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View Full Version : What caused 19th century bearded soldiers to become 20th century clean shaven?



Rising Sun*
09-24-2013, 06:12 AM
Probably not a difficult question, but I just stumbled on an interesting connection between commerce and daily shaving in the military.

pdf27
09-24-2013, 06:30 AM
Ummm... gas masks, and the difficulty of getting a decent seal without? It isn't the only reason, but that's a large part of it...

navyson
09-24-2013, 07:21 AM
I've often wondered that myself. A majority of U.S. Civil War photographs show men with beards.

Rising Sun*
09-24-2013, 08:19 AM
Ummm... gas masks, and the difficulty of getting a decent seal without? It isn't the only reason, but that's a large part of it...

Apparently.

King Gillette, of safety razor fame, also appears to have got a mammoth contract with the US Army in WWI to supply troops with safety razors so that their faces would seal on gas masks, which in turn led to the post war civilian fashion for clean shaven men rather than the hairy gents pre-war. Which in turn made Gillette even richer.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/human-biology/shaving1.htm

Did the British move to clean shaven troops before WWI gas attacks? If so, was that in anticipation of gas attacks or for some other reason?

Rising Sun*
09-24-2013, 08:29 AM
It isn't the only reason, but that's a large part of it...

Uniformity of appearance; personal hygiene discipline; reduction of sites for lice; etc; are other reasons, along with magnificent opportunities for NCOs to have a shit fit about yet another demonstration of the poor quality of imbeciles which they are supposed to turn into soldiers.

It would be interesting to compare the the total production and logistical burden of having clean shaven troops (razors; mirrors (although issued for signals as well in WWI and II?); shaving soap / shaving brush / shaving cream; water for shaving versus drinking; and transport and distribution of all the preceding) in any war since the First with the absence of that policy.

Also wondering if shaving in tropics in field in WWII improved health or created new opportunities for skin and other infections?

Anyway, in practice, most Allied armies in the Pacific accepted the reality that in certain circumstances in the field daily shaving was impractical and didn't enforce it.

PAPUA, NEW GUINEA. 1942-10. A HAPPY AND BEARDED AUSTRALIAN SOLDIER IN NEW GUINEA PRIVATE A. ALDERSON OF THE 2/33RD AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BATTALION.
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/026865/

pdf27
09-24-2013, 12:37 PM
I was once told (by the Most Boring Man In NATO) that it was something to do with the Zulu wars. No idea what he was saying, I was just nodding and trying to quietly drink myself into oblivion while he was saying it.