The hardest part of Gillette's plan was sharpening the blade in a factory. Gillette's idea was to take thin, rolled steel, stamp it into small, rectangular shapes and then sharpen the edges. That seems simple enough today, but at the time it had never been done. There were two separate problems that had to be solved:
- Hardening the steel so that it would hold a sharp edge. Heating steel to about 2,000 degrees F and then cooling it off hardens it. The thin metal in Gillette's blades had a tendency to warp because it would cool quickly and unevenly.
- Actually sharpening the edge of such a thin, small piece of metal.
Both of these problems turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated. In fact, it took Gillette six years of trying before he and an engineer named William Nickerson got the process worked out. The heating problem was originally solved by sandwiching the blades between thicker pieces of slower-cooling metal during the heating and cooling process. The second problem was solved by increasing levels of automation. The first razor blades produced by Gillette were sharpened almost completely by hand. Eventually, automation dropped the cost of each blade down to a penny, while they sold for about a dime each.
The rest, as they say, is history. When Proctor and Gamble bought Gillette in 2005, it paid more than $50 billion for the company.