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

 

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  1. He actually had dentures that were not made of wood! “The dentures he wore…were made from carved hippopotamus ivory and gold by Dr. John Greenwood, who became known as the “Father of Modern Dentistry.” Pretty cool stuff, isn’t it?

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Did George Washington really have wooden teeth?
  • Did George Washington throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River?
  • Did George Washington live in the White House?

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Try It Out

As you learned in today’s Wonder of the Day, you can’t always believe myths and legends about famous historical figures. It can be hard to get at the truth, especially about people who lived hundreds of years ago.

Historians spend countless hours researching old texts to discover the truth about their subjects. It’s often easier to learn the truth about people who are alive today.

Sometimes all it takes are a few good interview questions. Today, pretend you’re a journalist trying to learn interesting facts about someone in your family.

What do you think your friends and other family members would want to know? Grab a pen and a notebook and sit down for an interview with your chosen subject.

Make sure you cover the basics (when and where he or she was born, where he or she went to school, etc.), but bravely explore more interesting topics. What are his or her hopes and dreams? Does he or she regret doing or not doing something in particular?

Have fun with your interview! You never know what you’ll learn. If you can, turn your interview into a short article that you can share with friends and family or your teacher at school.

Email or send us a copy, too. We’d love to learn more about your family!

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Still Wondering

Want to learn more about what made George Washington such a great military leader? Visit the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s lesson about General George Washington, Military Leader to learn about the qualities that make a great leader.

 

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Wonder What’s Next?

Join us tomorrow in Wonderopolis as we whittle away the time and carve out a picture of another famous George Washington!

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