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By Bob Kostoff

King Camp Gillette was a struggling salesman and a not-very-inventive inventor until he was 40 years old, and then had a revelation while staring into his mirror and shaving with a straight razor.

But before he invented the safety razor on his way to becoming a millionaire, he wrote an imaginative book about creating a Utopia around Niagara Falls.

Luckily for him, more men wanted to get rid of their beards safely than wanted to make Niagara Falls the center of the economic universe.

Gillette's dull straight razor gave him the idea for the first safety razor. His business acumen, apparently sharpened by this revelation, made him produce a razor with disposable blades, which would have to be purchased over and over again.

He later wrote, "I saw it all in a moment and stood there in a trance of joy."

At first, he sold his razors below cost to introduce them to the shaving public. Then he gave the razors away free, so that men would have to buy his blades.

The revelation came to him one day in Brookline, Mass., in 1895, but it wasn't until 1903 that he had his patent and was able to arrange production. He was able to market 51 razors and 168 blades that first year. By 1917, he was selling a million razors a year and 120 million blades.

But his connection, such as it was, to Niagara Falls, came with his book, "The Human Drift," published in 1894, the year before his razor revelation. Perhaps because of his lack of success up to this point, he became a socialist, who thought the competitive system brought greed and waste.

King Camp Gillette believed the world was ready for an economic order that would bring about efficiency and create ideal social conditions. He wrote, "Under a flawless economic system of production and distribution, there can be only one city in North America and possibly in the world."

Because of the tremendous power of Niagara Falls, he believed this area should become the center of the economic universe.

In his book, he wrote, "For many reasons I have come to the conclusion that there is no spot on the American continent, or possibly in the world, that combines so many natural advantages as that section of our country lying in the vicinity of the Niagara Falls, extending east into New York State and west into Ontario."

He called this great, new Utopian city "Metropolis," and envisioned it stretching from Rochester to Hamilton. He pictured 60 million people living in thousands of 25-story cylindrical apartment buildings.

Gillette wrote, "The possibility of utilizing the enormous natural power resulting from the falls, from the level of Lake Erie to the level of Lake Ontario, some 330 feet, is no longer the dream of enthusiasts, but is a demonstrated fact."

He continued, "Here is a power which, if brought under control, is capable of keeping in continuous operation even manufacturing industry for centuries to come, and, in addition supply all the lighting facilities, run all the elevators, and furnish the power necessary for the transportation system of the great central city."

He envisioned only one gigantic plant of each manufacturing item, thus eliminating competition and lowering distribution and marketing costs. This, he reasoned, would create a great amount of excess wealth.

The excess wealth would be used to improve social conditions, eliminate crime and poverty, and create equality in society. No one jumped on this idea as the general populace did with his safety razor.

When he got into the economic flow of capitalism with his invention, he concentrated on making millions for his own family and forgot about Utopia, except the one he created for himself.

He never even opened a razor factory in Niagara Falls. But then, there were no IDAs around to give him tax breaks.

Bob Kostoff has been reporting on the Niagara Frontier for four decades. He is a recognized authority on local history and is the author of several books. E-mail him at RKost1@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com September 2 2003