Facial Hair Friday: Simón Bolívar, Latin American Revolutionary

Today’s Facial Hair Friday post comes from Danielle Sklarew from the National Archives History Office.

Photograph of painting of Simon Bolivar, South American general and statesman. This painting by Tito Salas hung in President Truman’s oval office. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, National Archives)

There are no photographs of Simón Bolívar since photography did not exist during his life; however, almost every existing painting depicts him with intense sideburns.

The painting of Bolívar hanging in President Harry Truman’s office during his Presidency was no different. Bolívar looks noble and powerful, with sideburns intact, as he rides his horse.

Who was this man whom Truman saw as worthy of being placed above the Oval Office fireplace, between paintings of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and President George Washington?

Simón Bolívar is remembered as a revolutionary who spent his life fighting to free much of South America from Spanish imperial rule. The 19th century military leader is known as “El Libertador,” or “The Liberator,” for his resistance to Spanish colonial rule.

Fireplace in the Oval Office at the White House, with a portrait of Simón Bolívar hanging over the mantelpiece, with portraits of Franklin D. Roosevelt and George Washington on either side. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, National Archives)

Bolívar was born in 1783 to a wealthy family in what today is Venezuela. He was educated in Europe but returned to his birthplace 1807. Soon thereafter, he became active in a movement to resist Spain’s control over the region.

Bolívar had to flee South America numerous times, as the Spanish empire fought against his military efforts. However, throughout his career, the efforts of Bolívar and other revolutionaries helped achieve independence for many South American nations and was generally instrumental in creating the foundations of democracy in the region. The nation of Bolivia was named after Bolívar when it was created as an independent entity in 1825.

Today, Bolívar is remembered by most as a revolutionary icon who fought his whole life against a colonial empire in order to instill independence. Statues of Simón Bolívar are spread throughout the world, even in Washington, DC, where a sideburned statue is just over a mile away from the National Archives Building.

Simón Bolívar statue in Washington, DC, 2018. (Courtesy of the National Archives History Office)

President Harry Truman was not the only U.S. President to admire “The Liberator.” In 1982, President Ronald Reagan visited and laid a wreath at Simón Bolívar’s statue in the Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá, Colombia. Colombia is one of the nations that Bolívar was instrumental in liberating from the Spanish crown.

President Ronald Reagan brings a wreath to lay at the statue of Simón Bolívar in Bogotá, Colombia., 12/3/1982. (National Archives Identifier 75852527)

Simón Bolívar was a Latin American revolutionary who is remembered widely for his work . . . and maybe even for his iconic sideburns.

It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month! Visit our web page for resources on related records and how we are commemorating the month.

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