To quote Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven beards ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, in which we love to celebrate 4th of July with bountiful hot dogs and cold beers while rocking stylish beards.” As we all know, that famous address probably didn’t go like that, however, it is a proven fact that President Abe Lincoln had one of the most epic beards in all of American history. This year, while we’re spending time with friends and family drinking cold beverages around a hot barbeque grill, let’s reflect on some of the best beards and facial hair of our past presidents.
First facial hair
While Lincoln had arguably the best beard in all of presidential history, and possibly history in general, he was not the first US president to have facial hair. The first president to not be completely clean shaven was actually John Quincy Adams, who took office 36 years before Lincoln as the 6th president.
Adams, the eldest son of John Adams, had a very distinctive set of sideburns that spanned from his ears to his cheekbones to his chin, which was clean shaven. In many portraits, it takes on the characteristics of a lion’s mane. It must have worked out well for him, because the very next president to have facial hair, Martin Van Buren, had a very similar style of a hybrid sideburns/beard look. President Van Buren’s was just more clean shaven around the chin and mouth area. He was the 8th president and served from 1837 to 1841.
Last beard/facial hair
Jumping forward to the last president to regularly have facial hair, which was all the way back in 1909, was William Howard Taft. Over 100 years ago! President Taft is probably most famous for the “getting stuck in the bathtub” myth, but second to that he is known to be the last sitting president to have facial hair.
Taft was a president who fought for the average American worker. He brought over 70 lawsuits against growing mega-corporations like the oil, tobacco, and railroad industries. He also was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after his presidency. There he served for nine years from 1921 until his death in 1930. He is the only person thus far to be the head of two branches of government as the Commander and Chief and Chief Justice. His signature swooping mustache with thin points at the ends was the last of its kind as well.
The mantle of the most unique facial hair of our US presidents has to go to none other than Chester A. Arthur. A man generally known as “history’s most forgotten president” had a very memorable beard style. President Arthur rocked huge sideburns that formed a line that led to and blended with his mustache. It was a mutton chops/mustache combo that has not been replicated before or since by another president and maybe by another human being.
He was actually a pretty decent president, though technically was never elected. He took over for President Garfield after he was assassinated 1881. Journalist Alexander McClure later wrote, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired ... more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe."
Let’s hear it for our past presidents and their long legacy of great facial hair. As we celebrate this 4th of July, take a moment to reflect on the beards of our former presidents and the men who wore them.