Facial Hair Friday: Happy Birthday, Grover Cleveland!

President Grover Cleveland (ARC 518139)

President Grover Cleveland (ARC 518139)

If Grover Cleveland were alive today, he would need to blow out 174 candles. And of course, he would need to be careful not to set his mustache alight as he bent toward the mighty blaze of his birthday cake.

Grover Cleveland’s election marked a turning point in Presidential facial hair. The beard was going out of fashion, and the mustache was rising to upper-lip prominence.

In fact, Lincoln was the first President to sport a beard (though Martin Van Buren was stiffly bewhiskered by sideburns). But after Lincoln’s death in 1865, his sucessor Andrew Johnson was clean shaven.  Grant, Hayes, and Garfield made their turn through the highest office with fine beards, but the tide turned with the appearance of Chester A. Arthur’s mustache and meager sideburns.

President Cleveland had embraced the look of the clean-shaved face when he entered office the first time in 1885, but he maintained a mustache. When he returned for a second term in 1893, he still had the mustache.

Cleveland is the only President to be elected to two non-consective terms. For his second term, he defeated the incumbent President Harrison, who was the last President to date to have a beard. Did this electoral defeat signal the end of a hirsute era?

Cleveland was also the only President to be married in the White House. He married the much-younger Frances Folsom in 1886, proving that well-whittled facial hair like the mustache maintained an allure for young ladies of the time.

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