By Ken Zurski
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was the first commander-in-chief to wear facial hair.
Actually by being the first to sport a beard, Lincoln started a trend that lasted nearly 50 years. A trend that ended in 1912 with the election of Woodrow Wilson. There hasn’t been a mustache or beard on any U.S president’s face since. That’s 17 president’s in a span of 115 years! And the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the 45th president, didn’t change that fact.
Even vice-president’s are included.
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.
But more recently, the convenience of shaving doesn’t explain the resurgence of mustaches which reached it’s peak with the popularity of Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz in the 70’s and Tom Selleck in the 80’s. Today, the mustache-only look is considered more nostalgic than fashionable.
Then in the 2000’s, beards became trendy again. Celebrities and sports figures sport them, some in a show of solidarity others just for fun.
Despite these cultural shifts toward facial hair, the president’s faces, 6 in all since the 60’s, have remained clean shaven (and the male candidates of the 2020 presidential election doesn’t appear to change that).
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 without facial hair on a daily basis. 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.
The last president to have facial hair is William Howard Taft.
Woodrow Wilson was next. He shaved everyday and was always impeccably coiffed.
Regardless of why the trend ended with the 28th President, something as trivial as a facial hair has controversy.
Some argue that John Quincy Adams, not Lincoln, should be considered the first president to keep hair on the face. If so, that would pull the history of president’s and facial hair back nearly four decades.
Not to be. Adams chops, which extended off his ears and sloped down to his chin was not considered a full beard.
And since he did not have a hair under his nose, the sideburns only look didn’t count.