THE BLOG
02/17/2014 07:24 pm ET | Updated Apr 19, 2014

"Mr. Lincoln, All the Ladies Like Whiskers..." Long Beards, Nostalgia & Detroit Entrepreneurship

It's hard to find many statues honoring a fashion expert but in Westfield, New York you'll find one dedicated to a young adviser to the president.

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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.

As we celebrate our commanders-in-chief this week, let's look over the 20% who have sported facial hair, and you'll see a pattern at 16 through 27.

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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...

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

Or throughout the last four decades at the occasional Z.Z. Top concert.

But they didn't really hit mainstream until 2013, famously with last year's Red Sox rally-beards in the World Series. 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.

Beards Return

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. Royal Oak resident, Doug Geiger, 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.

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"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 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.

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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.

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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 keep stay near that fishing hole but also grow a company?

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Another Gift of the Magi...

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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.

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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.

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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.

This was originally posted at Kevin's blog, MyMediaDiary.com.

Listen to Kevin's podcast with beard-entrepreneur, Doug Geiger.