200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 44: “Presidential Hair Album ”

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photo of a lock of George Washington's hair
A lock of George Washington's hair

Presidential Hair Album

The Academy has 12 volumes of hair collected and compiled by Peter Arvell Browne (1762-1860), a Philadelphia lawyer who also contributed botanical and geological specimens to the Academy. When Browne died, the Academy received these volumes, which contain hair from mammals, human ethnic groups, and famous people like some of America’s earliest presidents!

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson are among the presidents whose hair samples we have. We also have a few accompanying letters that explain how the presidential locks ended up in the album. In the 19th century, many people kept hair samples of loved ones for sentimental reasons. Browne asked some presidents’ family members for samples to aid his scientific research, and they were happy to provide what he needed.

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