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History’s Most Famous Facial Hair

Ian Harvey

Beards, mustaches, sideburns, and goatees — some love them, others don’t. Facial hair has been popular as long as recorded history, from the enormous biblical beards to the tiny pencil-thin mustache Jimmy Buffett sang about.

Before the 20th century, almost all men wore beards. Some were barely there while others looked like the owner put his finger in a light socket. Let’s look at a few of the most interesting.

Blackbeard

Captain Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, is said to have tucked slow-burning fuses into his beard and lit them on fire before plundering towns for gold and rum.

Captain Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, is said to have tucked slow-burning fuses into his beard and lit them on fire before plundering towns for gold and rum.

The lead off has to be English pirate, Blackbeard. According to Colin Woodard, author of four books regarding pirates of the past and an article in Smithsonian magazine, The Last Days of Blackbeard, he was born Edward Thatch (or Teach) in England in 1680 and joined up with pirates around 1716.

Blackbeard the Pirate.

Blackbeard the Pirate.

Blackbeard frequented the waters of the southeast United States and the Bahamas, raiding and capturing trading ships. He wore his beard in dreadlocks and was reported to have stuck lit fuses in them.

Blackbeard battles Lt. Maynard at the height of the Golden Age of Piracy.

Blackbeard battles Lt. Maynard at the height of the Golden Age of Piracy.

Blackbeard was killed in a sword fight near Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1718 while trying to capture the ship of Lieutenant Robert Maynard of England’s Royal Navy. His body was thrown into the sea, but his head which was attached to the bow of Maynard’s ship with that famous beard blowing in the wind.

Ambrose Burnside

Ambrose Everett Burnside (May 23, 1824 – September 13, 1881).

Ambrose Everett Burnside (May 23, 1824 – September 13, 1881).

Sideburns have been popular off and on throughout history. They got their name from the style of Civil War General Ambrose Burnside.

Burnside wore a mustache that curved low around his jaw and straight up to his hairline at the ears. A Union general, Burnside led many a failed mission, including his difficulty in getting his army across a large stone bridge at Antietam, his delay in crossing the Rappahannock River before the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of the Crater in the Petersburg siege in July of 1864, dramatized in the movie Cold Mountain.

After the Crater, Burnside was placed on leave until the end of the war.

Ambrose Burnside

Ambrose Burnside

He later became a businessman and the first president of the National Rifle Association. He served as a senator of Rhode Island until his death from heart problems at the age of 57, in 1881. He retained his famous sideburns throughout his life, and while he may not have been a very successful military man, he looked very distinguished while he was trying.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain in 1871.

Mark Twain in 1871.

Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, wore a big, bushy mustache his entire adult life. Almost everyone is familiar with his most famous writings, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as well as some of his less famous novels, short stories, and essays.

Mark Twain in his gown (scarlet with grey sleeves and facings) for his D.Litt. degree, awarded to him by Oxford University.

Mark Twain in his gown (scarlet with grey sleeves and facings) for his D.Litt. degree, awarded to him by Oxford University.

The older Twain got, the bushier his moustache became until it was difficult to distinguish between his eyebrows and his mustache. Nevertheless, Twain cut quite a dashing figure throughout his life.

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

As mustaches go, Salvador Dali ranks near the top for creative thinking. The Spanish surrealist painter also dabbled in film, writing, and photography. At first, Dali had an unremarkable, run-of-the-mill mustache but began getting creative with it in the 1940s.

Dali in 1939.

Dali in 1939.

Dali waxed his mustache into long thin tendrils that were often arched up to his eyebrows to go along with his eccentric clothing and lifestyle. According to BBC News, the artist was exhumed in 2017 to obtain DNA material to refute the claim of María Pilar Abel Martínez that she was his daughter.

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

It was found that Martínez was not his daughter, and it was also found that his mustache was completely intact and still styled after over eighty years.

Grizzly Adams

“Grizzly” Adams, with his grizzly bear, Benjamin Franklin, from the 1860 Hutchings’ Illustrated California Magazine.

“Grizzly” Adams, with his grizzly bear, Benjamin Franklin, from the 1860 Hutchings’ Illustrated California Magazine.

A duo of Grizzly Adams’ both had epic beards. The real Grizzly Adams, John Capen Adams, was born in 1812 in Massachusetts. He was a traveling animal hunter and trainer who put on shows and was constantly beleaguered by legal problems. Adams left his family in Massachusetts and headed west to live a solitary life in the California mountains.

His treatment of the bears in his custody was questionable and would never be tolerated today. Grizzly Adams died at the age of forty-eight, after a head wound caused by a grizzly bear five years earlier was aggravated. His mountain man lifestyle lent itself to a rather long and scraggly beard. In 1972, writer Charles Sellier published the book, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, which in 1982 was turned into a television series starring Dan Haggerty.

Haggerty had an amazing salt and pepper, thick beard that transitioned to a long, thick, full head of salt and pepper hair. Haggarty and his hair passed away of cancer in 2016.

Abraham Lincoln

In 1860, the future sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, grew a beard at the request of eleven-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York who wrote to him telling him that her father planned on voting for him, and if Lincoln were to grow a beard, she could probably get the rest of the family to vote for him.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln wrote back asking if Grace thought he may be putting on airs if he grew a beard now. Lincoln did grow a beard while he was waiting to be sworn in, and in 1861, while on a visit to Westfield, New York, he called out into the crowd for Grace. Upon finding her he rushed over, grabbed her up, and kissed her several times before hurrying back to the train. While Lincoln’s beard never grew into a full, complete beard, one wonders if Grace Bedell ever washed her cheeks again.

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler. Photo by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S33882 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Adolf Hitler. Photo by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S33882 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

One of the most recognizable mustaches in the world was the thin, square mustache of Adolf Hitler. Hitler needs no introduction, but the patch of hair on his upper lip was so unusual it bears mentioning.

Rollie Fingers

Baseball player Rollie Fingers. Photo by © Rubenstein, Martyna Borkowski CC BY 2.0

Baseball player Rollie Fingers. Photo by © Rubenstein, Martyna Borkowski CC BY 2.0

Some of the most recent interesting facial hair looks include Rollie Fingers, the pitcher of the Los Angeles A’s in 1972. The baseball team’s owner challenged the players to have a moustache competition. Fingers grew an early twentieth-century style handlebar moustache, waxed and curled at the ends, reminiscent of Snidely Whiplash. Not only did he win the contest, he kept the moustache for the rest of his career.

John Lennon

John Lennon in the early 1970s. Photo by Roy Kerwood  CC By 2.5

John Lennon in the early 1970s. Photo by Roy Kerwood  CC By 2.5

John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

John Lennon of The Beatles emerged in the early 1960s with a fresh boyish face along with his bandmates, Paul McCartney, Richard Starkey, and George Harrison. The brilliant songwriter matured before our eyes and turned into an advocate for peace and love. During his transformation, Lennon grew a very nice, thick beard while studying Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India.

Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons

Finally, the award for the beards of the century could go to Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons of the rock and roll band ZZ Top. The band began in 1969 out of Houston, Texas and are still valuable members of the music industry. They recently raised over $100,000 to aid hurricane damaged Houston. Oddly enough, the one band member that does not have a beard is Frank Beard.

Read another story from us: Why Men Started Shaving Their Beards for Health Reasons

For any man who wants an epic beard or moustache, the California Beard Company will email a free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Beard Growing, and also offers items such as beard balm, oil, and beard combs. The company plants a tree for every item ordered. Over two thousand trees have been planted in Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Haiti. The owner, Chandler Sterling, has a very nice beard as well.