Tag Archives: nineteenth century

The Girl Who Told Abraham Lincoln to Grow Whiskers – 1860

c. 1860

The little girl who told
Abe Lincoln to grow a beard

“All the ladies like whiskers.”

by Chris Wild

c. 1846

Springfield, Illinois — Early portrait of Abraham Lincoln.


He would look better if he wore whiskers,
and I mean to write and tell him so.


Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States in October 1860 at the age of 51. But a few weeks earlier he had been judged unequal to the task by 11-year-old Grace Bedell. Young Grace wrote to Lincoln pointing out what was, in her eyes, a serious defect: his lack of facial hair.

c. 1860

Half figure seated portrait of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States.


Oct. 15, 1860

Grace Bedell’s letter to Abraham Lincoln.


You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.


Lincoln wrote back to Grace in the letter below.

(Some experts believe the letter’s spots are from snowflakes landing on the paper, as Grace hurriedly read the letter on her way home from the local post office.)

Oct. 19, 1860

Abraham Lincoln to Grace Bedell.


Having never worn any whiskers, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin?



Beardstown, Illinois — Believed to be one of the last photos made before Lincoln grew a beard.


Less than a month after receiving Grace’s letter, Lincoln had a beard.

Nov. 25, 1860

The first photograph to show Lincoln’s beard.


On his inaugural train journey from Illinois to Washington D.C., Lincoln stopped in Westfield, New York (Grace’s hometown) and asked to meet her.

There was a momentary commotion, in the midst of which an old man, struggling through the crowd, approached, leading his daughter. Mr. Lincoln stooped down and kissed the child, and talked with her for some minutes. Her advice had not been thrown away upon the rugged chieftain. The young girl’s peachy cheek must have been tickled with a stiff whisker.

Nov. 8, 1863


“Gracie,” he said, “look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.” Then he kissed me.
I never saw him again.

In 2009, almost 150 years later, a Liz Bedell, then a 23-year-old staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives, was exploring the Library of Congress’ Lincoln bicentennial exhibition. She saw the original letter from Grace, and Lincoln’s reply, in a display case.

In the exhibition’s visitor log, she wrote: “I cried my eyes out when I saw the letter from Grace Bedell to Abe Lincoln — she’s my great-great aunt, and I grew up with the story not really believing it.”

“In fifth grade, I wanted to be president of the United States. My Grandpa used to tell me, ‘You can do anything you want. You can be president. Why, just look at your great-great aunt Grace Bedell. She couldn’t vote, but she put pen to paper.’”

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Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage designed a computer in the 1840s. A cartoonist finishes the project

Sydney Padua’s graphic novel tells the story of Babbage and Lovelace with a twist – they actually build their Analytical Engine.

To see a selection of extracts from the book, click here.

lovelace engine
200 years after Ada Lovelace’s birth, the Analytical Engine she designed with Charles Babbage is finally built, thanks to the imagination of Sydney Padua. Illustration: The Observer

‘Surely there must be a couple of new Ada Lovelaces lurking in this land?” exclaimed digital doyenne Martha Lane Fox last month, as she issued a call for women to turn their hands to tech – part of her new plan, dubbed Dot Everyone, for an internet-savvy nation.

It’s little wonder that the enigmatic daughter of Lord Byron has been put, posthumously, on a pedestal. Brought up to shun the lure of poetry and revel instead in numbers, Lovelace teamed up with mathematician Charles Babbage who had grand plans for an adding machine, named the Difference Engine, and a computer called the Analytical Engine, for which Lovelace wrote the programs. Then tragedy struck – Lovelace died, aged just 36. They never built a machine.

Ada Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace. Photograph: Getty

But now the mother of computing might finally have the chance to realise her own potential. As the eponymous stars of a new graphic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, the pair have been resurrected to finish what they started. “I guess it just seemed like a really stupid ending, that they didn’t build the machine,” says author Sydney Padua, a London-based computer animator. “Plus I really wanted to draw comics … and you can’t draw very good comics about dead people and their machine they didn’t build!” Having first illustrated the duo some years ago to mark Ada Lovelace Day, the annual celebration of women in science and tech, the comic’s huge popularity spurred Padua to develop the cartoons on her blog and ultimately unleash the book.

Exploring, then rejecting, the sad fate of Lovelace and her plans, Padua turns the tables on history, setting the aristocrat to work building a mechanical behemoth. The upshot is a pipe-smoking, jodphur-wearing steampunk technologist who would startle even Lane Fox. It doesn’t end there. Having built a technological masterpiece, a series of madcap escapades ensue in which Lovelace and Babbage are joined by a host of Victorian celebrities, from the ultimate client from hell, Queen Victoria, who demands the machine be used for fighting crime, to novelist George Eliot, who finds herself lost in its maze-like interior. “It really is very much about my own experiences in the labyrinth of computing,” says Padua.

But if the reborn mathematicians find building a machine something of a handful, they aren’t alone. In trying to present an accurate depiction of the analytical engine for an explanatory appendix (shown here), Padua discovered there was little to go on, and found herself rifling through the work of Babbage scholar Allan Bromley for design clues. “I just sat down, basically, with the Bromley papers and whatever of Babbage’s plans I could get my hands on through fair means or foul,” she says. The result is a shining feat of engineering that her dynamic duo would be proud of. A rip-roaring caper engulfed in footnotes of quotes, quips and illuminating asides (Babbage, Padua reveals, gained notoriety as the scourge of street musicians), the book does more than simply celebrate the genius of the first computer programmer, it encourages us to turn our imagination to technology – just as Lovelace did. And that’s an inspiration to us all.

The thrilling adventures of Lovelace and Babbage – in pictures

Sydney Padua’s new graphic novel, set in Victorian London, tells the story of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage’s attempts to invent the first computer, with cameos from George Eliot, Charles Dickens and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

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American Cities at the Turn of the 19th Century

Photos of American cities from Civil War era to 1912…

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1878: Henri Giffard’s Captive Balloon, Paris

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1890: Smokiana

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1897: The Duchess of Devonshire’s Jubilee Ball

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1851: The Great Exhibition

SOURCE: Smithsonian Institution

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c. 1890: Handguns decorated by Tiffany

Between about 1880 and 1905, Tiffany & Co. embellished a series of deluxe handguns for the nation’s leading firearms manufacturers, notably Colt, Winchester, and, most important, Smith & Wesson. The guns were either special orders for Tiffany’s well-heeled clientele or commissioned by the manufacturer as show pieces for display in exhibitions such as the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.Smith and Wesson .44 New Model No. 3 Single-Action Revolver, serial no. 25120

This New Model Revolver was a special order, recorded in the Smith & Wesson archives as having been shipped to Tiffany’s on November 11, 1888. Once in New York, the plain nickel-plated frame received a two-piece silver grip etched overall with scenes of a buffalo hunt.

During the late nineteenth century, Tiffany’s often used etching to render large areas of ornament, including complex and often charming pictorial compositions like this buffalo hunt. The revolver complements two other Tiffany-decorated Smith & Wesson firearms from the collection of Gerald Klaz that are already part of the Museum’s holdings, one exhibiting an embossed and martelé silver grip, the other with a grip in mokume, a Japanese-style laminated metal.

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Smith and Wesson New Model No. 3, .44 Caliber Double-Action Navy Revolver, serial no. 23060.

Exhibited by Smith and Wesson at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, this is an unusual example of Tiffany “jeweled” silver. The semiprecious stones suggest the influence of Islamic weapons, on which such stones were considered to have talismanic properties.

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Smith and Wesson .32 Single-Action Revolver, Serial no. 94421.

The grip combines three decorative techniques: repoussé, etching, and niello inlay. The revolver was shown by Smith and Wesson at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

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Smith and Wesson .44 Double-Action Revolver for George Jay Gould (1864–1923), serial no. 23402.

With the exception of the trigger and trigger guard, the steel parts are etched and silver-plated. The grip is covered in sheet silver, enclosing plaques of ivory. It also bears the initials, GJG, for George Jay Gould, (1864–1923), a wealthy financier and railroad executive.

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Smith and Wesson .32 Single-Action Revolver, Serial no. 17156.

The grip is sheathed in silver and etched with foliage around shaped panels inlaid with laminated metal that has a wood-grain pattern. This Japanese technique, called mokume (“wood grain”), was one of various metalworking forms explored by Tiffany and Company’s chief designer, Edward C. Moore (1827–1891). His experimentation with Japanese design elements and media helped to establish Tiffany’s international reputation in the 1870s.

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Smith and Wesson .38 Double-Action Revolver, Serial no. 70002.

The silver grip has a hammered surface popular in domestic silverware of the period. Its design reflects the elegant, whimsical style of Art Nouveau. The original design for the grip, dated 1883, is preserved in the Tiffany archives.

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Smith and Wesson .38 Caliber Safety Third Model Double-Action Revolver, serial no. 83097.

The flamboyant Art Nouveau grips recall French or Russian enameled silver. The revolver was shown by Smith and Wesson at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

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c. 1899: High school exercises Washington


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1868 – Horse Drawn Airplane

“A sea captain, Jean Marie Le Bris (1817-1872) observed the flight of the Albatross. He caught some of the birds and analysed the interaction of their wings with air. Le Bris built a glider, inspired by the shape of the Albatross and named L’Albatros artificiel. During 1856 he flew briefly on a beach, the aircraft being placed on a cart towed by a horse. He flew reportedly to a height of 100 m for a distance of 200 m.Wikipedia

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