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July 8, 2017

The Story of Hans Langseth, the Man Who Had the Longest Beard in History

A misconception is that his beard was only 17.6 feet long. When he passed away, his family cut it, leaving about 12 inches of it on him when he was buried. The part that was removed was eventually given to the Smithsonian Institute where it was displayed to the public.

Portrait of Hans Langseth, King Whiskers as he was called, who holds the record for the world's longest beard, 18 feet 6 inches long.

Hans Nilsen Langseth was born in Norway to Nils Olsen Langseth and Marthe Gulbrandsen Overholtet on July 14, 1846, the 4th of 5 children. As did at least three of his brothers, he made his way to America. He and his wife, Anne (pronounced Annie) settled in Kensett, Iowa, and had six children, Nels, Carl (who went by Martin), Emma, H. William (called Bill), John (who went by Oscar), and Peter (called Pete). All were born in the United States.

Langseth began growing his prodigious bristles when he was just 19 years old to compete in a local beard-growing competition. After the competition ended, he simply continued the effort. Though beard hair can only grow about four or five feet before dying off, Langseth matted the dead hair together in a coil, like that of today's dreadlocks, to further lengthen and strengthen his beard.

Langseth and his children

Langseth early in life - his beard doesn't even touch the ground!

The beard itself acts as a kind of timeline for Langseth's life—the brown parts represent his youthful hair color and lifestyle (wheat kernels, from the harvests on the farm where he lived as a young man, can still be seen flecked throughout the beard) while the yellowed parts represent Langseth's beard in his older years.

The change in coloration from brown to blonde reflects the change in Langseth's hair color as he aged. (Smithsonian)

A kernel of wheat, probably from a harvest from Langseth's younger years, can still be seen in the beard. (Smithsonian)

Langseth spent much of his life as a farmer, but for a while, he traveled with a circus show, exhibiting his beard to the public. He tired of that and left it after numerous nonbelievers yanked his whiskers to see if they were real.

News photo of Hans Langseth

When Hans Langseth died in North Dakota on November 10, 1927, he left his surviving children with a final wish: after his open-casket funeral, he wanted to have his beard cut off and stored for posterity. His son acquiesced, lopping off his father's beard before the casket was buried. The beard sat tucked away, boxed in an attic, for decades, before Langseth's son Russell donated the beard to the Smithsonian—which turns out to be a perfectly reasonable place for the beard to be kept, because according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Hans Langseth's beard is the longest beard in the world, a staggering 17 feet 6 inches long.

Probably the most well-known photo of him seated, at age 66.

A young girl is jumping with the beard of Hans Langseth, circa 1920.

Below is the only known video of Hans Langseth:


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