Every now and again, you read something from history that’s almost too perfect to be true. Case in point: the longest beard in history belonged to a man by the name of Hans Langseth.
Langseth was born in Norway in 1846, but immigrated to the United States and ended up in Kensett, Iowa, where he spent much of his life as a farmer, husband, and father. He first started growing his whiskers at age 19 for a beard-growing competition and then, you could say, he just kept running.
Before his death in 1927, Langseth made a request to his children to cut off his beard after his open-casket funeral and save it. The children complied, and after many years, they donated it to the Smithsonian, where it’s now kept in storage. The exact length of the artifact is up for debate. Guinness and the Smithsonian say it’s 17 feet 6 inches, though a website from the family of Langseth claims they left a chunk of the beard with the man himself, and the total was really more like 18 feet 6 inches.
That site also claims that at one point, Langseth had decided to cut off his beard, but changed his mind in the process, accounting for some narrower portions. Because beard hair can only grow so long before it starts to die, Langseth basically dreadlocked the ends—matting and coiling it, and even rolling it around a corncob to carry it with him. A video believed by the family to be authentic, shows just how unwieldy the beard could be.
At one point, “King Whiskers” was part of a touring sideshow exhibition, but he eventually quit because people would yank at his accomplishment, believing it to be a farce. It wasn’t all bad though. Anthropologist Dr. David Hunt told the Smithsonian: "According to family members, he did like it when the Fat Lady washed his beard."