George Washington: Wooden Teeth and Other Myths About America's First President

Friday, 22 Aug 2014 07:56 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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As with any great leader, the myths that have sprung up about the life of George Washington, the nation’s first president, are often told and retold as fact.

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Washington had a mouth full of wooden teeth: Myth.


According to the Mount Vernon website, Washington wrote in letters of the suffering he experienced with teeth problems. He paid 5 shillings to have a tooth pulled at age 24 and other bills were found throughout his life detailing purchases of dental picks and other procedures.

But when Washington finally lost all of his teeth, he did not replace them with a wooden set, Mount Vernon said. His false teeth were made of bone, ivory, and other materials.

“Throughout his life Washington employed numerous full and partial dentures that were constructed of materials including bone, hippopotamus ivory, human teeth, brass screws, lead, and gold metal wire,” the website said.

Washington cut down a cherry tree and then confessed to the misbehavior: Myth.


This popular story, often repeated by teachers and parents trying to impress their children with the need for honesty, first appeared in a book by Parson Mason Locke Weems, who was also a bookseller, a Mount Vernon article explained.

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Author Philip Levy, who wrote “Where the Cherry Tree Grew,” told Mount Vernon that after Washington died, Weems wrote a partner about how the public was yearning to know more about the president. He wrote a short biography, which apparently he had been working on before Washington’s death and had received his blessing, Levy said.

The biography was reprinted numerous times, Levy said, and each time Weems would add to it. In an 1806 edition, the cherry tree story was included. “No mention of it before, but then it suddenly appears,” he said.

Weems, known for his moralizing stories, included other stories in his books that also may be fiction.

Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River: Myth.


No matter how in shape the nation’s first president was, it would have been impossible for him to throw a coin — or anything — across the Potomac River near Mount Vernon. The river was about a mile wide. The Mount Vernon website said one of Washington’s step-grandsons reported that the president threw a piece of slate across the Rappahannock River, which could be where this myth came from.

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