For a Long Time, Nearly all U.S. Presidents Had Facial Hair. And Then They Didn’t
By Ken Zurski
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was the first commander-and-chief to have facial hair.
Actually by being the first to sport a beard, Lincoln started a trend that lasted nearly 50 years. But even Lincoln’s beard was an afterthought. Lincoln never had facial hair as an adult and only let his whiskers go after a receiving a letter from an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell who suggested the president-elect should grow one. “For your face is so thin,” she wrote.
Lincoln reluctantly obliged.
After Lincoln, and in the eleven presidencies that followed, only Andrew Johnson and William McKinley chose to go clean shaven. The rest had either a beard, mustache or both. Chester Arthur was one. The 21st president, had a classic version of sidewhiskers, an extreme variation of the muttonchop, or side hair connected by a mustache.
But it didn’t last.
The last president to have facial hair is William Howard Taft (mustache) in 1909.
Woodrow Wilson, who was always impeccably coiffed and dressed, was next. President Wilson shaved everyday and ended the trend.
Many claim the invention of Gillette’s safety razor in the early 1900’s had something to do with the change. Suddenly shaving was easier and facial hair in general went out of style. Plus, the military banned beards too. This was not the case during the Civil War or the Spanish -American War, led in part by a future president, Teddy Roosevelt, who sported a bushy mustache.
Regardless of why it ended, from Wilson on, rarely a stitch of facial hair has been spotted on a president’s face. (You can even add vice-presidents to that list too.) And despite a surge in popularity for beards today, that likely wont change with the election of the 45th president. Donald Trump has never sported facial hair and well, Hillary Clinton, who could become the first woman president, makes the point moot.
But even something as trivial as a beard has controversy.
Some argue that John Quincy Adams, not Lincoln, should be considered the first president to have facial hair. If so, that would pull the history of presidents and hair growth back nearly four decades.
But not to be.
While Adams certainly had hair on his face, his chops, which extended off his ears and sloped down to his chin, were considered sideburns instead.