The Lather on Senate Shaving Mugs
This hand decorated porcelain mug was issued to Maine Senator Frederick George Payne who served just one term in the Senate, from 1953 to 1959. Acquired from the late senator’s estate, the mug recalls a time-honored custom.
Long before the days of electric razors and aerosol shaving creams, a barber’s tools included delicate soaps, witch hazel, violet extract, bromo mixtures, barber powder, hair oil, straight razors, hair brushes and shaving mugs. Believing that the use of personal shaving mugs prevented disease and rashes, barbering businesses stored mugs for the convenience of their regular customers. The porcelain mugs usually bore the patron’s name and an image of their trade or fraternal lodge. Having your own mug was a matter of social pride.
Although no one is exactly sure when the policy was adopted, the Senate’s tradition of issuing a hairbrush, comb, and shaving mug to members at the beginning of every Congress dates to at least the mid-19th century (the earliest record for the purchase of shaving mugs for the barbershop appears in an 1869 expense report). Senate shaving mugs were typically made of white porcelain and hand decorated in gold with the senator’s first and middle initials and last name. The Senate’s barbershop in the Capitol, where members were offered a free shave and haircut, held the mugs in a large “made to order” mahogany case. Although the general use of shaving mugs and brushes ended in the early twentieth century—in favor of “electric lather machines” and safety razors—the Senate continued to supply its members with mugs until the late 1970’s.
The legislative appropriations act of 1977 eliminated the Senate’s distribution of shaving mugs, along with free hairbrushes, combs, and shipping trunks. Four years later, on July 31, 1981, the Capitol’s senators-only barbershop was closed and replaced with a unisex cuttery open to the public. The ornamental barber chairs were exchanged for vinyl seats and bubble shaped hair dryers, while the mahogany china cabinet was emptied and the remaining personalized mugs distributed to their respective members. After only a few years, the Capitol’s facility was closed altogether and the Russell Building housed the only remaining hair care services.
Senator Payne’s shaving mug was used near the end of the shaving mug era in the Senate barbershop and represents a tradition in the Senate that lasted for over a century.