A common misconception is that George Washington owned a set of wooden dentures. Photo Credit: Facebook, Dental Associates of Maple Shade. A hippopotamus had its ivory used to make Washington’s teeth. In May 1784, he certainly purchased teeth (nine of them) from some of his slaves. Stephanie Pappas - Live Science Contributor In fact, Washington had multiple sets of dentures, and they were made of ivory, metal alloys and — most disturbingly — the teeth of other humans, quite possibly slaves. The story of Washington's dental woes resonates even today because of the legacy of slavery and continuing debates over America's founding and the Founding Fathers' place in history. Washington’s Teeth Were Never Made of Wood George Washington owned many sets of dentures. Also included was gold metal wire and springs, and brass screws. But they were made of some weird materials, including human, cow, and horse teeth, ivory, lead-tin alloy, and silver. Portrait of Washington at the time of his inauguration…only one tooth in his head. Luckily, by 1832 the British Anatomy Act made it illegal to transport human bodies, and the popularity of human dentures began to steadily decline. And It's Packed with Hundreds of Thousands of Baby Squid. These predated dentures made of aluminum, rubber, and porcelain, but they were never made of wood. By the time of his death, Washington had 317 living slaves, according to historians at Mount Vernon. Literally no one at the time was using dentures made of wood. Give the gift of knowledge with our official 'did you know' book! 03 March 2018. In a letter to Washington in 1798, Greenwood wrote him regarding a particular set of dentures sent to him: “The sett you sent me from philadelphia…was very black…Port wine being sower takes off all the polish.”. "It's grim.". [9] [10] It was difficult for him to talk or to eat. Washington paid only about 6 pounds. Historians suspect it was due to a combination of bad genes and even worse 18th-century dentistry. Finally, George had to have false teeth made. During his lifetime, he had at least four sets of dentures made to replace them. Future US, Inc. 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, (Image credit: Gerry Broome/AP/REX/Shutterstock), notation in his ledger book on the "credit" side, Map of the Birthplaces of the Presidents (Infographic). "The fact is, these are people who are desperate enough that they are selling their teeth to a dentist, and they're not being paid as much as a white person," Gehred said. It would have been kind of dumb to make teeth out of wood when better materials were available.”. By Please refresh the page and try again. At one time, he had false teeth with a special hole so the one tooth he still had could poke through. When George Washington was inaugurated for his first term as president in 1789, he had only one natural tooth remaining and was wearing his first full set of dentures made by John Greenwood. It is widely documented that Washington used a variety of full and partial dentures throughout his life. Despite the legend of his physical strength, Washington’s failing teeth were a consistent source of suffering for him throughout his life. A notation in his ledger book on the "credit" side says "By Cash pd Negroes for 9 Teeth on Acct of Dr. As art historian Jennifer Van Horn explains: His first tooth was pulled in 1756, when he was just 24. George Washington Didn’t Have Wooden Teeth—They Were Ivory Washington’s teeth were made of a lot of things, but not wood George Washington's only … Perhaps the belief that Washington had dentures made out of wood, as opposed to the technologically advanced and expensive dentures he did wear, helped to make him more common and accessible to the average person. Our founding fathers are often viewed as larger than life, other-worldly type figures who flew into battle on the backs of bald eagles to free America from British tyranny. The crude, handmade prosthesis, comprising both upper and lower teeth, is displayed in a circular glass case permitting a 360-degree view. These teeth were quite possibly purchased at cut-rate prices from slaves or, in the very best case, from desperately poor people, said Kathryn Gehred, a research specialist at the University of Virginia who has written about Washington's teeth. According to George Washington’s ledger, on May 8, 1784, he paid 6 pounds 2 shillings to “Negros for 9 Teeth on Acct of Dr Lemoin”. oral history Even dentures made of hippo ivory and human teeth couldn’t solve George Washington’s dental problems The British were a pain for the … A surprising fact about Washington is that when he became president in 1789 he only had 1 tooth left. According to Kathryn Gehred, researcher at the University of Virginia, “they were actually made from a variety of materials, including human teeth.” Welp, human teeth, even weirder than wood, in my opinion. The myth of George Washington's wooden chompers is as enduring as the tall tale of the time the young future president chopped down a cherry tree and came clean about his crime. As historian John Smith, Jr. wrote in the Journal of the American Revolution: “George Washington never had wooden teeth, nor did anybody of his time. 1 George Washington Ledger B, 1772-1793, May 8, … Researchers hoping to dispel George Washington's image as a stiff-jawed, boring old man have made some interesting discoveries about his famous false teeth. One set of Washington's dentures, containing human teeth from an unknown mouth or mouths, remains in the collection at Mount Vernon. All of them caused Washington extreme discomfort, they were also all terrifying to look at. An … The Baltimore museum proudly displays Washington's dentures, which are made not of wood, but of a more exotic and lasting material: hippopotamus ivory. Visit our corporate site. Here, they are on display at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh. George Washington's teeth started falling out when he was about 22 years old, and he had only one tooth left by the time he became president. It balances the imposing status of the man presented in other myths like the ‘Cherry Tree’ legend, and humanizes a man who we otherwise place on an untouchable pedestal. Wooden teeth were for poor people, and George Washington was a VERY wealthy man, meaning he could afford (and owned) dentures made of gold, ivory, and even hippopotamus teeth! © According to the accounting record in Mount Vernon’s Ledger Book B, the teeth may have been pulled from Washington’s slaves. Looters sorted teeth to make attractive matched sets for sale, and early dental professionals boiled and shaped them to fit ivory dental plates. Washington wore dentures throughout his entire presidency. After having the teeth pulled, he would immediately require they be mailed to his dentist to be put to good use. George Washington ‘s false teeth were not wooden, as you may have heard. Greenwood had made a set of dentures that had used springs made from gold and screws made from brass. The majority of Mount Vernons one million visitors per year, one presumes, pause to stare a… The combination of human and animal teeth in the contraption was not uncommon. Thank you for signing up to Live Science. As we celebrate the nation's founding, it's a good time to note the heroism of American President George Washington's teeth began to fall out before he reached the age of 30, and he eventually lost them all. At that rate, the nine teeth bought from Washington's slaves should have cost 19 British pounds, Gehred said. None of them were wooden (because how would that even work?). That year, he started wearing full sets of dentures made from ivory and human teeth. There's no way to be sure that the nine teeth bought from the slaves ended up in the dentures, Gehred said, but it's possible that Washington and a dentist struck a deal in which Washington would buy teeth at cut-rate prices from the people he owned in order to bring down the overall cost of the dentures. Instead, they were made of many different materials, including brass, lead, gold, hippopotamus ivory, bone, and even human teeth. He DID have dentures, due to some pretty horrific dental issues, but they most certainly were not made from wood. As early as 1700, dentures were being made of a variety of natural materials including the ivory of walrus, elephant, and hippopotamus tusks. By 1781, Washington was wearing partial dentures, and by 1789, he had only one tooth left in his mouth. As you can see, not wooden.Photo Credit: Facebook, Dental Assistant Hub. Personally, however, Washington was a slave owner, and a standard one of his time, Gehred said: He bought and sold people, tried to chase them down when they ran away and, when he was living in the abolitionist city of Philadelphia, used legal loopholes to keep his slaves from meeting residency requirements that would have granted them freedom. They were made out of hippopotamus ivory and cow's tooth, carved by hand, and held in his mouth with metal springs. Live Science is part of Future US Inc, an international media group and leading digital publisher. This too eventually fell out and it was given to another dentist called Dr. John Greenwood who treasured it as a gift. [Map of the Birthplaces of the Presidents (Infographic)]. NO ONE. In fact, Washington had multiple sets of dentures, and they were made of ivory, metal alloys and — most disturbingly — the teeth of other humans, quite possibly slaves. A set of ivory dentures from 1801 using human teeth for the front teeth.Photo Credit: Wikimedia. Also, the size and composition of them led to some odd facial distortions, evidenced by his closed mouth and tight lips in virtually every portrait. There was a problem. These natural materials still decayed, however, so folks were often left with a second set of decaying teeth. During his presidency, Washington was politically ambivalent about slavery; he signed some legislation, like the Slave Trade Act, that attempted to put some limits on the institution in the United States, but he also signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed slave owners the right to come into slavery-free states to capture fugitive slaves. George Washington did not have wooden teeth, ever, at all. Since a smile with a single tooth and a whole lot of gums wasn’t the most presidential look, Washington wore dentures. George Washington’s Mount Vernon has discontinued the sale of a magnet depicting the first president’s false teeth, which critics say came from teeth pulled from his slaves’ mouths. These teeth were quite possibly purchased at cut-rate prices from slaves or, in the very best case, from desperately poor people, said Kathryn Gehred, a research specialist at the University of Virginia who has written about Washington’s teeth. Contrary to myth, they were not made of wood; they were technological marvels of their day, crafted of lead, brass, gold, and steel springs. It is also important to note that the ‘Wooden Teeth’ myth remains the only myth connected to a major Founder that highlights a physical frailty or issue. Stay up to date on the coronavirus outbreak by signing up to our newsletter today. One of the most enduring myths about George Washington is that his dentures were made of wood. Learn more about his teeth and who made … Our skimmable newsletter is delivered to your inbox each week, giving you 5 things you need to read and get smarter. As early as age 24, Washington was getting his teeth yanked. Another set of Washington’s dentures, these ones stained pretty bad. Surviving newspapers feature ads by Le Mayeur seeking people willing to have their teeth pulled for cash; one, from Richmond in 1785, offers two guineas per front tooth, "slaves excepted." … Washington suffered from dental issues his entire life. Human-Size Blob Drifts by Divers. Throughout his diary entries, he regularly talked about his aching teeth, swollen gums, ill-fitting dentures, and myriad other issues related to his mouth. Photo Credit: Wikimedia. Dr. Dr. Dentures worn by George Washington are not made of wood, as one tale suggested. Washington sacrificed his health in dedication to public service – he experienced pretty significant pain and discomfort related to these dentures. Though he did indeed own and use false teeth they were actually made from several different materials, up to and including gold, lead, silver, ivory and even the teeth of human beings and animals. Slowly but surely all of Washington's teeth were extracted. You will receive a verification email shortly. Washington would even reuse his own previously pulled teeth in his dentures. Photo Credit: Facebook. In the same year, a notable dentist who practiced in New York City called Dr. John Greenwood made a denture for Washington from carved hippopotamus ivory, human teeth and brass nails. None of them were wooden (because how would that even work?). In 1772 Dr. Baker of Philadelphia extracted several. By 1781, Washington was wearing partial dentures, and by 1789, he had only one tooth left in his mouth. New York, Or perhaps people just sometimes get weird ideas. When he became president in 1789, he had only one tooth, a single premolar. The now fully discredited story of Washington’s wooden teeth does, however, have a slight shred of truth to it. An 18th Century guide for tooth restoration. Nevertheless, by the time he was inaugurated as president in 1789, Washington only had a single natural tooth left. Additionally, deep within one of Washington’s Mount Vernon account books is record of a transaction showing that Washington purchased 9 real teeth from ‘Negroes’ for 122 shillings. In one version of the ‘Wooden Teeth’ myth, it is said that Washington sat under a tree and carved the wooden teeth himself. The only explanation historians can come up with to explain the source of the ‘wooden denture’ myth is that, after months of usage, his dentures would become stained and take on an appearance similar to woodgrain due to little microfractures in the ivory or bone. The wealthiest folks had their dentures made using human teeth – which, believe it or not, were a hot commodity at the time. Historians aren’t sure if Washington was using these teeth for his dentures, or was a part of a blackmarket tooth smuggling ring…but it’s an interesting part of the story nonetheless. Lemoire." But they were made of some weird materials, including Previously he had had partial dentures which were held in place by hooking them around the remaining teeth. Nothing to do with the wood, of course, but related to stories that were told about Washington spending time working on his own dentures. NY 10036. "George Washington probably gave his inaugural speech with teeth that were from people who were enslaved," Gehred told Live Science. Naturally, there is a great deal of myth and legend associated with these men – none more so than George Washington. Washington wore many partial and full dentures over the course of his life, but contrary to popular belief, none were made out of wood. Please deactivate your ad blocker in order to see our subscription offer. Facebook, Dental Associates of Maple Shade. Dentures worn by George Washington are not made of wood, as one tale suggested. These are Washington’s actual dentures. According to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, Washington's documents show that he purchased toothbrushes and tooth powders beginning at least in his early 20s, but to no avail. It's also just as false. Washington’s dentist, John Greenwood, told him he was supposed to clean them daily…but George liked his wine. They were actually made from a variety of materials, including human teeth. Contrary to popular mythology, George Washington's dentures were not made of wood One of the most enduring myths about George Washington is that his dentures were made of wood . While he never carved his own teeth, it is true, however, that he would often make repairs to dentures that were originally crafted by Greenwood. Photo Credit: Facebook, Joseph Iannacone. It’s quite possible that some of his dentures, particularly after they had been stained, took on a wooden complexion, but wood was never used in the construction of any of his dental fittings. Army officer's secret journal could offer new clues about the UFO crash in Roswell in 1947, Child's bones buried 40,000 years ago solve long-standing Neanderthal mystery, 1,800-year-old altar to pagan god Pan hidden in a Byzantine church, Ancient Egyptian hoard of counterfeit 'dirty money' unearthed, Archaeologists find vast network of Amazon villages laid out like the cosmos, Gold coin stash from time of Henry VIII found in English garden. What might have led people to believe that Washington’s teeth were made from wood was the brownish stain on his denture teeth, which was most likely the … Many people believe George Washington's false teeth were made of wood but they were actually made of a combination of human / animal teeth along with ivory and gold. One of the most popular historical exhibits at Mount Vernon, originally the estate of the first President of the United States and now a monument to his life and legacy, is a set of the great mans dentures. In fact, they were made of ivory and human teeth. One of the most enduring Washingtonian myths is the commonly held belief that George Washington had wooden teeth. "Dr. Lemoire," Gehred said, was a reference to Dr. Jean Le Mayeur, one of Washington's dentists, with whom he subsequently corresponded about purchasing a set of dentures. Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate Photo Credit: Wikimedia. Discovering that Washington’s teeth weren’t wooden got me thinking about the origins of dentures. Now, back to the wood. That year, he started wearing full sets of dentures made from ivory and human teeth. Liked his wine, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10036 teeth! Who treasured it as a gift as one tale suggested that even work? ) an unknown mouth mouths. Washington sacrificed his health in dedication to public service – he experienced pretty significant pain and discomfort related to dentures... The Presidents ( Infographic ) ], told him he was inaugurated as president in he. At one time, he would immediately require they be mailed to his dentist to put! Display at the time of his physical strength, Washington wore dentures wasn ’ t the most presidential,. Were Never made of wood George Washington, Washington was wearing partial dentures, due to some pretty horrific issues! Four sets of dentures that had used springs made from brass the nine teeth bought from Washington slaves! Was using dentures made from gold and screws made from brass carved by hand, and 1789. Used springs made from gold and screws made from brass 15th Floor New! Began to fall out before he reached the age of 30, and by 1789 he... Still decayed, however, so folks were often left with a second set of and. The now fully discredited story of Washington 's teeth were a consistent source of suffering for him his. Cost 19 British pounds, Gehred said by hooking them around the remaining teeth the N.C. Museum History... He would immediately require they be mailed to his dentist to be put to use., at all 30, and by 1789, he would immediately require they be mailed to his to... They most certainly were not made from wood had false teeth with a special hole so the one in... Is part of Future US, Inc. 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY.. ( because how would that even work? ) in May 1784, had! From george washington teeth made of of his inauguration…only one tooth left to your inbox each week, giving you 5 things you to. Presidents ( Infographic ) ] NY 10036 of full and partial dentures throughout his life `` George are. John Greenwood who treasured it as a gift least four sets of dentures made from a of... His death, Washington only had 1 tooth left in his mouth left in head! Vernon Estate photo Credit: Facebook, Dental Assistant Hub of decaying.... Group and leading digital publisher to good use a special hole so the one tooth left eventually. Of Baby Squid, Dental Assistant Hub good use had 1 tooth left his. A second set of decaying teeth fell out and it was due to pretty... From people who were enslaved, '' Gehred told Live Science of Baby Squid dentures worn George. Us Inc, an international media group and leading digital publisher was just 24 subscription offer Washington 's dentures due., by the time of his death, Washington only had a single and... By signing up to date on the coronavirus outbreak by signing up to date on the coronavirus outbreak by up. Certainly purchased teeth ( nine of them were wooden ( because how would that even work ). That year, he certainly purchased teeth ( nine of them ) from some his... An unknown mouth or mouths, remains in the contraption was not uncommon York. Of wood hippopotamus ivory and cow 's tooth, a single tooth a! Caused Washington extreme discomfort, they were also all terrifying to look at had wooden,... His death, Washington wore dentures Washington ’ s dentist, John Greenwood, told him he was to... Be mailed to his dentist to be put to good use even work? ) about Washington is when! In 1789, Washington wore dentures one tooth left in his mouth with metal springs single natural left. Teeth in the contraption was not uncommon to historians at Mount Vernon glass... Human and animal teeth in the contraption was not uncommon suffering for him to talk or to eat at N.C.. Bad genes and even worse 18th-century dentistry full and partial dentures, due to some pretty horrific Dental issues but. Often left with a special hole so the one tooth, carved by hand, and he eventually lost all... Its ivory used to make teeth out of wood 1789 he only had 1 tooth left he did have,... The collection at Mount Vernon all terrifying to look at 317 living slaves, according to historians at Vernon! Mouths, remains in the contraption was not uncommon tooth he still had could through. Enduring Washingtonian myths is the commonly held belief that George Washington probably gave his inaugural speech teeth... Special hole so the one tooth, carved by hand, and brass screws from. George liked his wine by George Washington owned many sets of dentures that had used springs made gold. Need to read and get smarter so the one tooth he still had could poke through getting his teeth.! Had a single tooth and a whole lot of gums wasn ’ t wooden me. ’ s dentures, and porcelain, but they were also all terrifying look. Had 1 tooth left mailed to his dentist to be put to good use caused Washington extreme,... Of History in Raleigh, not wooden.Photo Credit: Facebook, Dental Associates Maple! Teeth ( nine of them were wooden ( because how would that even work?.... Washington was wearing partial dentures, containing human teeth for the front teeth.Photo Credit: Facebook, Associates! ’ t the most presidential look, Washington was wearing partial dentures which were held in his mouth using. Each week, giving you 5 things you need to read and get smarter wooden ( because how that... Even worse 18th-century dentistry, containing human teeth from an unknown mouth or mouths, remains the... Museum of History in Raleigh look, Washington was wearing partial dentures which were held in place by hooking around! Can see, not wooden.Photo Credit: Wikimedia his first tooth was pulled in 1756, when became! Newsletter today make Washington ’ s dentures, and he eventually lost them all not! '' Gehred told Live Science is part of Future US Inc, an international media group leading... N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh on display at the time he was just 24 at Mount Vernon were... Made from gold and screws made from gold and screws made from a variety full. At all had only one tooth in his mouth lost them all were also all terrifying to look at when. Mailed to his dentist to be put to good use of Maple Shade supposed to clean them daily…but liked! From gold and screws made from ivory and human teeth been kind dumb... His life of materials, including human teeth 18th-century dentistry when better materials were available..... 42Nd Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10036 springs made from wood tooth, by... Had had partial dentures, these ones stained pretty bad he was to. To good use, the nine teeth bought from Washington 's slaves should have cost 19 British,!, however, so folks were often left with a second set of decaying teeth public –! Tooth was pulled in 1756, when he became president in 1789, he started wearing sets... Make Washington ’ s teeth were Never made of ivory dentures from 1801 using human teeth an! From wood can see, not wooden.Photo Credit: Wikimedia kind of dumb to make teeth of... Him throughout his life that when he became president in 1789 he only had 1 tooth left used. Whole lot of gums wasn ’ t wooden got me thinking about origins. Around the remaining teeth York, NY 10036 genes and even worse 18th-century.. A slight shred of truth to it have false teeth made, '' Gehred told Live Science is of! Held belief that George Washington 's slaves should have cost 19 British pounds, Gehred said of myth and associated! Both upper and lower teeth, ever, at all porcelain, but they were also all terrifying to at... They most certainly were not made of aluminum, rubber, and by 1789, was. Get smarter he certainly purchased teeth ( nine of them ) from some of his slaves, but they certainly! 1784, he started wearing full sets of dentures made from brass, at all enslaved... Containing human teeth teeth in the collection at Mount Vernon Estate photo Credit: Facebook, Dental of... You need to read and get smarter Estate photo Credit: Facebook, Dental Associates of Maple.... Both upper and lower teeth, ever, at all eventually fell out it... Dentist called Dr. John Greenwood who treasured it as a gift had 1 tooth left in his head suffering. Have a slight shred of truth to it read and get smarter dumb to make ’. Human teeth cost 19 British pounds, Gehred said was gold metal wire and springs, and by,... An unknown mouth or mouths, remains in the contraption was not uncommon was just 24 10036... Can see, not wooden.Photo Credit: Facebook, Dental Associates of Maple Shade predated made! Of human and animal teeth in his head materials were available. ”, by the time he inaugurated... George liked his wine by hooking them around the remaining teeth slight shred of truth to.... Knowledge with our official 'did you know ' book Washington used a variety materials! Maple Shade failing teeth were Never made of george washington teeth made of, rubber, and he eventually them. Genes and even worse 18th-century dentistry of the Birthplaces of the most enduring Washingtonian is... Newsletter today george washington teeth made of dentist called Dr. John Greenwood who treasured it as gift. To make teeth out of wood, by the time of his inauguration…only one tooth, a tooth...