Beards of Note - Peter Cooper

By Jennifer Snyder
March 31, 2010
Photograph of Peter Cooper

A new entry from oral history archivist Jennifer Snyder in the ongoing series, Beards of Note.

Photograph of Peter Cooper
Peter Cooper, 187-?. Brown Brothers, photographer. From the Miscellaneous photograph collection. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


Peter Cooper was the inventor of the first steam locomotive, the Tom Thumb. The National Museum of American History has a model of the Tom Thumb in their transportation collection.

Interestingly, Cooper is also credited with inventing the first gelatin dessert—something we now call JELL-O.

More on Peter Cooper.

Jennifer Snyder works with oral history interviews at the Archives American Art. When not sending interviews out for digitization, she is writing about extraordinary examples of facial hair for this blog.


Please make Beards of Note a regular feature. We need more exposure on what can really be done with facial hair.

Hi Charles, Thank you for your facial hair enthusiasm! I hope to make both Beards of Note and Mustaches of Note a AAA Blog feature for years to come! To tide you over between entries, you might want to check out the Smithsonian Photography Initiative's blog post that mentions Hans Langseth's donation of his beard to the National Museum of Natural History.

I think his glasses are also of note. It looks like the lens is on a hinge! Is this a predecessor to the flip up sunglass lens made popular by Dwayne Wayne on A Different World?

Okay, I love the blog and especially the bearded entries. My heart truly yearns to see all of the beards held in the archives. I also think there should be a "Who Signed This" category with all of the weird unreadable signatures. I love the blog!

Thanks, Thom! I love facial hair, too! The signatures idea is great. Let's talk more about this. Perhaps you know of some choice ones?

It is amazing how innovative some of these industrial engineers were. It is hard to imagine modern day inventors have such variety in their creations. Also I have not seen any of your facial hair entries but I certainly hope the Mr. Cooper makes it into your archives.

lol, thats a crazy picture.It looks like he has his head on upside down.

My grandfather had a beard exactly like that, and he was Italian (North of Italy).

I had a beard like that for 10 years until i got threatened with divorce by my wife ---i hate shaving

that guys picture looks so silly hehe xD

growing one now! :)

I wonder if this is a personal or more regional style?

I made a model of His steam engine when I was younger but I don't think I will try to grow a beard like his

So this is the person we have to thank for "Jello". This brings back all the memories of Jello dishes at Church potlucks and jello salads at Thanksgiving time.

In addition to having a stellar beard, Peter Cooper created The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Thanks to him I received a tuition-free education.
Thanks Pete.

Love your blog because it writes about people of history who incidentally have beards.Quiet interesting.

I think I've met this Peter Cooper guy before. If you are talking about photography, then, he's the man I've met just a few weeks ago.

Peter cooper is really the main man when it comes to photography. Keep up your talents!

Okay, like someone said, I love the blog and especially the bearded entries. My heart is happy to see all of the beards held in the archives too!

Now that is something I’ve never heard before. Thanks for sharing.

thanks for sharing...
I haven't come across of this matter...
Peter Cooper really doing good things...

I have read a lot about Peter Cooper and also his works!

Holy bird's nest batman! That certainly is a noteworthy beard. Thanks for the smile :)

thank you for sharing, ur the best :)...

I feel sorry for the guy who posted on July 9th that after 10 years of enjoying a no-shaving lifestyle, he had to give up his beard to avoid divorce. I'm thankful my wife hasn't made such demands, as I, too, hate shaving.

The part i really appreciate of the Peter cooper's life is his efforts in anti-slavery movements, and in favor of the native americans. Besides he was critic of the gold standard and the debt-based monetary system of bank currency...
He was more then inventor.
Great example!

I love my husbands beard. He keeps up on it well and it makes him look very distinguished.
And I just love jell-o.

I just found your blog while searching for articles about steam locomotives. Excellent post and helpful references. Thank you for sharing this with us. Keep up the good work.

From the first steam-powered plant by Thomas Savery, the steam engine by Thomas Newcomen and James Watt and the improvements of Oliver Evans had matured over the years, the steam engine into a powerful engine. It was only a matter of time, steam engines to use as a drive for rail vehicles was common until then replace the horse-drawn trams. One of the first inventor, who dared to approach this project was the British inventor Richard Trevithick. Even if its steam locomotives still the big breakthrough was denied, but he deserves the honor of being one of the inventors of the steam locomotive...

Very nice Site here.

Who could imagine the Jell-o and the steam locomotives are so related? Thank you for sharing this piece of history.

Wonderful post... Very informative. Thanks for sharing this.

I think he was trying for the full-on Captain Caveman beard!

man are they days of shaving in a salon gone? i know that's dangerous at the least, but i'm sure it feels professional and it's a good memory

I so do not like facial hair!!!! Give me a smoothie anytime!

If I grew such a beard, I am sure I would awake one morning to find my wife had trimmed it for me in the night. There is no was I could pull off that look with her approval.

is it a personal or more regional style?

That's one of the best beards which I have seen. Sure he inspired a generation.

Love the "Beards of Note" topic. Reminds me of great mullets I've seen out there. Seriously, tho, you'd have to respect a fellow with a beard like that.

I lived in Washington DC and have seen this model. Amazing how such a simple invention could bring about so much change. I did not know about "Jello". Even at 67 you learn something new every day

Wish I could grow a beard like that.

I am always curious to see these old pictures. As a photographer I now tell my clients to be more candid and less borrowing. For a inventor that made our fist state to state mass travel transit possible, he sure could afford a nice bear trimmed up.

Its not a good idea not to bear some times is look cheap:-)

its really nice & amazing !!