Twelve People in History You Didn’t Know Were Redheads

People | September 4, 2018

Ed Sheeran embraces his gingerness, but we bet you didn’t know just how many historical redheads there have been. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Apple Music)

Some natural gingers, like Ed Sheeran, Prince Harry, Lindsay Lohan, and Donald Trump, have used the power of their red hair to add to their appeal and to draw attention to themselves. After all, redheads are a rarity. Less than 2% of the global population is true gingers, and that number is on a decline. Gingers have been making their mark on history since the dawn of time, but we may not be aware of the natural hair color of some of history’s greats. Here are twelve people you probably didn’t know were redheads. 

Samuel Clemens, Also Known as Mark Twain

The great American novelist and author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Clemens, whose pen name was Mark Twain, is often remembered from photographs that were taken when he was an older, white-haired man. But in his youth, Clemens was a ginger. Clemens was born just 26 years after Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution was gaining momentum during Clemens’ lifetime. This is perhaps why Samuel Clemens once quipped, “While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats.” 

L. Ron Hubbard

The founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, a ginger, started his career as a science fiction and fantasy writer. In the 1950s, he introduced the world to his new, modern self-help psychology via his best-selling book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. This philosophy spawned a religious movement that led to the creation of Scientology. Many notable Hollywood celebrities, including John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Tom Cruise, and Juliette Lewis, are actively involved in the Hubbard’s Scientology movement. Smithsonian magazine ranks the redheaded Hubbard, who died in 1986, as one of the 100 most significant Americans of all time. 

Galileo Galilei

The “Father of Modern Physics”, Galileo Galilei, who was born in 1564, was quite controversial during his day. He was a proponent of the theory of heliocentrism, the belief that the Sun is the center of the galaxy and that the planets, including Earth, revolve around the Sun. Although we now know this to be fact, in Galileo’s time, it was considered to be heresy and in opposition to the Church’s teachings that placed Earth at the center of the galaxy. Galileo was arrested and put on trial for his teachings and was found guilty. He could have gained his freedom by recanting his beliefs, but the stubborn redhead refused. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, but used the time to write many of his groundbreaking scientific papers. 

Florence Nightingale

Full of the fiery passion of a redhead, Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, was a British statistician before she left for the Crimean War of the 1850s. There, Nightingale organized other female volunteers and trained them to nurse the wounded soldiers back to health and assist the over-worked doctors. Her efforts attracted media attention and her work was glamorized. Soon, her name became synonymous with nursing. Back in England following the war, Nightingale helped to establish the first nursing school and to elevate nursing to a professional and respected position. 

Malcolm X

Malcolm X hated his reddish hair. He inherited his unusual hair color from his white grandfather, but the civil rights activist and founder of the Nation of Islam promoted black supremacy and advocated for the separation of black and white Americans. He detested the genes that were handed down to him by his grandfather. As a youngster growing up in Michigan, Malcolm X was given the nickname ‘Detroit Red’ due to his gingerness. 

Vincent Van Gogh

One of the most famous and influential artists in history, Vincent Van Gogh was a troubled soul. A prolific painter, he created more than two thousand works of art, including 860 oil paintings, most of them during the final, frantic two years of his life. Among the still lifes, portraits, and landscapes, Van Gogh painted several self-portraits. From these, we can see that the Dutch post-impressionist, who committed suicide in 1890, was a ginger. Although his hair color is a dull red, most of the paintings show that his beard was a bright red. 

George Washington

The first president of the United States and the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary War’s Continental Army, George Washington is an iconic figure in American history. The leader and statesman helped to found a new nation, after all, and was instrumental in laying the foundation for the Constitution. In addition, George Washington was a ladies’ man and a fashionable gentleman. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Washington did not wear a wig. He preferred a more natural look. In keeping with the fashion of the era, Washington wore his red hair long and tied it back in a low ponytail. He did, however, powder his hair white to mimic the powdered wigs that were popular. 

Bram Stoker

Although he is best-remembered for writing the 1897 Dracula about a Transylvanian count, Bram Stoker was an Irish author who wrote in the gothic genre. His Irish heritage is evident in his ginger hair. Stoker was interested in both science and medicine, as well as in the occult and the supernatural. Many of his works reflect this. 

Dale Earnhart, Jr.

Copper haired racecar driver, Dale Earnhart, Jr. boasts the most wins in NASCAR history. His ginger hair and his racing successes at Daytona International Speedway led him to be called the "Pied Piper of Daytona". Dale Earnhart, Jr. is a member of one of racing’s best known family dynasties and the ginger gene can be seen popping up in other Earnhart family members as well. 

Catherine of Aragon

As the first wife of King Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, a beautiful redhead, was crowned Queen of England in 1509. Henry was no ideal husband, though. He was married six times in all and most of his wives met untimely deaths…including two wives that Henry had beheaded. With that taken into consideration Catherine’s forced divorce was a lucky break for the ginger queen. Even after she was usurped by Anne Boleyn and the others, Catherine, a stubborn and willful redhead, still thought of herself as the King’s rightful wife and queen. Although she was banished from the court, she remained the object of popular sympathy. 

James Joyce

Like many of his fellow Irishmen, poet and novelist, James Joyce sported flaming red hair. Joyce is best-known for his 1922 work, Ulysses, but he had previously gained acclaim with his 1916 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners, his 1914 collection of short stories. He followed up Ulysses with the 1938 Finnegans Wake. His unique, avant-garde style of writing led him to be named one of the most important authors of the twentieth century. 

Winston Churchill

Most of the photographs and portrays that we see of Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, show him as an older, balding man, but the politician, military officer, statesman, and writer was a redhead. Credited with coining the term ‘iron curtain’, Churchill’s political reign was marked with war and foreign affairs, but the intelligent and fair leader took charge of his country from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. When he dies in 1965, he was given a lavish state funeral. 

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.