Today in 1850, the birthday of Sam Brinkley, who was a groundbreaker in the field of… having a really really long beard.

The technical term here is “pogonotrophy,” meaning the act of growing, cultivating or maintaining a beard or other facial hair.

Brinkley grew up in western North Carolina, and the only unusual thing about his childhood was that he didn’t grow any facial hair in his teen years, as many of us dudes do.

In fact, he didn’t have any stubble to speak of until he was in his twenties.

But by age 23 his facial hair was making up for lost time.

By some reports, he could grow an entire beard in just a week.

By age 26, according to the Mitchell County Historical Society, he “had to shave several times a day to be presentable.”

The constant shaving wore Brinkley down, no pun intended.

He apparently declared that he would never shave again, and if his beard got really long, so be it.

And that’s of course exactly what happened.

The beard was measured at 54 inches, or four and a half feet long, when Brinkley was 42.

Later it was long enough to reach the ground, which is something given that its owner was 6’2.

Brinkley reportedly didn’t do anything special to maintain the growth, but one report described it as “soft and beautiful, indicating a peculiarly fertile state of nourishment.”

Of course, if you wanted to see the beard, it would cost you.

Brinkley put his fast-growing facial hair to good use and charged individuals a dime and groups a quarter the chance to see the full beard.

The rest of the time, he kept it tucked away in a silk pouch his wife had made to put inside his shirt.

Brinkley eventually got the attention of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

He would tour with the show in the summers, advertised as the man with the longest beard in the world as well as the world’s foremost expert in pogonotrophy.

He’d return home in the fall to work as a schoolteacher.

Technically there were longer beards, but Sam Brinkley was the one who made really long beards famous.

And if you visit his gravesite today in North Carolina, you’ll see an image of the man and his beard right on top.

Starting tomorrow in Fairmount, Indiana, it’s the start of the annual Remembering James Dean Festival.

Fairmount was where the movie star grew up, so in addition to the carnival, auto show and parade, they have a James Dean lookalike contest.

As Dean himself once said, “once you been up there you know you’ve been someplace.”

A beard taller than Danny DeVito: how this NC man’s facial hair became world famous (Charlotte Observer)

Sam Brinkley and His Beard (NCpedia)

Remembering James Dean Festival

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Portraits from State Archives of North Carolina, via Flickr