The presidential hair album is one of 12 volumes of hair collected and compiled by a Philadelphia lawyer named Peter Arrell Browne (1762–1860), who had also contributed many botanical and geological specimens to the Academy. Not much is known about Browne, but the hair albums were given to the Academy upon his death. The other volumes contain hair from mammals, human ethnic groups, and an assortment of famous people, including Napoleon Bonaparte.
In some cases, the accompanying letters explain how the presidential locks were obtained. Typically, someone in the president's immediate family had saved samples of their hair as a sentimental keepsake. (Saving a lock of a loved one's hair was common practice in the 19th century.) When Browne asked them for samples to aid him in his scientific research, they were happy to oblige. Thus, Browne was able to assemble this extraordinary collection of presidential ephemera.