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Vintage Wisconsin: Competing In A St. Patrick’s Day Beard-Off

Wisconsin Men Vie For Longest Beard In A St. Patrick's Day Contest

beard measuring contest
University of Wisconsin Digital Collections

In the above image, several men have their beards measured in a St. Patrick’s Day beard contest put on by the University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering department.

Many towns across the country hold beard-growing contests for St. Patrick’s Day. Contestants start smooth and stubble-free on Jan. 1 and then grow as much facial hair as they can before St. Patrick’s Day. But, not just any beard will do — contestants must grow a Donegal beard, which is shaved along the jawline like a leprechaun (or Abraham Lincoln).

The leprechaun that we know today bears little resemblance to earlier depictions of the mythical creature. He made his first appearance as a side character in the 8th-century “Saga of Fergus mac Leti.” Over the centuries, leprechauns have appeared as distillers, cobblers, bankers or metal workers. They can be cute, tricky or even scary. And they don’t always wear green — an 1831 book describes the trickster dressed in red with a tricorn hat. The now-common image of the jolly elf is a product of mid-20th century American popular culture.

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If you forgot to start your beard in time, you can always serve a St. Patrick’s Day meal. Might we suggest this menu from the Wisconsin State Capitol Cafe?