In 1967, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History received a strange donation. Russell Langseth handed over 17 feet and 6 inches of his father’s beard. This length is often referred to as the total length of Hans Langseth’s beard, but this was just the portion that was saved before its owner’s burial. Hans’ beard was, in fact, 18 feet, six inches long.
Can you imagine carrying around a beard of eighteen feet and six inches long? Neither can we. Imagine the care that would go into a mane of that length. Washing it, brushing it. Heck, even carrying it around would have been a chore. It was all very familiar to Hans Langseth, though, or King Whiskers as he was often referred to. Hans proudly held the record for the longest beard in the world.
Who was Hans Langseth?
Langseth was born in Eidsvoll, Norway in 1846 and moved to the United States when he was just a teenager. At the age of 19, he began growing his beard for a competition, and he just never seemed to stop. The beard was only threatened once when Hans, in a moment of apparent weakness, decided to chop it all off. About halfway through the murderous act, he changed his mind. Today, when you examine the preserved whiskers, you can clearly see where the beard becomes narrower, an indication of that fleeting moment that almost destroyed this epic mane.
Hans would carry around a corn cob to wrap his lengthy beard around and plunk in his jacket pocket. Sometimes, he would wear an over-the-shoulder pouch to carry it in. Hans also traveled with a circus sideshow, showing off his curiously long beard. He quickly tired of people yanking his whiskers to attempt to prove they were fake, though, and quit his little freakshow gig. In 1922, at a competition, Hans’ beard was declared the longest in the world. His beard was a good five feet longer than the second-place titleholder.
A young girl about to attempt skipping from Hans Langseth’s Beard. (Wellcome Images / Flickr)
How Hans Cared for the World's Longest Beard
As beard hair tends to die and break off with age and length, Hans had to work to keep his beard together for every extra inch. He would intentionally mat his older beard hair together with younger growth, like a modern dreadlock. This was the secret to the length of King Whiskers’ record-holding beard.
As Hans got older, his facial hair became lighter and greyer. This gives the preserved whiskers a fascinating sort-of hombre appearance, as it gradually goes from light to dark. Today, the artifact is kept in storage and only brought out when the descendants of King Whiskers come to look. However, it was on display for the public at the National Museum of Natural History until the 1990s.
Hans passed away in Wyndmere, North Dakota in 1927 at the age of 81 and his last dying wish was for his prized mane to be preserved. His family respected his wishes and cut all but 12 inches off. The shorn whiskers were kept in family storage until Russell donated them to the Smithsonian in the 1960s.
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