The part of a beard which grows on the upper lip; hair left to grow above the mouth. — Webster, 1882
“Being kissed by a man who didn’t wax his moustache was — like eating an egg without salt.” – Rudyard Kipling
The first president to ever wear a mustache with the rest of his face clean-shaven was Grover Cleveland (1885-1889), who took office the year Laura Ingalls married Almanzo Wilder. That has nothing to do with anything in the world of Little House, but it’s an interesting fact nonetheless.
Charles Ingalls had a mustache, of course, but he also had an impressive beard, and Wilder seems to only mention Pa’s mustache when he’s just finished wiping something from it, usually snow or ice. The only other men with mustaches found in the Little House books are an unnamed man on the train to Tracy, an unnamed school board member in De Smet, the horse buyer in Farmer Boy who wore his beard pointed and his mustaches waxed, and Reverend Brown, who also wore a beard. As Webster defined it, a mustache is simply the facial hair that grows above the mouth. Not a single mustache is mentioned in Pioneer Girl, and the only beard mentioned there is the one at the end of a needlegrass seed!
MUSTACHE WAX. The handlebar mustache, with its waxed stiff and turned up ends, became popular in the late 19th century, especially with “Wild West” figures, such as Wyatt Earp. Although Wilder presents the horse buyer in Farmer Boy with a waxed mustache and severe beard, he is presented as an unlikable and dishonest character. The horse buyer’s appearance isn’t mentioned in the manuscript.
Mustache wax could be purchased in small tins or sticks, and it was often made to order by a pharmacist; it contained white wax, castile soap, gum arabic, water, and oil of bergamot or other perfume. It could be colored by adding umber or lamp black and heated until smooth. Rubbed or combed into the long hairs at the ends of the mustache, it allowed the ends to be turned up like the handlebars of a bicycle, and held them there. The men in the photograph are members of a handlebar mustache club.
Throughout history, the mustache has been in and out of popularity, but it apparently has never been out of favor entirely. Young men probably felt that the ability to grow one made them appear more manly, and older men probably discovered early on that a mustache helped hide teeth that weren’t at their healthiest. And most men might have realized that once you had a mustache for a few years, the skin underneath it might not match the rest of the face in color once it was shaved off, so they didn’t shave it off. There have been bans on mustaches, mustaches allowed to be grown only by men of certain social or military rank, and personalities associated with different styles of mustaches over the years.
Mustaches might be waxed, curled, sculpted, or come to be associated with famous (or infamous) men who wore them of a certain style.
Would you want your toothbrush mustache to be compared to Hitler’s or to Charlie Chaplin’s?
How well do you know Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House mustachioed friends and family members?
Almanzo Wilder grew a mustache after his marriage, and he apparently sported one for the rest of his life. Some of these photos are easy to identify; a couple might be new to you. The answer is at the bottom of this page.
mustache / mustaches (BW 2, 4, 6; FB 6, 13, 19; LHP 17; SSL 3, 10, 18-19; TLW 5, 10; LTP 15, 19)
waxed ends (FB 13)
THE MAN BEHIND THE MUSTACHE: A. Hiram Ingalls (Laura’s uncle), B. Charles Tinkham (the “bald-headed furniture guy”), C. Elmer McConnell (Ida’s beau), D. Thomas Ruth (the banker who could afford to burn lumber), E. Royal Wilder, F. Cap Garland (he could make the toughest railroader back down), G. Joseph Carpenter (crew of the sailing craft “Edith”), H. Almanzo Wilder, I. Ben Woodworth (lived in the depot), J. Thomas Thayer (Eliza Jane’s first husband), K. Johnny Johnson (he slept with the cows), L. Peter Ingalls (Laura’s cousin), M. Eleck Nelson (Plum Creek neighbor), N. Jacob Hopp (newspaperman and printer), O. Almanzo Wilder, P. Charley Power (he got up off a pin)