The legacy of William Painter and King Camp Gillette

Abandoned TV
Abandoned TV

Walking around Leith, a district to the north of the city of Edinburgh, and my adopted home town, I’m constantly amazed at the amount of of objects that have been left in the street or in a car park, smashed-up, purposely thrown away or simply misplaced or forgotten.

Broken, lost, abandoned is an ongoing project that documents these objects where they have been lost or left by their owners.

Tim Dowling comments in his Guardian blog post On the mend, that “when getting a broken appliance fixed is often more expensive than replacing it”. This has lead to a society that places little value on most consumer goods. Obsolescence is rife.

In 1892 William Painter patented the bottle cap. It was designed as a single use object, something that could only be used once.  Once the cap was removed, it served no further purpose, so was simply discarded.  King Camp Gillette followed this principle when he invented the disposable razor blade – inexpensive to manufacture, cheap to replace – no need to spend time continually sharpening the blade – simply use a few times then throw away ((the notion of throwing something “away” will reveal that away is always merely somewhere else – The Arts, Garbage and Disposable Culture)) and buy a new one.

Today, we’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of products that are purposely designed to be disposable.  Even electronic appliances such as washing machines, cameras, mobile phones and televisions are manufactured so cheaply, that even after the huge retail profit margins have been added, it is still cheaper for the consumer to replace a broken, lost or purposely abandoned object than it is to get it fixed. Madness!