News From Terre Haute, Indiana


July 12, 2014

Historical treasures: The difficult, dangerous task of shaving

TERRE HAUTE — Imagine a world without modern conveniences. Think about how simple things, such as the act of shaving, was not only painstakingly difficult, but it was downright dangerous. Envision a day and age where electric and disposable razors didn’t exist, and your only option for a shave was by way of a straight razor — a handled blade with a long, thin, extremely sharp and exceptionally dangerous edge. The clean-shaven, well-groomed look was in full swing during the Victorian age, and many men were going with that clean-cut look, taking pride in being “gentlemen.”

Shaving via straight razor meant using the same shaving blade over and over again, the blade becoming nicked and rusty, making that sharp blade even more dangerous than before. And not only was that blade sharp, nicked and rusty, it was more than likely not kept sanitized. Many people were seriously injured and some even died as a result of accidental cuttings with their razors. Cuts got infected, people got lockjaw, blood poisoning, sepsis, and let’s not forget tetanus, an easily treated ailment in this day and age, but not for people who contracted it before the vaccine became available in 1924.

To properly shave with a straight razor, one needed a few supplies: a razor, a strop (a strip of leather or canvas used to polish the blade), shaving soap, a shaving brush, a mug, and lastly, a mirror. Any old mirror would do, but a mirror and stand specifically designed for shaving made things a whole lot easier. There was a place for all of your shaving supplies to sit readily available while you looked into the mirror to shave. The Vigo County Historical Society Museum has one of these mirrors on display as well as all of the aforementioned supplies.

While visiting the museum and looking upon the shaving objects, put yourself back in that time period. Think about what it would have been like to be a gentleman in this era, and think about what your ancestors had to risk and endure for that smooth, clean look. Had they ever cut themselves shaving? Did they realize how dangerous it was? After you’ve pondered those questions, take a moment to be thankful for the modern (and much safer) conveniences you have today.

Historical Treasure

• The Vigo County Historical Society’s museum is at 1411 S. Sixth St. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through



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