A very interesting article about the American Safety Razor Company and J. B. de Mesquita.
News of the Advertising and Marketing Fields
By WILLIAM M. FREEMAN
FLAW SEEKERS: Two pairs of sharp eyes inspect razor blades, freshly made, at Brooklyn plant of American Safety Razor Corporation. The eyes, left, belong to J. B. de Mesquita, executive committee chairman, more than half a century on the job, and, right, to Juilo Rivera, thirty years an inspector.
The mysterious little round tin box started the whole thing. It was a going-away present to Oliver Wendell Holmes the elder, when that distinguished man of letters set out for Europe in the Eighteen Eighties.
Mr. Holmes wrote a book, “Our 100 Days in Europe,” when he returned. It contained these sentences:
“The first morning at sea revealed the mystery of the little round tin box. The little box contained a reaping machine, which gathered the capillary harvest of the last twenty-four hours with a thoroughness, a rapidity, a security and a facility which were a surprise, almost a revelation. I have never used any other means of shaving from that day to this. I determined to let other persons know what convenience I had found in the ‘Star Razor.’”
The “reaping machine,” of course, was a safety razor. It was the forerunner of the current Gem Featherweight Razor and others made by the American Safety Razor Corporation, successor to the manufacturer of the device that delighted Mr. Holmes,
Founder in '98 Still Active
The man who was a prime mover in the founding of the Gem Cutlery Company in 1898 is still active in business as chairman of the executive committee of American Safety Razor, of which he is former president. He is J. B. de Mesquita, widely regarded as the industry's dean.
Mr. de Mesquita visits the offices at 380 Madison Avenue and the plant in Brooklyn regularly, checking up on operations and applying a keen eye to all aspects of manufacturing, promotion and distribution.
While Gem had advertised as early as December, 1899 — in Harper's Magazine on the theme, “Be Your Own Barber” — the Holmes encomium gave the company substance for an advertising campaign.
Its lathered gentleman, admiring his razor, with the caption, “Well, that's fine,” became well known. Its signs became familiar to baseball fans. (In recent years a rival company's television cameras have consistently picked up Gem advertising at ball parks.)
Steady Advertiser From Start
The company is a believer in steady, hard-driving advertising and has been from the start, according to Edwin B. de Mesquita, vice president in charge of advertising and merchandising, and Albert J. Goetz, advertising director. Mr. de Mesquita, a son of “J. B.,” is an authority on the industry's history, as is Sidney Weil, the president. Tonight the company will begin sponsoring Walter Winchell on radio and television.
The younger Mr. de Mesquita commented that it was World War I, following Mr. Holmes' learned opinion, that gave the company its big push. As in World War II, razors were handed out to soldiers. These men had been accustomed to paying a dime for a shave as civilians.
In the trenches they used razors, found them convenient and kept on using them when they returned. The company's business expanded rapidly. (Cigarettes and wrist watches, similarly, had been regarded as somewhat effeminate until use in the trenches made them commonplace and necessary items.)
The first practical safety razor, the Star, was patented in 1876 by the Kampfe Brothers. It was nothing more than a straight razor cut in sections and put in a protective guard. Gradual refinements and improvements have made it the sleek, efficient razor of today.
Over the years the actual principle of the razor has changed little. From the original Gem, using a single-edge blade, the company has gone into the double»edge type and the injector razor. The single-edge is still the favorite—and 60 per cent of the men in this country, the company says, prefer a brush and lather.
Dropped Electric Shaver
In 1938 the company tried an electric shaver, but dropped it in 1941 for lack of essential materials. It never went back to it because of the rise in popularity of other products. There was a tremendous market waiting at the end of World War II because no metal razors had been made during the war.
The company, however, has gone into other new products. It has made surgical blades for some twenty years and is now experimenting with single blades packed in sterile wrappings, which would be a boon to the military surgeon.
It is a leader in making blades used in cutting the pile in the manufacture of rugs and carpets.
It developed a camera called the Foto-Disc, which uses a film magazine bought as a unit and returned for developing. The advantage here is that the customer can make no error in loading or unloading.
The camera, first tried in July, 1950, had to be dropped because of the Korean war restrictions, and the company is just now getting back in stride. The camera has been tested in Peoria and Harrisburg at a price of $9.95, with excellent results.
5-Way Merger in 1919
The present corporation, which is publicly held, arose in 1919 from a merger of the Gem Cutlery Company, maker of Gem Razors and Blades; the American Safety Razor Company, Ltd., maker of Ever-Ready Razors and Blades and Ever-Ready Shaving Brushes, and Kampfe Brothers, maker of the Star line. Last summer it absorbed the Pal and Personna companies.
The elder Mr. de Mesquita, a wiry bundle of energy who detains some of the broad “a” of his native England, has joined with his associates in seeking diversification. The company makes the Antoine line of beauty products, sold on an exclusive basis in department stores throughout the country. It produces the Lightfoot line of specialty soaps for children, high-quality private-brand standard soaps and the Ascot lighters, and has operated a shell-loading plant for the Government.
“J. B.” is responsible for the company's famous slogan, “Avoid that 5 o'clock shadow.” One evening at the theatre he was struck by the fact that a neighbor seemed to be unshaven, and politely asked what the truth was.
The man replied that he had shaved that morning—with an electric razor. The advertising with the slogan was a result. (Electric razors since have been much improved.)
Mr. de Mesquita has an advertising background. He was secretary and treasurer of the Kaufman Advertising Agency in 1898 when Gem was formed by Kaufman workers. This agency became the Federal Advertising Agency, since dissolved. The various parts of the A. S. R. account are handled by McCann-Erickson and Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn.
The reaping machine of a generation or two ago has cut a wide swath. In 1940 the industry as a whole sold 2,000,000,000 blades. Ten years later it sold 3,000,000,000: the population had gone up and men were far and away neater.