Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

After your tour of the virtual cemetery, don't forget to visit the official store (or the brand new downtown location) on your way out and pick up a souvenir or two. Thanks!

King Gillette

(Jan. 5, 1855 - July 9, 1932)

March 9, 2010 -- King Camp Gillette didn't invent the "safety razor," but he did improve on its design and make it more available and affordable. And although his name has literally become a household word, he is also known for creating a unique business model that has become known as "freebie marketing," which helped to make his product the most popular razor of its time, and made Gillette one of the wealthiest men in America.

Prior to the invention of the safety razor, men shaved with a straight razor, which was basically just a blade attached to a handle. The blade had to be sharpened regularly, and a careless user could do serious damage to his face. The first safety razor was invented in the late 18th century by Jean-Jacques Perret, a French barber who wrote a book titled "The Art of Learning to Shave Oneself." Perret's razor featured an L-shaped wooden guard to hold the blade in place, and also to prevent the user from accidentally slicing too deeply into his skin.

In 1847, English inventor William Henson comes up with the idea of having the razor shaped like a garden hoe, with the blade perpendicular to the handle. The first American safety razor was patented in 1880 by the Kampfe brothers, and was described as featuring a small blade, "held in a suitable frame and provided with a guard to prevent the edge of the razor from cutting into the skin." The device featured a wire guard along the razor's edge to prevent accidental cuts. As with the previous versions, the actual blade had to be removed from the device for periodic sharpening.

At about the same time the Kampfe brothers' razor was becoming popular in the United States, King Gillette was working in his hometown of Fond du Lac, Wisc., as a traveling salesman for the Crown Cork & Seal Company, which made cork-lined bottle caps. Gillette noticed that the bottle caps he sold were thrown away after the bottles were opened, and he realized the value in selling a disposable product. If the product wouldn't or couldn't be reused, or if the manufacturer could make it easier or more efficient to just buy a new one, there would always be a steady stream of sales. So Gillette came up with the idea of making disposable razor blades which could be thrown out when they became dull.

The problem was finding a way to mass-produce a thin, sharp blade at a low cost. Gillette was initially told that his idea was impossible. After working on the project for several years, Gillette and inventor William Nickerson finally solved the problem and, in 1901, 46-year-old Gillette applied for a patent for a safety razor with disposable blades. His invention was a thin, double-edged blade, which fit into a specially designed holder with a handle and an adjustable head. Gillette and Nickerson formed the American Safety Razor Company, which later became the Gillette Safety Razor Company. (According to some versions of the story, Gillette and Nickerson discussed what to name their company, and decided that "Nickerson" sounded too much like "nicked skin," and probably wouldn't be a very good name for a razor blade company. I don't believe that conversation ever took place, since it was Gillette's idea from the start, with Nickerson providing the essential technical knowledge, but it's still a good story.)

Gillette also came up with the idea of selling the razor for the lowest possible cost, or even giving it away, and making up the money with the sales of blades. Gillette's strategy is today called "freebie marketing," or the "razor and blade business model," and is still used with a variety of products, including computer printers, with manufacturers selling the printers at a low cost, and making money on users who have to buy a specially designed replacement toner cartridge. The model is also used by video-game manufacturers (cheap game console and expensive games), cell phone companies (cheap or free phone and expensive usage contracts), producers of high-end coffee makers (cheap machine and expensive coffee packets), and drug dealers (first sample is free).

In 1903, Gillette sold a total of 51 razors and 168 blades. The next year, the company sold 90,884 razors and 12.4 million blades. By 1915, sales reached 450,000 razors and 70 million blades. In 1918, when the U.S. entered World War I, Gillette worked out a deal with the government to provide a free Gillette razor and blades to every soldier heading overseas -- a total of 3.5 million razors and 32 million blades. But it was a wise investment for Gillette since, when those soldiers returned home, they would be buying Gillette blades.

Gillette was more than just a razor blade titan. In 1894, he published a book titled, "The Human Drift," which suggested that all U.S. industry be managed by a single publicly owned corporation, and all 60 million Americans should live in a giant city called Metropolis, which would be powered by Niagara Falls. His utopian, socialistic society would be based on universal cooperation and, he wrote, "selfishness would be unknown, and war would be a barbarism of the past."

In Gillette's vision, the total effort spent on household tasks would be reduced by housing everyone in gigantic 25-story circular apartment buildings, with massive central kitchens.

Gillette wrote "World Corporation" in 1910, and "The People's Corporation" in 1924, which outlined the details of the giant company. He also offered former President Theodore Roosevelt the presidency of the company, with a salary of $1 million for four years, but Roosevelt turned him down. Gillette also tried unsuccessfully to get Henry Ford interested in his ideas.

Though Gillette had become one of the wealthiest men in the country, he lost most of his fortune in the stock market crash in 1929. In 1930, Gillette sold nearly all of his Gillette Company stock to pay off his debts, and he was close to bankruptcy at the time of his death two years later. He had also lost control of the company he created.

Gillette spent the final years of his life trying to come up with a way to extract oil from shale. He's buried in a private area near the bottom of the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Glendale, at the far end of the Begonia Corridor. Buried with Gillette are his father, George Wolcott Gillette (1824-1903); his mother, Fanny Lemira Camp Gillette (1828-1926); his wife, Alanta E. Gillette (1868-1951); his son, King Gaines Gillette (1890-1955); and his daughter-in-law, Margaret J. Gillette (1889-1969), along with various other family members.

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