for the last 100 years. In these respects and others, Gillette's story finds an indigenous place in business textbooks, company testimonials, and cultural mythology.