METROPOLIS: Gillette’s Utopian City Proposal

Before perfecting his invention of the safety razor and founding what became a major American industrial and sales enterprise, King Camp Gillette (1855-1932) authored several books and pamphlets calling for radical changes in the country’s economic and social system. The first of these polemical tracts, The Human Drift, called for the establishment of an ideal society to be created by The United Company “Organized for the purpose of Producing, Manufacturing, and Distributing the Necessities of Life.” Except for agricultural and other rural pursuits, all activities and all the population would be concentrated in one gigantic urban complex that Gillette called “Metropolis.”

The manufacturing industries of “Metropolis” would be located east and west of Niagara River in Ontario and New York. The residence portion of the city would commence about ten miles east of Niagara River and Buffalo; and from this point to its eastern extremity, which would include the present city of Rochester in its eastern border, the city would be sixty miles long east and west, and thirty miles in width north and south, lying parallel with Lake Ontario, and about five miles from it.


Water for the purposes of the city could be taken from the elevation of Lake Erie, and discharged as waste into Lake Ontario. As the fall is 330 feet between these two lakes, it is reasonable to suppose that some system might be devised whereby the water required for domestic and city purposes could be made to flow naturally through the city, from one lake to the other, with very little necessity of pumping, and that a large portion of it could be utilized at its outlet ­to generate power.


In the building of this great central city, it must be considered in the light of a machine, or rather a part of the machine of production and distribution; and, as such, the objects to be attained must be known and understood. It must have no unnecessary parts to cause friction or demand unnecessary labor, and yet it must combine within itself all the necessary parts which will contribute to the happiness and comfort of all. Under such a system, the people would live in mammoth apartment houses or hotels, and be free from all the annoyances of housekeeping.

These apartment buildings would be conducted upon a scale of magnificence such as no civilization has ever known, and would be distributed on a determined plan that would give an average equal population to the square mile throughout the city. The labor incident to the managing and conducting of these apartment buildings on a most liberal basis, as well as labor incident to keeping the city in a condition of cleanliness and beauty, would all be furnished by the Bureau of Labor, the same as other labor would be furnished for the departments of public service. The most magnificent modern hotel in New York could not compare in beauty of its rooms and liberality of its service with any one of these thousands of buildings of “Metropolis.” Built in circular form, each would stand a perfect work of art, separate and apart from all surrounding buildings, a distance sufficient to give ample perspective to bring out its beauty as a whole.

In the description here given of “Metropolis,” these buildings are separated twelve hundred feet from centre to centre, and the buildings themselves are about six hundred feet in diameter. Thus the nearest point of contact between any two buildings is not less than six hundred feet. This arrangement of equal distances from centres, allowing ample space between buildings, which would be laid out in avenues, walks, and gardens, results in a city that is a beautiful park; throughout its whole extent. It is calculated that with our present population of seventy millon there would be at least sixty million who would occupy this city, while of the balance, ten million, some would be in the field of production and others travelling for pleasure or occupying;, apartment houses in the country and along our coast. To accommodate these sixty million people, would require twenty­four thousand apartment buildings, capable of accommodating, on an average, two thousand five hundred persons each which, distributed on the plan proposed, would result in a city that would cover the distance shown in the dotted outline on the map.


“Here we have a city every building of which is a perfect work of art, and whose setting is nature’s loveliest handiwork, made perfect by the intelligence of man.

How can we believe for a moment that we are now securing the best results of our highest intelligence, when we have it in our power to live in places such as described, and are yet content to crowd ourselves in cities where the streets are narrow, filthy, and ill-paved, where not a blade of grass or a single flower is seen except in isolated parks and a few florists’ windows, and where millions live who never inhale the fragrance of nature’s purest loveliness?”

Gillette, The Human Drift. (Boston: New Era Publishing Co., 1894. Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, Inc., 1976):88-112.


(With thanks to @timescanner on twitter for posting a link to this fascinating article)