Ten Things You Never Knew

...about George Washington, born on this day in 1732:

  1. His dentures were carved from a hippopotamus tusk. They were drilled with a hole to fit over Washington's one remaining tooth, and they rubbed against his natural tooth in such a way that Washington was in constant pain, and so he used an alcoholic solution infused with opium.

  2. Baron von Steuben (left) walks with Gen. George Washington through the Continental Army camp at Valley Forge in 1778, shown in an engraving after Howard Pyle. By the time he reached 30, he had survived malaria, smallpox, pleurisy, dysentery. He was fired at on two separate occasions — and in one of them, his horse was shot out from under him and four bullets punctured his coat. He also fell off a raft into an icy river and nearly drowned.

  3. During the last night of his life, a doctor friend came over to perform an emergency tracheotomy on Washington. Arriving too late, the doctor tried to resurrect Washington by thawing him in cold water, then wrapping him in blankets and rubbing him in order to activate blood vessels, then opening his trachea to inflate his lungs with air, and then transfusing blood from a lamb into him.

  4. He enjoyed playing cards, hunting foxes and ducks, fishing, cockfighting, horse racing, boat racing, and dancing. He bred hound dogs and gave them names like "Sweet Lips" and "Tarter."

  5. Building Mt. VernonHis favorite foods included mashed potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples.

  6. He snored very loudly.

  7. He did not wear a powdered wig, as was fashionable at the time. Instead, he powdered his own red-brown hair.

  8. Washington had a speech impediment and was not good at spelling. He would often mix up i's and e's when speaking and in writing.

  9. There are 33 counties, seven mountains, nine colleges, and 121 post offices named after Washington.

  10. He delivered the shortest inaugural address ever. It was only 133 words long and took 90 seconds to deliver.

From The Writer's Almanac (2/22/08)