Together with entrepreneur King Camp Gillette, in 1905 the predecessors of today’s voestalpine Precision Strip created an item which is still one of the company’s key products, even after 350 years of steel production in Munkfors: wafer-thin razor blades made from cold-rolled steel.
Sometimes, the best ideas appear when you’re in the shower, or out running. However, American traveling salesman King Camp Gillette experienced his inspiration of a lifetime during a morning shave. Back in 1895, this was still a dangerous and often bloody procedure, because there was no alternative to the cutthroat razor. But it was precisely this alternative that Gillette visualized one morning: a razor with interchangeable blades, each sharpened along their length on both sides, and made from wafer-thin steel.
Steel from 6,000 km away
The 40-year old quickly designed the razor, but finding steel for the blade was giving him a headache. Although the man with the impressive name was unable to find steel of the necessary quality in his home country, his search was not in vain: during his investigations, Gillette repeatedly came across a manufacturer in Sweden, 6,000 km away, whose knife steels, industrial knives, and fine but wear-resistant steel strip were also proving popular with American smithies and factory owners. As Gillette discovered, the manufacturer in question was the Uddeholm plant in Munkfors. Here the cosmopolitan metallurgist and manager Gustav Jansson had turned the novel cold-rolling technique into an art form.
A gentleman’s agreement of a lifetime
In 1901 Gillette and Jansson commenced the partnership which continues to this day. Together, they developed the razor blade steel which was patented as UHB 26C3 in 1905. This cold-rolled precision product played a significant role in the meteoric rise in sales at the Gillette Safety Razor Company: selling only 51 razors and 168 interchangeable blades in 1903, its founding year, by 1904 these figures had grown to over 90,000 razors and more than 123,000 blades. The introduction of UHB 26C3 steel finally opened the doors to mass production.
For physicians, ladies, and the military
The major commercial breakthrough came in 1917, when the US government ordered 36 million razor blades for their troops fighting overseas—a quantity that even exceeds the current annual production volume of 32 million blades. The 1960s heralded the next technical breakthrough at Uddeholm, as the cutting edges were optimized and blade lifespans extended. They were becoming more frequently used by women and the surgical profession, who increasingly purchased Swedish razor blades from BÖHLER Uddeholm, as the company was called from 1991
An everyday classic from the cold rolling mill
The famous slogan “The best a man can get” is gradually becoming a cliché. But that doesn’t alter the fact that the razor blades which brought success to BÖHLER Uddeholm, precursor to voestalpine Precision Strip AB, still remain one of the company’s flagship products. Even today, 350 years after steel production first started in Munkfors.