Presidents’ Day: five facts you didn’t know about George Washington

Although today has culturally morphed into Presidents' Day over the years, the official holiday is George Washington's birthday -- even though Washington was born on February 22. Originally meant to celebrate the legacy of the 'Father of our Country,' Washington's birthday was the first federal holiday selected to honor an American citizen in 1879. Here are five little-known facts about the original founding father. 

1.His teeth were not made of wood

This undated file photo of a 1796 Gilbert Stuart oil on canvas painting portrays George Washington, founding father and first president of the United States. (AP Photo/File)

Arguably the most famous myth about the first president is hardly true. Washington indeed had false teeth. In fact, by the time of his first inauguration, he had only one real tooth left, but his dentures were not made of wood. At various times throughout his life, he wore dentures made of human teeth, ivory, and lead. In one set of teeth, his dentist, Dr. John Greenwood, used a cow’s tooth, one of Washington’s teeth, hippopotamus ivory, metal and springs. Because of their poor fit, his various dentures distorted the shape of his mouth, and, needless to say, were extremely uncomfortable.

He never attended college

In this file photo from last month, a woman looks at the sculpture "George Washington" by Hiram Powers, in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In fact, Washington had no formal education at all. Just like their father, Washington's two older brothers were sent across the Atlantic Ocean to attend school in England at Appleby School. But when his father died, the promise of George's formal education ended. Instead, he received the equivalent of an elementary school education from a variety of tutors, and he also spent time at a school run by an Anglican clergyman in Virginia. 

He was one tough guy

In this photo taken from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website, the 1851 oil on canvass painting by Emanuel Leutze entitled “Washington Crossing the Delaware" is shown. (AP Photo/Metropolitan Museum of Art)

In the years leading up to his presidency, Washington's life was peppered with dangerous experiences. He suffered from malaria, smallpox, pleurisy and dysentery, all before he was 30. On his way back from the famous expedition to the French Fort le Boeuf during the French and Indian War, he fell off his raft in an icy river and nearly drowned. Later in the same trip an Indian standing less than 50 feet away shot at him and missed. Later in 1755, four bullets punctured Washington's coat and two horses were shot down from underneath him. Somehow, the young officer survived the experience, though, and emerged unscathed. 

He was a man of few words, politically speaking

This undated file photo of a Currier and Ives print shows a depiction of the scene at Old City Hall in New York on April 30, 1789, as George Washington takes the oath of office with, from left to right in the foreground, Alexander Hamilton, Chancellor Livingston who administered the oath, Roger Sherman, secretary Otis of the Senate, Washington, John Adams, Baron Stueben and General Knox. (AP Photo/File)

At 135 words, Washington’s second inaugural address was the shortest ever given by an incoming president. Here is the full text of his speech, which he delivered in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia on March 4, 1793.

“Fellow Citizens: I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence, which has been reposed in me by the people of united America. Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.”

He was a man of many firsts

This undated photo of a painting provided by artist Mort Kuntsler, shows “Washington's Crossing: McKonkey's Ferry, Dec. 26, 1776.” (AP Photo/Mort Kuntsler)

Naturally, as the first president Washington had many firsts in office. But a few of his accomplishments were things none of his successors ever did.  

  • Washington was the only president to have been unanimously elected by the Electoral College, receiving all 69 votes in both the 1789 and 1792 elections. At the time, there was no popular vote for the presidency.
  • He was the only president who did not live in Washington, D.C. during his presidency. Instead, he was located first in New York and then spent the lion’s share of his presidency in Philadelphia, which served as the temporary national capital for 10 years, while the District of Columbia was under construction.
  • He was the only one of America’s founding fathers to free his slaves. He freed all 124 of his slaves in his will, and he left enough money in his estate to care for all of them decades after his death.
  • Washington was also the only president who did not represent a political party.