10 Stories: Mustaches in History! Chronicling America

In celebration of the release of the 10 millionth page of Chronicling America, our free, online searchable database of historical U.S. newspapers, the reference librarians in our Serials & Government Publications Division have selected some interesting subjects and articles from the archives. We’ve been sharing them in a series of Throwback Thursday #TBT blog posts.

Thirty head-shot portraits of men

So many mustaches: “Thirty Members of the Oregon House of Representatives,” Oregon Mist, Feb. 8, 1895.

Today we return to our historical newspaper archives for stories about the personal grooming choice that continues to take the hipster world by storm, the mustache. Proving once again that everything old is new (and vice versa), please enjoy these selections about the pros and cons of facial foliage.

History of the Corps
This article features Civil War Gen. Ambrose Burnside, remembered today for the lateral face-thatch to which he gave his transposed name, but who also sported some truly robust lip cover. The National Tribute (Washington, D.C.), Oct. 13, 1892.

Modesty of the Average New Yorker
In a sober assessment of the fashion of facial hair in the U.S., the New York Sun of June 11, 1905, notes that “The character of the American is shown in his distaste for anything spectacular in the way of a mustache” in a profusely illustrated article.

Will Players Wear Whiskers?
Apparently after a facial hair drought of some 15 years in the major leagues, a trio of Cleveland baseball players return from spring training bewhiskered. Here, Mr. Fullerton believes that the return of the mustache to baseball “will do some good.” Chicago Day Book, March 28, 1914.

Ain’t Nature Wonderful?
In the same publication two years later, an unnamed writer takes the opposing view, opening with “A mustache is an over-fed eyebrow,” and closing with “When the mustache becomes white, a beautiful autumn effect can be had by drinking coffee or by gnawing cut plug.” Ouch! Tell us how you really feel, sir! Chicago Day Book, September 16, 1916.

Parisian Cafe Waiters and Their Mustaches
Discrimination against mustaches was not limited to America. Apparently there was a fine of one dollar a day imposed upon professional waiters in French cafes when they began to show up to work with even the most perfectly-trimmed mustache. An outrage! Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, August 20, 1910.

Club of Boomers of Mustache Meets in Boston
Rallying against such rampant mustache-phobia, the aim of this gentleman’s dining club is to “increase the growth of mustaches on young men” (though it is unclear whether this means more mustaches or just bigger ones). “Today the lack of mustaches is largely due … to the wail of the scientist that ‘mustaches carry the greatest variety of germs and bacteria.'” The (White Earth, Minn.) Tomahawk, May 13, 1915.

Whiskers and Their Virtues
Unhealthy? Not so, says Henry Underwood in the Washington (D.C.) Times, May 12, 1907. “In whiskers there is health,” he notes, and, perhaps more importantly, “whiskers are claimed as a right under the Constitution.”

When Whiskers Fell Before the Razor’s Onslaught
The Omaha Daily Bee of Dec. 15, 1912, takes considerable umbrage at the epidemic of clean-shavedness among prominent Nebraskans. “Such a butchery of whiskers of all descriptions as has been going on in Omaha during the last ten to fifteen years is rivaled in cruelty only by the ruthlessness of Timur when he “built the ghastly tower of 80,000 human skulls.” Some exaggeration, perhaps, but the article includes many before-and-after photos to illustrate the point (about mustaches, not Timur).

The Mustache as a Disguise
A few twists and a bit of wax can apparently allow the appropriately-haired detective to skulk about in guises ranging from parson to anarchist to retired colonel to banana vendor. Ottumwa (Iowa) Tri-Weekly Courier, April 5, 1910.

The Many Sided Man Who Will, In All Probability, Be Our Next President
William Howard Taft was hardly the first president to sport a fine mustache, but few wore it as well as he did. He looks pretty sharp in a straw boater hat, too. New York Tribune, June 14, 1908.

Illlustration of man with mustache and beard

“There Are Only a Few of Us Left,” illustration by Charles Dana Gibson. San Francisco Call, May 25, 1913.

There Are Only a Few of Us Left
We close with an illustration by Charles Dana Gibson of a Civil War veteran who eschews the clean-shaven fashion of the day with this splendid ‘stache and beard. San Francisco Call, May 25, 1913.

For more mustache merriment, followers of our collections on Flickr have selected several of our photos there with the tag, “Great Mustaches of the Library of Congress” — and they do not exaggerate. The Flickr Commons, which we helped launch in 2008, celebrates its eighth anniversary on January 16.

Speaking of Chronicling America, the National Endowment for the Humanities (our partner in the project) has launched a nationwide contest, challenging you to produce creative web-based projects using data pulled from the newspaper archives website. We’re looking for data visualizations, web-based tools or other innovative web-based projects using the open data found on Chronicling America. NEH will award cash prizes, and the contest closes June 15, 2016.

Launched by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2007, Chronicling America provides enhanced and permanent access to historically significant newspapers published in the United States between 1836 and 1922. It is part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a joint effort between the two agencies and partners in 40 states and territories. Start exploring the first draft of history today at chroniclingamerica.loc.gov and help us celebrate on Twitter and Facebook by sharing your findings and using the hashtags #ChronAm #10Million.


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