Presidents’ Day may really be called Washington’s Birthday, but it will never actually fall on February 22, which is George Washington’s birthday. Let’s celebrate the “Father of Our Country” by taking a look at some of the legends and myths surrounding this fantastic Founding Father.
If you remember our recent Wonder of the Day about cherries (Are All Cherries Red?), you know that George Washington did not really chop down a cherry tree as a young boy. That story was made up by an author trying to demonstrate Washington’s honesty. How ironic!
Another popular legend is that George Washington had wooden teeth. He did live a long, long time ago, so maybe that story is true. What do you think?
If you guessed that Washington really did have wooden teeth, you guessed wrong! Contrary to legend, he never had wooden teeth. Although he did have false teeth (called “dentures”), none were made of wood.
Historians believe Washington had lost all but one of his teeth by the time he became president. The dentures he wore when he was inaugurated were made from carved hippopotamus ivory and gold by Dr. John Greenwood, who became known as the “Father of Modern Dentistry.”
Researchers have performed laser scans on another set of Washington’s dentures located at the National Museum of Dentistry. Those dentures were made from gold and ivory, as well as real teeth from humans and animals, such as horses and donkeys.
Another popular legend holds that Washington once threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. Although Washington was quite athletic, he could not have thrown a silver dollar across the Potomac, which is more than a mile wide. Also, there were no silver dollars when Washington was young.
One of his distant relatives, however, once reported that Washington threw a piece of rock “about the size and shape of a dollar” across the Rappahannock River, near Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he grew up. We don’t know for sure if this is true, but historians believe it could be.
At the site of the Washington family homestead, the Rappahannock River is only 250 feet across, making for an impressive but not impossible throwing distance.
In light of the half-truths about Washington we’ve uncovered, let’s take a look at some things we know to be true.
George Washington was:
- The only one of the country’s Founding Fathers who freed his slaves
- The only president who did not live in the White House or Washington, D.C.
- The only president who was unanimously elected
- The Commander of Continental Forces during the Revolutionary War