Posted by: Dominic | November 29, 2010

American Facial Hair

The facial hair of 19th century America is as electrifying as it is varied. It boldly contrasts with the whiskerless Founding Fathers, such as this particularly ruddy-faced John Adams.

The most famous, and perhaps the originator of the trend, is Lincoln’s beard. Stately and dignified, yet hinting at his backwoods origin, it was the suggestion of an eleven year old girl from New York. She wrote to him before his election, stating that she believed it would help him gain more votes. By the time Lincoln arrived in Washington for his inauguration, he had grown his signature beard.

General Burnside

The Civil War brought us the wild whiskers of Ambrose Burnside, Union general. Supposedly “sideburns” is a corruption of his name. His daring facial hair would accelerate into the extravagance of such Gilded Age politicians as Chester A. Arthur.

President Chester A. Arthur

By the early twentieth century, this was trimmed back in the person of Teddy Roosevelt, whose svelt mustache was more economical for invasions of Cuba, winning the Nobel Peace prize, and big game hunting.

It hasn’t just been the politicians. Literary icons have been in on the act since the beginning. Henry David Thoreau was one of the first with his neck beard, affectionately known as the “Thoreau Rug.”

"I went to the woods because I wished to grow this horrendous thing on my face, deliberately."

But it always reminded me just a little bit of that collar thing on Kermit the Frog. Coincidence?

"Why are there so many songs about rainbows?"

Walt Whitman went full-on, hobo-style beard. Hemingway fluctuated between mustache and beard. And Ginsberg accentuated his bushy beard with equally bushy hair.

Hobo zero or boho hero?

A Farewell to Mustaches

For Whom the Beard Tolls

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by... clean-shaven faces."



  1. I’ve always been a fan of Henrik Ibsen’s facial hair:

    🙂 Nice post, by the way!

    • That’s pretty wild. I had never seen Ibsen’s photograph before. Thanks!

  2. […] (ha) here at Historias Apodeixis were on this idea almost two and a half years ago with a post on American facial hair. And our list included more than just presidents, we also covered writers and […]

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