Five U.S. presidents wore beards, but it's been more than a century since anyone with facial hair served in the White House.
The last president to wear a full beard in office was Benjamin Harrison, who served from March 1889 to March 1893. Facial hair has all but disappeared from American politics. There are very few bearded politicians in Congress. Being clean-shaven wasn't always the norm, though. There are plenty of presidents with facial hair in U.S. political history.
List of Presidents With Beards
At least 11 presidents had facial hair, but only five had beards.
1. Abraham Lincoln was the first bearded president of the United States. But he might have entered office clean-shaven in March 1861 were it not from a letter from 11-year-old Grace Bedell of New York, who didn't like the way he looked on the 1860 campaign trail without facial hair.
Bedell wrote to Lincoln before the election:
"I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President."
Lincoln started growing a beard, and by the time he was elected and began his journey from Illinois to Washington in 1861 he had grown the beard for which he is so remembered.
One note, however: Lincoln's beard was not a full beard. It was a "chinstrap," meaning he shaved his upper lip.
2. Ulysses Grant was the second bearded president. Before he was elected, Grant was known to wear his beard in a manner that was described as both "wild" and "shaggy" during the Civil War. The style did not suit his wife, however, so he trimmed it back. Purists point out the Grant was the first president to wear a full beard compared to Lincoln's "chinstrap."
In 1868, author James Sanks Brisbin described Grant's facial hair this way:
"The whole of the lower part of the face is covered with a closely cropped reddish beard, and on the upper lip he wears a mustache, cut to match the beard."
3. Rutherford B. Hayes was the third bearded president. He reportedly wore the longest beard of the five bearded presidents, what some described as Walt Whitman-ish. Hayes served as president from March 4, 1877 to March 4, 1881.
4. James Garfield was the fourth bearded president. His beard has been described as being similar to that of Rasputin's, black with streaks of gray.
5. Benjamin Harrison was the fifth bearded president. He wore a beard the entire four years he was in the White House, from March 4, 1889, to March 4, 1893. He was the last president to wear a beard, one of the more notable elements of a relatively unremarkable tenure in office.
Author O'Brien Cormac wrote this of the president in his 2004 book Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the Men of the White House:
"Harrison may not be the most memorable chief executive in American history, but he did, in fact, embody the end of an era: He was the last president to have a beard."
Several other presidents wore facial hair but not beards. They are:
- John Quincy Adams, who wore mutton chops.
- Chester Arthur, who wore a mustache and mutton chops.
- Martin Van Buren, who wore mutton chops.
- Grover Cleveland, who wore a mustache.
- Theodore Roosevelt, who wore a mustache.
- William Taft, who wore a mustache.
Why Presidents Don't Wear Facial Hair Today
The last major-party candidate with a beard to even run for president was Republican Charles Evans Hughes in 1916. He lost.
The beard, like every fad, fades and re-emerges in popularity.
Times have changed since Lincoln's day. Very few people beg political candidates, presidents or members of Congress to grow facial hair. The New Statesman summed up the state of facial hair since then: "Bearded men enjoyed all of the privileges of bearded women."
Beards, Hippies, and Communists
In 1930, three decades after the invention of the safety razor made shaving safe and easy, the author Edwin Valentine Mitchell wrote,
"In this regimented age the simple possession of a beard is enough to mark as curious any young man who has the courage to grow one."
After the 1960s, when beards were popular among hippies, facial hair grew even more unpopular among politicians, many of whom wanted to distance themselves from the counterculture. There were very few bearded politicians in politics because candidates and elected officials did not want to be portrayed as either Communists or hippies, according to Slate.com's Justin Peters.
Peters, in his 2012 piece, writes:
"For many years, wearing a full beard marked you as the sort of fellow who had Das Kapital stashed somewhere on his person. In the 1960s, the more-or-less concurrent rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba and student radicals at home reinforced the stereotype of beard-wearers as America-hating no-goodniks. The stigma persists to this day: No candidate wants to risk alienating elderly voters with a gratuitous resemblance to Wavy Gravy."
Author A.D. Perkins, writing in his 2001 book One Thousand Beards: a Cultural History of Facial Hair, notes that modern-day politicians are routinely instructed by their advisers and other handlers to "remove all traces of facial hair" before launching a campaign for fear of resembling "Lenin and Stalin (or Marx for that matter)." Perkins concludes: "The beard has been the kiss of death for Western politicians… "
Bearded Politicians in Modern Day
The absence of bearded politicians has not gone unnoticed.
In 2013 a group called the Bearded Entrepreneurs for the Advancement of a Responsible Democracy launched a political action committee whose aim is to support political candidates with both "a full beard, and a savvy mind full of growth-oriented policy positions that will move our great nation towards a more lush and magnificent future."
The BEARD PAC claimed that
"individuals with the dedication to grow and maintain a quality beard are the kinds of individuals that would show dedication to the job of public service."
Said BEARD PAC founder Jonathan Sessions:
"With the resurgence of beards in popular culture and among today's younger generation, we believe the time is now to bring facial hair back into politics."
The BEARD PAC determines whether to offer financial support to a political campaign only after submitting the candidate to its review committee, which investigates the "quality and longevity" of their beards.