by Brett & Kate McKay
These days, nothing can be more routine for a man than shaving. We hardly give a second thought to scraping a razor against our skin each morning. If we fear anything about the process, it's that we'll nick ourselves or end up with severe razor burn.
But it wasn't always so.
Shaving was once a dangerous and sometimes lethal endeavor. Before the advent of safety razors and sanitation laws, a man risked his life when he decided to clean up with a close shave. Here are three stories of men who met their end in pursuit of a baby smooth face.
Michael F. Farley, 1921
Michael F. Farley immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1881 when he was 18 years old. He ran a successful liquor business in New York and was elected to Congress in 1915. But Mr. Farley's Horatio Alger story was cut short after a visit to the barbershop. Little did Mr. Farley know that the badger brush the barber was using to create that nice luxurious lather on his face was contaminated with - I kid you not- anthrax. Farley was infected with the virus and died a few days later. Who knew a barber brush could be a weapon of mass destruction?
John Henry Taylor, 1911
John Henry Taylor was a friendly horticulturalist who decided to take a trip on a Red Line cruise ship back in 1911. In between matches of shuffle board, Mr. Taylor felt his beard was getting a little rough and decided to visit the on-board barber. The waves must have been pretty rough that day because the barber gave ol' John Henry a little nick on the neck. Because small cuts are par for the course when getting a shave, John Henry didn't think much of it and returned to his cabin. But later that night, his throat began to swell up and fill with fluid. The ship doctor said it was just a case of blood poisoning and told Taylor that it would soon heal itself. Two days later the swelling increased, and Taylor could no longer speak. A week after the initial cut, John Henry Taylor suffocated and died from severe edema.
John Thoreau, 1841
John Thoreau was the brother of famous American writer and Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau. In the winter of 1841, while taking part in his daily shave, John Thoreau cut himself with his razor. A few days later he came down with lockjaw and died in Henry David's arms. His brother's death devastated Thoreau. He didn't talk to his family or write in his journal for weeks.
Thoreau's good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, suggested that he go spend some time out in the woods alone near a pond called Walden. Thoreau took this sage advice, and one of America's greatest essays was born. All thanks to shaving.
Brett McKay runs The Art of Manliness with his wonderful wife Kate. You can learn how to get a close shave without killing yourself in their new book, The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manner for the Modern Man.