Medicine Cabinets in the Past Had This Strange Hole. Can You Guess What It Was For?

August 27, 2019 Updated: August 27, 2019

Imagine that you’re moving into a beautiful old house that has been restored. You’re so excited to unpack all your bags and boxes and make it your own. As you find all your pills, vitamins, and grooming products, you look for the medicine cabinet. Opening up the bathroom mirror, you see beautiful porcelain shelves.

But what’s that inside? A perfectly regular slot-shaped hole? Why would that be there?

Maybe your house still has one of these…

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If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll immediately understand what we’re talking about, but for millennials, the purpose of a hole in the medicine cabinet is sure to be baffling!

There are some clues that should help younger readers figure out what it might be used for. Remembering that we’re in the bathroom is the first one. Obviously, whatever this strange opening is, it’s got something to do with what people used their medicine cabinets for. The most obvious explanation would be a place to dispose of something people were no longer using, maybe cotton pads or q-tips?

But why have a hole behind the medicine cabinet and how could you get to it? If people wanted to get rid of something, wouldn’t the solution be to throw it in the trash? If you look at the picture below, you might get another clue as to what the curious hole was for.

Mother and daughter have a look through their bathroom cabinet, c. 1960 (©Getty Images | Jacobsen)

The mom seems to be getting some tablets out or putting them back with her little girl, hopefully telling her about the dangers of being in the medicine cabinet without adult supervision. So we know the mysterious slot has something to do with keeping kids safe. But it wouldn’t make any sense to put pills in a space behind the shelves where even an adult would have a hard time getting to them.

Here’s another clue that should help!

Little boy discovers the joys of shaving, c. 1950. (©Getty Images | Keystone)

Think again about the size and shape of the hole and you should get the idea. It’s for used razor blades. While most people these days use electric razors for comfort and convenience, not to mention to avoiding cutting themselves, some people still use blades.

But almost everyone who doesn’t have professional barber training will use a safety razor patented by businessman King Camp Gillette in the early 1900s. This novel technology replaced the efficient but potentially deadly (think of Sweeney Todd) straight razor, which had been used up until that point.

By placing the blade inside a protective covering made of metal or, as is more common today, plastic, Gillette’s razors protected people from accidentally cutting themselves. This made shaving dramatically safer and easier and lessened men’s reliance on barber shops. It would also pave the way for women’s razors.

But what would you do with razors once they were dulled and no longer sharp enough? Leaving them out could potentially have kids swallowing them or cutting themselves. Rather than deal with the danger of throwing them in the trash basket, where little ones might root around and find them, house builders came up with an ingenious (for the time) idea.

Why not have a slot and a space behind it where they could pile up? Or failing that, a chute that would let them fall underneath the house?

©Pixabay | TBIT

When the challenge was posted on All Cute All the Time, many people who remembered the slots wrote it to share their memories, both good and bad. One user wrote, none too happy, “several years ago, I took out an old medicine cabinet to replace it. A whole lot of nasty, rusty old razor blades remained inside the wall.”

Another commenter added, “this was thought to be an excellent idea at the time, as it kept these rusty blades out of landfills where they would pose a threat to humans and wildlife as well. Also, during that time, garbage cans were emptied into the collection trucks by human hands—as compared to the automated trucks that are in use today.”

Regardless, everyone from that generation was thankful that razor technology has improved since then.

The dangers of leaving household bleaches and detergents within reach of children, c. 1955. (©Getty Images | Jacobsen)
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