Harry Reid can’t grow a beard, and other fun beard news


Sen. Dean Heller, sporting some early scruff, laughs with reporters  Aug. 11 in Sparks, Nev. (Scott Sonner/AP)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) will not grow a beard for Nevada’s 150th birthday this year.

Because he can’t.

The state’s other senator, Dean Heller (R), asked Reid to join him in growing out his facial hair in honor of the upcoming sesquicentennial. “He looked at me (and said) ‘No way, not a chance,’” Heller said, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

Why so adamant?

“Many years ago I tried to grow a beard and couldn’t,” Reid told the Loop. “This is a contest I can’t win and I only get into contests I can win. Dean can grow one for the both of us.”

Heller, already sporting some scruff, is putting aside his razor for the weeks leading up to the late October celebration because his father did the same for the state’s centennial in 1964. He was 4 years old then.

As it so happens, growing beards for centennials is a long-established tradition in states and towns across America. (Who knew?)

Take this 1969 story in the Lodi News-Sentinel that describes an upcoming centennial beard contest, noting citizens were beginning to allow “their bristly appendages to grow.” The article has a fantastic breakdown of the different beard classifications, and suggested styles such as “the full beard, Van Dyke, Abe Lincoln, goatee, old Dutch and French Fork.”


Or this notice from the Ludington Daily News in 1955 that several men had taken it upon themselves to begin “growing their whiskers” for the county’s centennial:


In 1968, the Daytona Beach Morning Journal had a small story about an upcoming centennial beard contest, where prizes were awarded for the best black, white and red beards.

beard3

Okay, you get the point.

But Nevada in particular has a long tradition of beard growing. On Nevada Day, which is held every year around the time Nevada became a state, there’s an annual beard contest on or near the steps of the state Capitol building in Carson City. And moreover, the World Beard and Moustache Championships was held in the United States for the very first time in Carson City in 2003.

(The sport began in Europe, and the world event will be held in Portland, Ore. this year – its third time in America.)

We caught up with Phil Olsen, Beard Team USA captain, who brought the competition to the states 11 years ago and takes responsibility for the resurgence of beards in America. Meet Olsen:

Phil Olsen, captain of Team Beard USA (Photo by Court Leve.)
Phil Olsen, captain of Team Beard USA (Court Leve)

The 65-year-old lawyer knew all about Nevada’s long (as in time, not length) beard history.

Celebrating Nevada’s 150th birthday with beards is especially fitting, he said, because 1864 was, “the golden age of beards in America.” Military generals sported beards. So did President Abraham Lincoln — “America’s Greatest Beardsman,” in Olsen’s estimation.

“It’s something I’ve noticed over the years, there have been lots of competitions like that, events where all the men in the town grow beards for the centennial,” he said.

But Olsen doesn’t think there’s anything necessarily special about centennials in particular that have made them an event to grow beards.

“Men will think of any excuse to grow a beard because men just want to grow a beard and a centennial is just an excuse,” he said.

It’s the same when the Red Sox grew them for the World Series. Or when some in Washington grew government shutdown beards.

“This is something men do and want to do because it’s their birthright,” Olsen said.

But we know Harry, for one, won’t be hairy.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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