Super Speed Razors: The Post World War II Shaving Culture in America to 1955

Discussion in 'Double Edged Razors' started by mgbbrown, Nov 14, 2015.

  1. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    Hopefully the response by the community here will allow this thread to continue beyond the initial installment, as it illustrates the shaving culture in America following World War II, as well as how I became involved in using vintage Gillette Super Speed razors. Thanks! Tony

    My father was rather reserved; perhaps a trait borne from his experiences as a Radarman Third Class aboard the Attack Cargo Ship USS Veritas, AKA 50. Launched on June 16, 1945 from the Providence, Rhode Island dry docks- just two months after his induction into the Navy, the VERITAS operated along the Eastern seaboard, making cargo runs as far north as Boston, and then heading south to Hampton Roads, loaded with troops and armament. The ship was decommissioned on 21 February1946, and he received his Honorable Discharge on April 2, 1946. His battle station was at one of the twin 40mm gun mounts on board ship, and although the ship and crew never engaged in combat-he lost an appreciable amount of hearing from training on those guns. Still, like many veterans, my father never talked about the war and the endless nights spent scanning the shipÂ’s radar. I never knew him to be unshaven- perhaps a naval tradition which stayed with him the rest of his life.

    Coming home for many servicemen, like my father, was nothing short of being shot from a howitzer- perhaps he was an airman who survived all of his twenty-five missions in a B-17 over Germany; a soldier campaigning across France, or a marine island hopping in the Pacific. Many veterans later exercised skills acquired from wartime experiences, as the birth of the Hot Rod culture in Southern California illustrates. Others were swept into the vast manufacturing landscape required for victory. Returning home was a re-acquaintance with loved ones or family; things reminiscent of the war were discarded or packed away-even the khaki canvas cased US Army issue shaving kit fell into disuse. Jumping back into a less regimented routine still involved shaving, perhaps with the old standby Gillette safety razor they used before hostilities. Art Deco styling cues, popular before and during the war were still prevalent, includingthe designs of their shaving brush handles and the graphics found on their razor blade boxes after the war. Brushless shaving creams in tubes were popular well before the war and as military standard issue, but with the appearance of pressurized shaving cream in 1949- the future habits and attitudes of the American shaver would be changed forever.

    On the domestic side, World War II provided enormous benefits to those Americans who returned from the war unscathed, or who continued their lives on the home front. Economically, the war ended the Great Depression, which stubbornly lingered until 1942, with full work capacity returning as a product of wartime mobilization. Veterans, on the average, spent three years in the service, which they regarded as lost time from finishing school, finding a job, or starting a family. In short, those who came back were in a hurry- treasuring their new-found homecoming as a welcome trade for the hardships endured in combat. The returning ten and a half million veterans enjoyed a booming economy, buying goods as fast as defense manufacturers could retool. This included Gillette, whose wartime contracts for razors, razor blades, and fuel metering units for aircraft carburetors would close, causing the company to set their sights on how to make those servicemen look their best in civilian life. $USS Veritas AKA 50 Coy Brown Center.jpg $Separation Notice US Navy Coy Brown.jpg $USS Veritas AKA 50 Saucer Shenango China Officers Mess 1944 Full View.JPG $USS Veritas AKA 50 US Postal Service Cover Envelopes.JPG God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown
  2. Very interesting insight. Thank you for sharing.
  3. Wow. Great info. As noted, thanks for sharing.
  4. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    Thanks Alex and BSA Guy! These are just the introductory paragraphs, as I was limited to the established BADGER and BLADE format. However, it does serve as a way to gauge interest in that time period and Super Speed razors in particular. Hopefully, the community's response will warrant future installments-we shall see. The photograph illustrates one of my aberrant Super Speeds that will be covered in the article. I chose to end the discussion at 1955, as Gillette expanded their line of Super Speed razors during that year of production, providing the springboard for the Gillette 195 razor in 1958. God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2015
  5. Very cool
  6. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    Thank you Beard Dregs! I can certainly post more, as this was a great period for vintage shaving. God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown
  7. Good morning people, I just thought I would add a little to what nightbrown touched on. The progression of the post WWII Gillette Super Speed.


    Starting on the left, we have the 1947 Super Speed, 1948/49 Super Speed, 1952 Super Speed, and the 1953 Super Speed.
    There are subtle differences in the four post war Super Speed razors shown. The 1947 Super Speed had an un-notched center bar. In other words there were "wings" at each end of the center bar. This was the most notable difference between it and the next few years of Super Speeds. The 1948/49 Super Speed had a notch in each end of the center bar to help the user install razor blades from Gillette's newest invention, the zip pack dispensers. Here is a photo of the difference between those two models of Super Speed.


    Note the wings on the ends of the first razors center bar. The 1946 is on the left and the 1948/49 is on the right.
    The notch is on the center bar of the 1948/49 Super Speed. (Sorry for the cell phone photos, it's all I have to work with. ).
    The next example I have to show you is of a 1952 Super Speed. It is my understanding that with the advent of the Korean War in 1951 Gillette was forced due to restrictions and scarcity to utilize other materials to make its razors from. Thus, the creation of the Black Tip Super Speed. The knob and inner shaft on these were made of numerous different materials. Most notably black plastic.

    It seems to me that warfare once again influenced the shaving culture in America once the war in Korea heated up. Razor blades were more scarce, as well as the construction of the razors had changed. Yet since so many men were in uniform, and were required to shave as often as necessary, the tradition of daily shaving was heavily instilled in the men of the time. My father was a veteran of the Korean War, and I remember he was rarely unshaven. In fact he often shaved twice a day. Upon his discharge he actually purchased a 1952 Gillette Black Tip Super Speed, and used it for many years. I believe his experience as a mobilized soldier instilled in him, and his whole generation the desire to shave daily. Even twice daily sometimes. It is a habit he had until his death. I do believe WWII and the Korean War had a great influence on the shaving culture in America for many years to come.
  8. KeenDogg

    KeenDogg Steward

    Love the Nostalgia! Keep it coming!
  9. Interesting discussion.
  10. Very interesting points on history. Thank you for sharing this.
  11. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    Mormon Bridge; I have not gotten that far yet-these are just the introductory paragraphs, and I will cover those points thoroughly, but your insight is welcome as a 1947 Super Speed with box and tan Speed Pak dispenser (I have one for the 1949 though) has alluded me to this point. There are also many variations to the Korean War period Super Speeds aside from just what you have pointed out-again, appreciated. Thank you so much for mentioning your father. My premise to this discussion was just the point that you make:

    "It seems to me that warfare once again influenced the shaving culture in America once the war in Korea heated up. Razor blades were more scarce, as well as the construction of the razors had changed. Yet since so many men were in uniform, and were required to shave as often as necessary, the tradition of daily shaving was heavily instilled in the men of the time. My father was a veteran of the Korean War, and I remember he was rarely unshaven. In fact he often shaved twice a day. Upon his discharge he actually purchased a 1952 Gillette Black Tip Super Speed, and used it for many years. I believe his experience as a mobilized soldier instilled in him, and his whole generation the desire to shave daily. Even twice daily sometimes. It is a habit he had until his death. I do believe WWII and the Korean War had a great influence on the shaving culture in America for many years to come."

    Well said Sir! I am sure that your father guided you well in life. The values that the Can Do and the Korean War Generation instilled are becoming lost with each successive generation. Thank you.

    Keen Dog; Thank you! Check your emails-You have a detailed discussion on how best to restore that razor for your wife!

    Rick L; Pepin; Again, thank you as well for your encouragement.

    I will now continue on as it seems that the consensus is moving in that direction, or at least a sample of folks interested in razor history and culture. Thank you all and God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2015
  12. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    Gillette’s response to the demands of post-war shavers was to resume commercial manufacturing of the one-piece Super Speed safety razor in 1947, renewing civilian production that was funneled to the US military from 1942. The initial design was superseded in 1948 by a notched blade loading bar, a feature which made blade insertion from their Speed Pak dispenser much easier and safer. Previously, Gillette had introduced the first ever blade dispenser in 1946, to save consumers from having to unwrap their now famous individual Blue Blades. In a bold marketing move by Gillette’s president, Joseph P. Spang Jr., aimed at invigorating the company, Gillette sponsored baseball’sWorld Series for $100,000 in 1939. Razors and Blue Blades sold four times better than they had expected, beginning a lifelong partnership of Gillette with all sports venues. In 1942-on to a good thing, they became the primary advertising partner to the already popular radio sports show, THE CAVACADE OF SPORTS, changing the name to THE GILLETTE CAVACADE OF SPORTS. The show's theme music was the "Look Sharp, Be Sharp March" by Mahlon Merrick, published sometime between 1953 and 1956. $Gillette 1949 Speed Pak 10 Blue Blade Dispenser Catalin, Graphics Detail and Finger Sliding $Gillette 1947 Super Speed Razor Detail with Box, Speed Pak Dispenser Mr. Razor.jpg $Gillette 1949 Super Speed Razor with Styrene Case and Ten Blade Speed Pak Dispenser Open View.jpg God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 6, 2017
  13. Count me among those who would like to see more, Tony. Interesting that unless you studied history as an academic pursuit in your youth, history is so often lost on young people. As a whippersnapper, history was a bore and a drag to me. Now, with 80 looming next month, history is a vibrant, wholly fascinating subject occupying a large chunk of my life. Onward!
  14. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    Before I begin again, I would like to expand on Morman Bridge's comments in Post Number 7, as they do illustrate the differences between the original un-notched 1947 Super Speed production details and those found on the 1949 production revisions. The box used by Gillette as a presentation package for the 1947 Super Speed is actually quite elaborate, as it is not separated between the lid and bottom in order for the buyer to focus on the instructions positioned on the inner lid. The graphics chosen by Gillette are classic Art Deco style. The outer box lid surface is embossed foil, and was quite expensive, even by early post-war standards. The tan insert on which the razor and Speed Pak dispenser are positioned is constructed from a much thicker gauge paper board with a heat-laminated tan, moisture resistant surface. Tan was a defining color used in the Art Deco period, much as gold or lime green was popular in the 1960's. The insert is die-cut, and complex by design. A separate handle bridge was added to position the razor neatly onto the insert, again made from the same gauge paper board and die-cut. I have acquired a passable 1947 presentation box in which the lid and base have been separated, a practice that was more common than not if the owner stored his razor inside the box. Mine also lacks the die-cut bridge used to support a wet handle, keeping it away from the insert surface. It is pictured below using my 1949 Super Speed razor and Speed Pak dispenser for illustration purposes. God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown $Gillette 1947 Box Detail Lacking Cardboard Handle Bridge with Lid and Bottom Separated.JPG
  15. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    Thank you Beamon! History defines culture, and illustrates events that place particular practices in a specific context. I was indeed fascinated by history all of my life, becoming an archaeologist in Round One as my initial career path. My academic focus was on the archaeology of the Southwestern United States, with my thesis material and research collected in northern New Mexico while working at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron. It details the ethnobotony, or food preferences of the Jicarilla Apache and presented an overview of their culture from an archaeological perspective (I excavated a large corn roasting oven that was originally made by the Anasazi inhabitants of the North Ponil Canyon, and later re-purposed by the Jicarilla who were somewhat sedentary inhabitants and augmented their maize growing with gathered foodstuffs). In 1980 I worked as an archaeological intern for the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, as my father wanted me closer to Raleigh where I grew up. The branch was involved in public archaeology, and I reviewed Environmental Impact Statements or documents for approval prior to a large Federal or State project being initiated. A recession closed their doors- with only four staff remaining, and I saw the writing on the wall, eventually becoming a nurse-a rather recession-proof occupation which focuses on helping others, something very important to me. The North Ponil Canyon is pictured below. Thanks again and God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown $Indian Writings From Hart Peak.jpg
  16. Subscribed! Very interesting discussion.
  17. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    Plastics became an even broader portion of the Gillette canvas, with the advent of their first red and clear styrene cased Super Speed razors in 1949. Bakelite was used during World War II for Contract Tech handles, and plastic handled Tech razors continued in production as an inexpensive, break-apart travel razor. By the early1950’s, design queues in general were pointing towards a trending modernization from pre-World War II Art Deco constraints. Consumers in the United States were demanding a more stylized and altogether functional razor. Gillette’s response was tepid at best, as their Super Speed razor was already popular, and provided a large portion of revenue for the company. The initial design change of the already venerable Super Speed was heralded by the introduction of the black plastic tipped 1951 model, representing a cost reduction for Gillette and the first use of a plastic, twist-to-open knob at the end of the razor handle, styled similarly to its nickel plated brass predecessor. Consumers were skeptical, but still viewed this as an innovative and stylish use of this relatively new material.

    In actuality, escalation of the United State’s involvement in the Korean conflict, following the battle of the Pusan Perimeter in 1950, rapidly depleted any brass reserves necessary for Gillette razor production, as brass was used for both large and small arms, as well as artillery shell casings. Gillette countered by producing Super Speed razors with handles in nickel plated steel or un-plated aluminum handles. Steel handled Black Tip Super Speed razors weighed on the average, 45 grams, and the aluminum handled version, approximately 39 grams. Razor heads were produced in both nickel plated brass as well as steel, and were fitted with plated brass or steel blade silo doors. Even metal TTO knobs could be found during the earliest production runs, with some painted black as the transition to plastic knobs occurred. The styrene case was re-designed from the 1949 version, and the razor promoted on radio and television, along with traditional newspaper, magazine, and point-of-purchase advertising. Black Tip Super Speed razors were manufactured for only two years by Gillette, who resumed full production of the 1949 version, once limits on brass availability were lifted by the government. Gillette reduced inventory of the steel razor heads as well during this time, so purchasing a continuation razor with a steel head was also possible. God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown $Gillette 1949 Super Speed Razor with Styrene Case and Ten Blade Speed Pak Dispenser Closed View.jpg $Gillette 1951 Black Tip Super Speed Razor Steel Handle Date Code W2 with Ten blade Blue Blade $Gillette 1951 Black Tip Super Speed Razor W3 Date Code Aluminum Handle with Case and Blue Blade .JP View attachment 615711

    Attached Files:

  18. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    I would also like to point those interested in another discussion of the differences in Gillette's Super Speed Korean War period here: .

    This will help to bring a more detailed view of the various production anomalies which occurred as a direct result of brass non-availability for base part production and plating constraints by Gillette. The Korean War US Army soldier pictured below is shaving with what appears to be a Super Speed razor, judging by what is shown of the handle in the photograph.

    Thank you Tanker John! God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown $Korean War Shaving with Native Help.jpg
  19. What a wonderful thread - I'm coming to think that the Superspeed is my favourite razor giving me effortless, close, irritation free shaves time after time. Keep it coming guys :thumbup:
  20. mgbbrown

    mgbbrown Contributor

    Thank you Cant Think of a User Name! More will follow as I am able... I have been shaving with a 1955 A1 Flare Tip Super Speed for two weeks now, and it is every bit the workhorse Gillette intended it to become. I will discuss the differences between the introductory 1954 Z1 version and the 1955 A1 version for moderate beards at some point, either here or in another thread. The 1955 Flare Tip will eclipse my other declared favorites I am afraid! God Bless! Tony Brown RN mgbbrown $Gillette 1954 Flare Tip Super Speed Razor Date Code Z1 Red Styrene Case with Ten Blade Blue $Gillette 1955 A1 Flare Tip Super Speed Razor and Case with 6 Blue Blade Dispenser Closed View.JPG

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