Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/October 1886/A Bald and Toothless Future

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TO a person who has a moderately well-supplied pocket-book and a thoughtful turn of mind, there can be no more fruitful theme for meditation than to go into our large halls, theatres, churches, and other places of public resort, and, securing a seat in the gallery or in the rear part of the room, look at the heads of the audience, for no other purpose than to ascertain by actual count how many show signs of baldness. Unless the experimenter has been in the habit of counting for this object, he will be surprised to learn that, in most of the Eastern cities, fully thirty per cent of the men over thirty years of age show unmistakable signs of baldness, while nearly twenty per cent have spots on their heads that are not only bald, but actually polished with the gloss that is supposed to belong to extreme old age alone. I have been in the majority of the churches and theatres in all the large Eastern cities, as well as in Chicago, St. Louis, and other places of the West, and have verified my assertion by actual count. From my observation I find that bald-headed men are most plentiful in New York and Boston. After these come Philadelphia, Washington, and the Western towns. I say "men," for two reasons: 1. Because women usually wear their hats or bonnets on such occasions, thus covering their crowns. 2. In case their hats are removed, the hair is combed up so as to cover any possible bald spot, or else there is an artificial "switch" to hide the defects of nature. So, without indulging in any speculations regarding what may be, I will confine myself to what is to be seen.

Here are a few observations taken in Boston. Trinity Church: 243 men; 71 actually bald, 46 indications of baldness. King's Chapel: 86 men; 38 actually bald, 14 indications of baldness. Hollis Street Theatre, orchestra at performance of the "Mikado": 63 men; 27 actually bald, 10 indications. Boston Theatre Judic: 126 men; 51 actually bald, 43 indications.

These observations were taken from the more cultivated classes of society, and do not give a fair representation of the Boston head, as repeated calls at the dime museums and cheaper variety performances demonstrated. For instance, of the thirty men seen in the seats of the World's Museum in Washington Street, but eight were bald, while only five others had thin hair, showing that baldness was simply a question of a very few years. Again, of forty men at Austin and Stone's Museum, twenty-two had their heads well covered; and at the Windsor Theatre (variety) I found less than twenty-five per cent who had thin hair.

On the other hand, at shows and entertainments of more refinement, the bald-headed element was considerably larger. Of two nights when Patti sang at the Boston Theatre there were forty-six per cent of bald heads on one occasion and forty-two on the other. When De Lussan appeared in "Fra Diavolo" I discovered thirty-eight per cent of baldness, and at one of Matthew Arnold's lectures there were forty-six per cent. In fact, out of hundreds of observations, extending over several years, I have found that the higher the price of admission, and presumably the more refining nature of the performance, the larger the per cent of bald heads. One night I counted the occupants of a few settees in my immediate vicinity at an exhibition which John L. Sullivan gave at the Mechanics' Fair Building, and was surprised to find that less than twelve per cent of the men were bald. As this was a show where the spectators had the privilege of retaining or discarding their hats at pleasure, I think it was not a fair test.

In large cities, where over one half of the population is under thirty years of age, and where half of those who attend places of amusement can safely be placed at less than forty years, these facts are certainly interesting to every person who wishes to know what kind of a looking person the coming man is going to be. It is not uncommon to see men under thirty years of age whose crowns are totally denuded of hair. In one store in New York city are twelve shipping-clerks, all under forty years of age, and seven of them are bald, while two more are vainly trying to prevent baldness by using hair-restorers. There are more bald-headed men in Boston than there are who have black or red hair. Next to the brown heads, the bald heads have the largest number of representatives. In order to prove this, it is only necessary to go to any party or place of amusement or assemblage of any kind in New England. In my capacity as newspaper reporter I attended a funeral in Beacon Street, Boston, a few years ago, where the clergyman, the undertaker, and every one of the mourners were bald-headed! The only perfect head of hair I saw at the house was that of the fair young girl who lay in the casket. Instances showing the proneness, not only of Boston and New England, but of the whole country, to become bald, could be given indefinitely, but I think the foregoing will suffice.

Now, in view of these facts, can any one say that the coming man, of New England at least, will not be bald? If not, what is the present generation doing, or what can it do, to hinder such a fate?

The old physiological law of stock-breeding, that "like begets like," applies to men as well as to animals. If men at the age when they marry and begin to raise children are bald-headed, they can expect their children to enjoy the traits of their sires. A father and mother who become bald when young can safely predict a like result for their offspring. There is no reason why bald heads should not yield to the laws of heredity as much as curly heads or red heads. Anything else would seem unnatural.

To binder such a tendency it is only needful to learn its cause, which seems to be no other than wearing tightly fitting head-covering, living in-doors, and the lately developed habit of keeping the hair closely cropped. Among the savage races, who live out-doors most of the time and go bareheaded, baldness is unknown. To these hair is a protection. It grows in rank profusion without care. Something is needed to protect the scalp from sun and wind and rain, and hair grows luxuriantly; when hats and caps were invented they took the place of the natural shield, and the hair, having no longer any function to perform, fell away. The days of its usefulness in the economy of life are past, and, like the tails of the monkeys and the muscles of the ears, it has become rudimentary from disuse. If it is to be restored to its former glory, men must stop making "close crops," and must go bareheaded. That there are fewer bald-headed women than men is due to the fact that ladies do not "shingle" their hair after the manner of the sterner sex. The recent fashion of "banging" and "frizzing" their hair, adopted by ladies of fashion, is a death-blow to their sex having good hair much longer. If it continues, there will be as many bald-headed women as men. Allowing the hair to grow long and exposing the head to the weather with little or no protection are the methods by which a rapidly disappearing beauty of the race can be restored. It is to this neglect of fashionable care that the farmers with "hay-seed in their hair" owe their comparative freedom from baldness. The man or woman who wears a closely fitting cap and works in overheated shops and stores, under the rays of gas and electric lights, can not expect to have good hair. If they want to be "worth scalping" they must go out in the open air and expose their heads so that they will feel the need of scalp-locks. Nature never makes anything for which she has no need, and, when she finds that her works are of no use, she proceeds to eliminate the superfluous article.

The same rule can be applied to the early decay of human teeth, and with the same results. Old men now living tell of a time when dentists were almost unknown. The family physician used to keep a pair of forceps and tooth-keys to pull out such teeth as insisted on aching for an unreasonable length of time, while the idea of false teeth was so strange that the person who had a set was an object of curiosity for the whole neighborhood. Now, nearly half the people over twenty years of age have one or both jaws occupied by artificial teeth, and the sign of the dentist occupies a conspicuous place on every street corner.

When the men used to live largely on a meat diet, sometimes cooked, though oftener raw—tearing it off from the bones in great junks, and chewing it like beasts of prey—they had some use for canines and molars, and these implements were furnished to meet the demand. With the invention of knives and forks, of hashes and concentrated preparations, of bolted flour, and pies and cakes, came a time when the teeth had few offices to perform, and they began to decay for want of employment. To use a labor-phrase, they were "out of work."

The fact that father and mother have poor teeth descends to the children with even more surety than a deficiency of hair. Dentists inform me that fully one half of their youthful patrons never shed their "milk" molars. They remain in the jaws (or on them) until the possessor is from twenty to thirty years of age, and then decay and come out, or are pulled, to make room for "store" teeth. Owing to this habit, many a person who has a good-looking set of canines and incisors is without a single molar. Wisdom-teeth, that come at full maturity and mark the age of manhood and womanhood, are usually short-lived, and frequently show specks of decay as soon as they appear. Mankind do not use teeth, and so the teeth disappear.

Looking at the facts as presented, there can be but one conclusion regarding the coming man. If the present state of things continues, he will be bald-headed and toothless. From all indications, the time when this kind of a coming man will be here is but a few generations away.