“Mr. Lincoln, All the Ladies Like Whiskers…” Long Beards, Nostalgia & Entrepreneurship

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It’s hard to find many statues honoring a fashion expert, but in Westfield, New York you’ll find one dedicated to an eleven year old adviser to the president.

GraceBedell statue3

Abraham Lincoln, in addition to his many accomplishments as a statesman, orator and joke-teller was also a bit of a trendsetter.  Grace Bedell, an 11 year-old fan during his presidential run, wrote to him and famously recommended the candidate grow some facial hair, “All the ladies like whiskers.” And while women wouldn’t have the vote for another 55 years, Lincoln made the shrewd decision to court the nation’s wives.

In honor of Presidents Day, let’s look over the 20% our commanders-in-chief who have sported facial hair, and you’ll see a pattern at 16 through 27.

Keeping up with the Van Burens...

And don’t forget to count Grover Cleveland twice.

Aside from the sideburns of John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren, hair below the nose and above the chest was the same political suicide that it has been for over 100 years, when Taft lost re-election to Woodrow Wilson.  Like Boston’s Curse of the Bambino, no candidate has dared to not shave since then.

Sure, you’ll see long beards in children’s literature, as Rip Van Winkle rises from his long-sleep…

"Great, I forgot to set my TiVo..."

“Great, I forgot to set my TiVo…”

Or throughout the last four decades at the occasional rock concert…

ZZ-Top-462-MR

But they didn’t really hit mainstream until 2013, famously in last October’s  World Series…

RedSox_beards

Then a bit infamously two months later in the controversial Duck Dynasty interview in GQ with Phil Robertson, who made clear his views of the sins of homosexuality.

duck-dynasty-men

And now beards have suddenly grown back into fashion–along with the mixed reactions to those beards and the men who have spent 1-5 years growing them.  So what’s it like to own one of these things?  What reactions do they get in the store?  Do they care?

I didn’t have to look too far to find an expert.  Doug Geiger, a fellow resident of Royal Oak, Michigan, is an entrepreneur who has made the transition from handlebar mustache-owner to an businessman who has not shaved since the same day that his website promoting beard growth and beard culture began, November 2012.

"Whattaya say Mr. Peterson?"

“Whattaya say Mr. Peterson?”

Doug, like me, fell in love with the nostalgia promoted by Cheers‘ opening song and montage.  Sam Malone never had to deal with many nasty drunks or fake IDs.  His basement bar was an oasis where “everybody knows your name.”

“A Stop at Willougby” is a classic episode of The Twilight Zone that invoked a similar yearning for nostalgia from a stressed-out businessman’s life.

Granted, as Rod Serling would have it, the poor guy’s idyllic town ends up being the name of the funeral home as he tries to return one last time.  But maybe he’s better off, considering his day job.

Doug Geiger, as a child in Houston

Doug Geiger, as a child in Houston

Doug Geiger is actually happy with his day-job, but as most inventors, his invention began with a simple need.  His specialty-mustache needed some wax and oil and he wasn’t finding what he needed at the local drugstore or online.  So after “destroying the kitchen” and experimenting with various beeswax sources, he discovered the best scented product 45 minutes north of Detroit at a beekeeper convention.

HandlebarLogo

CanYouHandlebar.com is a fascinating mix of product and philosophy.  Doug’s experiences shaped his motto:

“In retrospect, I realize that none of what I did or learned growing up made me a man. A man is a boy multiplied by life, minus excuses.”

And as he points out in the podcast (or above) the beard, for most owners, is a personal link to someone important in their lives–or to an ideal, such as enjoying life and slowing down a little.

Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar-winning portrayal in Lincoln last year portrayed the president’s tall-tales that would so infuriate his officers and cabinet who were in such a hurry.  Lincoln chose to be rather like the boys carrying their fishing poles in Willoughby instead of the conductor rushing people on and off the steam engine.

So how do you stay near that fishing hole but also grow a company?

BuildABeard_kit

One More Gift of the Magi

A mustachioed' role-model.

A mustachioed role-model.

Like O. Henry’s famous story of a couple giving up their treasured items to buy their loved one the perfect gift, Doug has found that generosity of spirit in contests on Facebook.

“Our company really believes in loving one another, in caring for one another.  So rather than just saying that in big, bold words on the website let’s do a contest that shows that.”

So Doug asked fans on Facebook to nominate someone else to receive a free package of his products–turning the selfishness to selflessness.

And as odds would have it, a husband and wife independently nominated one another.

ToLiveWell

He is a firm believer in the positive energy that comes from relationships with his customers but also with the nostalgia that is an integral part of his product.

“My biggest hope is that my products will someday be that ritual.  That someone right now who is only two or three years old and their dad wears my Wisdom beard oil everyday.  And someday, forty years from now, a person will find this oil and purchase it and get the same smell and it will take them back to that ritual.”

More important to Doug is the nostalgia that not only a beard brings forward but also how it can create nostalgia for his young son Henry, heard in the background of our podcast interview.

Grace Bedell photographed in the 1870s

Grace Bedell photographed in the 1870’s

So this little girl, still famous years after her famous fashion-consult, dared a president to do something that no political adviser would have recommended–to let his face do what it naturally does.  And Honest Abe was just contrary enough to see the wisdom and humor in that very prospect.

About Kevin Walsh

Before creating MyMediaDiary.com, Kevin taught high school video productions and language arts for 25 years. He is the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at www.mmdphotovideo.com which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His text, "Video Direct," is used in 40 states. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two teenagers. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kwteacher
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