Facial Hair Friday: Thomas Dewey

It’s Facial Hair Friday, and we’re taking a look at Governor Thomas E. Dewey, the last major party candidate for the Presidency to have any facial hair. Today’s post comes from Rachel Bartgis, conservator technician at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

Thomas Edmund Dewey was born March 24, 1902, in Owosso, Michigan. Young Dewey was an active debater and singer, even considering a career as a professional singer before settling on law.

Dewey’s early career was spent as a prosecutor and District Attorney in New York City in the 1930s and early 1940s. Dewey became famous for fighting organized crime and corruption by successfully prosecuting and convicting crooks from Mafia bosses and racketeers to embezzlers and Tammany Hall political bosses. His successful fight against Mafia boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano in the mid 1930s even earned Dewey the nickname “Gangbuster.”

Dewey used his popularity to run for governor of New York in 1938, and after narrowly losing, ran again successfully in 1942, 1946, and 1950. At the same time, he was the Republican Party’s nominee for President in 1944, losing to incumbent President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dewey was chosen as the Republican Presidential nominee again in 1948 and was widely projected to win against incumbent Harry S. Truman, as evidenced by this cartoon:

Untitled. [What’s the Use of Going Through With This Election?] by Clifford K. Berryman, 10/19/1948. (National Archives Identifier 306150)

However, if the name Dewey sounds familiar to you, it may be from the famous photograph of Harry Truman holding up the front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune, with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” While Dewey corresponded with President Truman and visited him at the White House, a biographer noted that he “rarely mentioned 1948 in the years thereafter.”

President Truman in the Oval Office with the man he defeated in the 1948 Presidential election, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, 9/13/1951. (National Archives Identifier 200323)

After retiring from politics, Dewey worked as a corporate lawyer and senior partner in his law firm from 1955 to 1971. He died of a heart attack on March 16, 1971, while on a golfing vacation in Miami, Florida, and was buried in the town cemetery of Pawling, New York.

According to Dewey biographer Richard Norton Smith, Dewey grew his iconic mustache in the 1920s while dating Frances Hutt, whom he married in 1928. Because “she liked it, the mustache stayed, to delight cartoonists and dismay political advisers for twenty years.” 

Herbert Hoover disapproved of Dewey’s moustache, confiding to a friend that “A man couldn’t wear a mustache like that without having it affect his mind,” while Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, reportedly compared him to the stereotypical dapper man on top of a wedding cake topper.

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