A Founding Father With A Mouthful Of Gold, Ivory, And Lead

Posted on in Educational

dollarGeorge Washington has the unfortunate problem of being remembered for how he looks on the dollar bill. It’s based on the work of artist Gilbert Stuart, and it makes Washington seem stuffy and stiff and perpetually locked in his 60’s.

We all know how important public perception of political figures is (and are especially reminded during an election year). Is it fair to think of Washington in that way?

In 2005, researchers wanted to “prove” to the public that Washington wasn’t a boring, old man. One of the ways they intended to flesh out a more accurate character description of him was to use lasers to scan his dentures. Why his dentures?

Because, they said, they saw it as a part of the puzzle. His teeth helped tell the story of his life as he aged.

Washington, who began to lose his teeth in his 20’s, was known for athleticism, intellect, horsemanship, and…enjoying dancing. He was 6’3″, strong and active. And, he ended up with dentures made out of, over the course of his life, gold, ivory, and lead. The teeth used in the dentures were horse or donkey teeth, and they had springs for opening and bolts to help hold them together.

How would Washington have fared in a modern election during today’s information age if it were known his teeth were those of a horse or donkey?

Surprisingly, he might not have been wholly unprepared for election-year publicity as we now know it. We often think of the Founding Fathers as decorous and polite intellectuals, but the feuds between some of the most well-known — including Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, et. al. — was often unrestrained, insulting, and public.

Getting a complete understanding of one of our most well-known presidents involves not only reading the writings of the time, but, oddly, documenting his dentures.