Electric Shaver Museum, Kobler exhibition

This is the no-frames/text-only version of the Kobler exhibition of the Electric Shaver Museum: a history of the company, its shavers and biographies of the Kobler family. To see the photographs in this exhibition, or to visit E|S|M's other exhibitions click here (unless forced, not available for mobile devices with a screenwidth less than 640 pixels).

The companyAir and water pearl pipeGummed tapes dispenserShaversUseful noveltiesThe first shaver modelsImproved models"Special" shaver headTwo simpler shavers"Super" shaver headProblemsStill availableVictor KoblerVictor Kobler IIWerner KoblerMarx KoblerKurt KoblerSources/further readingThanks to

The company
For 40 years Victor Kobler (1859-1936), an inventor in heart and soul, had been working as an employee and a freelancer in the textile industry in the east of Switzerland before he moved to Zürich with his wife and three sons, in 1915. In 1920 he founded a company to manufacture office equipment. By that time Victor Kobler had been granted already some 75 patents, mainly for machinery for the textile industry. For his new business he invented a manuscript holder. What was so special about this appliance was a small wheel placed next to the console of the typewriter, by which a line indicator was moved over the manuscript. In 1930 Kobler developed a stapler which did not contain preformed staples, but formed its staples from steel wire on a reel. More than 20,000 staples could be made out of one coil of wire. Besides these two own inventions the company produced some other small office appliances.

Air and water Pearl pipe
Victor Kobler's gift for unusual solutions was not limited to strictly business inventions. Because of health problems his doctor advised him to stop smoking. Kobler did not do so. Instead he invented a pipe (1923) in which a great part of the harmful substances was filtered away. A test by the Technical University of Zürich (ETH) confirmed that the filter worked. In his autobiography (1934) Kobler said: "The Kobler pipe is my favourite invention, even if this invention has neither wheels nor levers or eccentrics". The 'Air and Water Pearl Pipe', as it was called, has been a successful Kobler product for a long time. This way of diversification was typical for the company: Kobler's product range originated from an inventive mind, not from a planned company strategy.

Gummed tapes dispenser
Victor Kobler died in 1936, so he did not witness his sons Victor and Werner developing a completely new appliance (1937): a dispenser for moistening gummed strips of paper to tape packages in a shop. A handle was attached as well: the invention became known as the 'Kobler Paketträger-System'. The Kobler company supplied the rolls of gummed paper preprinted with the names and logo's of the shops that used the appliance. The appliance attracted a great deal of attention, and a French company wanted to buy the production rights. A contract was signed, but because just at that time World War II broke out, the French could not fulfil their obligations. The Kobler company was awarded damages.

The packaging appliance was a great success in Switzerland. Supported by this success and by the compensation from France, Kobler started the development of an electric shaver. This undertaking was not without risks. In the 1930's the Swiss public did not have much faith in the apparatus which was called a 'Barthobel' (beardplane). Besides there were already some competing brands on the Swiss market: Schick and Remington. There was also a rival manufacturer in Switzerland: Harab sold many shavers on account of heavy advertising. Another risk was that the Kobler company did not have any experience in producing electrical appliances, not to mention small electric motors or shavers. Nevertheless the Koblers assessed their chances to be high. At first the intentions were to produce a cheap version of an existing shaver, but during the development process gradually a high-quality product with many novelties was conceived.

Useful novelties
Unlike most competing brands, already in 1940 Kobler's shavers had a voltage switch. Unlike other manufacturers who used two-pole interruptormotors, Kobler used a three-pole motor to avoid starting problems. The on-off switch gave the rotor of the motor a push, so that it looked like the motor was self-starting. The switches for voltage and on-off were of an original design: a small stick that could be slided through the body of the shaver operating the switching mechanisms. The Kobler shaver was also the first to have a slightly bent version of a Schick/Remington-type shaving head. Another nice feature was the swivelling cord. The place were the cord is mounted on the shaver's body usually was one of the foibles of electric shavers. The swivel mechanism prevented the cord from cracking or breaking. But there was more: the plug had an extension that fitted the shaving head as a protective cover. When the cover was on the head the cord could be wound a few times round the body. The bottom of the shaver had an indentation to keep the cord in place. So Kobler's first shaver featured many useful novelties, for most of which patents were granted.

The first shaver models
Kobler's first shaver Standard had a dark brown melamine body and one shaving head. It was introduced at the 'Schweizerische Mustermesse' in 1940. The characteristic angular shape and the shaving system of this first shaver were to be maintained in all the shaver models Kobler produced afterwards. That same year two more shavers were derived from the first model: the Kobler Sport (dark brown, in a cylindrical cardboard box) and the Kobler Reise. The Kobler Reise had a modern ivory colored body, and a leather zip case. Sometime later the Kobler Kombi (later called Touring) was marketed, a simpler dark red version, without the on/off-switch and voltage switch, and without the special plug/cover-combination. Eventually in 1948 a ladyshaver (Kobler Lady) was derived from the Kobler Reise. It was available in two colours, salmon or green, had an adapted shaving head with narrower slots, and a beauty-set with a nail file and a special massage-head was available. Characteristic of these first models was that they had only one shaving head and that the ends of the haircatcher were open.

Improved models
After a few years Kobler started looking for improvement of the shaver's performance. First the number of shaving heads was increased to two (Kobler Dual, 1945) and a year later to three Kobler Triplex, 1946). A new feature on these shavers were the small metal lids on both ends of the haircatchers to keep the bristles inside. In 1945 Kobler's first single-headed model was also equipped with these metal hairtraps; this model was now called the Kobler Classic.
In 1951 Kobler brought one of the most striking electric shavers of the 1950's: the Kobler V-matic, the only shaver ever produced with two non-parallel shaving heads. A test in a French magazine (1955) demonstrated that the V-matic stretched the skin better than other shavers. The magazine recommended the shaver especially for men with a wrinkled face or a coarse skin. The V-matic was also available as a car shaver (Kobler V-matic Auto-Home, 110/220/6/12 Volts).

'Special' shaving head
In 1955 it was time for a less visible but nevertheless important improvement. Kobler reduced the thickness of the shaving head by flattening the top of it. All shavers were successively fitted with this new so called 'Special' shaving head.
Kobler's shavers sold well and in the 1950's, when it was the main product of the company, sales numbered 50,000 shavers a year. A substantial part was exported to other European countries and many overseas countries like Australia, Argentina, Brasil, Mexico and the USA. During this heyday Kobler employed about 150 people in the factory in Zürich.

Two simpler shavers
Kobler's shavers were considered well shaving, innovative, solid precision instruments, but the price for all these qualities was high. Halfway the 1950's Kobler's shavers were selling at about two to three times the price of other European shavers like the popular Philishave/Norelco Doubleheader or Braun's S50: Kobler's shavers were costly. To be able to serve a broader market Kobler introduced two simpler shavers: in 1956 the Kobler Junior (one shaving head, no hairtraps, no on/off-switch, no swivelling cord) and in 1957 the Kobler Export (two shaving heads, no on/off-switch, no swivelling cord). On the Export one-piece plastic hairtraps on the two haircatchers were introduced. For the Export an adapter (Kobler Universal-Auto-Adapter) was available for use with 6/12 Volts (Kobler Auto-Camp).
For the high-end of the market the V-Matic was upgraded with adjustable speed in 1957; a year later followed by the Dual and the Triplex. In 1959 the old Kobler Dual was replaced by the Kobler Classic-2.

'Super' shaving head
For the second half of the 1950's Kobler now had the Junior and the Export as cheaper, simpler shavers, and the Triplex, the V-Matic and the double-header Classic-2 for the high-end of the market. Between 1960 and 1962 all models were upgraded with a wider, so called 'Super' shaving head (45 millimeters wide).
After these innovations two more shavers were developed: the Kobler Junior was replaced by the single-header Kobler Compact in 1963, with a modern look by the profile on the sides and its grey colour. Eventually the Kobler Tri-Matic (with a new triple shaving head) was developed in 1967. The Tri-Matic was the first and only Kobler shaver that did not have the same basic design as Kobler's first shaver in 1940. The Tri-Matic was also produced in a special version for Dunhill (model PS1) that had already sold (wet)shaving products since the 1930's.

From the 1960's more and more problems arose for the Kobler company. The Remington/Schick-type shaving system Kobler used got out of date. In the 1960's Remington started marketing foil shavers (produced in Austria by the Payer factories). Schick sticked to its shaving system a bit longer, eventually turned also to foil shavers, but missed the boat and vanished from the market in the 1970's. Kobler did not change its shaving system, which made the company's position on the shaver market vulnerable.
It was a more general problem that Kobler's relatively small scale, high quality manufacturing process did not fit the developments of the electric shaver market in the 1960's, during which expansion, mass production and survival of the fittest were the keywords. Kobler, by the way, was not the only shaver manufacturer which met with these problems: the 1960's marked the end of many of them. That also happened to Kobler. The production of new apparatus was stopped in 1975. From that time on Kobler's activities were restricted to service on products. In 1986 Kobler & Co. AG ran down.

Still available
Kobler sold its Paketträger system already in 1944, but the system has been on the market for years, until it was ousted by the upcoming plastic bag in the 1960's. Two Kobler products were still manufactured after Kobler's factories were closed, a letter-opening machine that can also be used as a paper cutter, and a so-called 'tongue-saver', a moistener for gummed envelopes, stamps, etc. These products were later produced by the company W. Schaerer & Co. AG in Bern, Switzerland.

Victor Kobler
Victor Kobler was born in 1859 in Gams in the region of St. Gallen in east Switzerland, a region world-wide famous for its embroidery industry. His parents were poor and Victor grew up with minimal education. He left school when he was 14 years old, and started working in the embroidery industry as a needle-threader, a boring job usually done by children. While Kobler made a career as master-stitcher and mechanic, he started inventing at home. In 1884 he had his first significant success when he invented a machine to thread needles: the 'Einfädelmaschine'. In 1896 he came to his most important invention: a stitching machine with a driving shaft on the side (instead of the more vulnerable linear shaft which was used until then). Kobler's most important inventions were exhibited at the Paris World Fair 1900, where he got a bronze medal for his works. Kobler's success also aroused envy: he had to defend himself against reproaches about plagiarism and became a victim of other machinations. Though Kobler won his libel suit, his life in St. Gallen was spoiled. In 1915 Kobler moved to Zürich with his family.
Kobler had met his wife Babette Stauder in 1887, when he was working for her father's company. They married in 1889 and had three sons: Victor, Werner and Paul. Together with his sons Victor Kobler founded Kobler & Co. in 1920. Paul Kobler emigrated to the USA to establish his own company in 1926. In 1934 Victor Kobler wrote his autobiography; he died two years later in 1936, with 80 Swiss patents to his name.

Victor Kobler II
Victor Kobler II was born on 19 August 1895. Like his father he had a knack of inventing. After attending the technical school at Rorschach he studied at the Institute of Technology at Winterthur. Victor Kobler became the technical genius of the Kobler company and, after his father retired from business, he did not only develop all products, but also the production machinery for the factory. In 1938, at his brother Werner's request, he took on the task to develop an electric shaver. After his brother Werner's death in 1968 Victor sold his share in the business to his nephews Kurt and Marx Kobler. Victor Kobler died on 17 December 1980.

Werner Kobler
Werner Kobler was born on 2 November 1897. He studied law to become a patent lawyer, but when he was just about to finish his studies he understood that the family business needed his commercial instinct. He discontinued his studies and became a sales manager of the Kobler firm. Werner Kobler recognized the importance of systematic advertising in marketing. His gift for graphics was very useful to develop the little Kobler man 'Qualm' which appeared in all Kobler advertisements. 'Qualm' made Kobler one of the first Swiss companies to have a 'corporate identity' before the term existed. After World War II Werner Kobler developed an export organisation within the Kobler firm. In 1948 he took the initiative to found the Association of Swiss Manufacturers of Electric Shavers of which he was the chairman until his death. Werner Kobler died on 30 August 1968.

Marx Kobler
Marx Kobler (born 11 December 1927, son of Werner Kobler) studied economics at Zürich University. Then he worked in the USA for a while. Back in Switzerland he started as manager of the export department of the Kobler company. During the sixties he took over more and more of his father Werner's duties until he became general sales manager in 1968. In 1969 he withdraw from the company.

Kurt Kobler
Kurt Kobler (born 5 May 1932, son of Werner Kobler) studied electrical engineering at the Technical University in Zürich (ETH). In 1958 he started with the family company as works manager of the assembly department for shavers and office equipment. In 1962 he became works manager of the company and in 1969, after his brother Marx's withdrawal, general manager of the Kobler company. Beside product development his main tasks were to rationalize the production process and to extend the precision engineering department. He also was the designer of the Kobler Tri-Matic shaver.

Sources / further reading
Victor Kobler, Mein Leben und meine Erfindungen, Selbstbiographie eines Pröblers, published by the author, Zürich (CH) 1934
Anon., Kobler Betriebsblätter, Kobler company, Zürich (CH) 1943-19?? (Kobler company's house organ)
Claude Lichtenstein, Unbekannt - Vertraut, Anonymes Design im Schweizer Gebrauchsgerät seit 1920, Schule und Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich (CH) 1987
Anon., Le dictionnaire des rasoirs électriques, in: Science et Vie (FR) Feb. 1955

Thanks to
Kurt and Marx Kobler for their extensive help making this exhibition possible
Claude Lichtenstein (Museum und Schule für Gestaltung Zürich)

Electric Shaver Museum
Please note that this is the no-frames/text-only version of E|S|M's Kobler exhibition. To see the photographs in this exhibition, or to see E|S|M's other exhibitions click here (unless forced, not available for mobile devices with a screenwidth less than 640 pixels).
Texts, photographs and illustrations © 1999-2011 Peter de Weijer (E|S|M), unless indicated otherwise. Noncommercial use of the information on this site is permitted provided the source is stated expressly.

E | S | M
© 1999 - 2011