George Washington didn’t chop down a cherry tree, but he did design military uniforms, decorate his Mt. Vernon home, and collect art. In a new book, “The Essential Book of Presidential Trivia,” 10-year-old historian Noah McCullough digs up obscure details about America’s leaders. McCullough was invited on “Today” to discuss his findings. Here’s an excerpt:
— was America’s first true action hero. Admired by his fellow men, he was brave, commanding, and daring. Washington is considered a legend in his own time, not for chopping down a cherry tree or having wooden teeth, but for sculpting a government that is still in use today. (The cherry tree and wooden teeth are urban myths.)Although he was a rugged war hero, Washington was perhaps the first “Renaissance man” to be president. He was an avid art collector and a fabulous dancer (it is said that ladies waited in long lines to dance with the president at public functions). Washington also had a flair for fashion and designed many military uniforms, as well as decorating his Mount Vernon estate himself.
A little-known fact about George is that he actually selected and surveyed the place for our nation’s capital (the White House, too). He will be remembered not only for forming the best cabinet in history but also for defining the highest office in the land, the presidency of the United States of America. By the time George was fifty-seven he had lost nearly all of his teeth. This was most likely due to his habit of cracking walnuts with them, as well as not taking good care of them. This is interesting because George hired staff to brush his horses’ teeth daily.
Embarrassed about having few teeth,Washington was on a quest to find a comfortable set of false teeth. Some were made of lead, some of ivory; some were animal and human teeth. None were made of wood as the legend has led us to believe.When he was inaugurated, he still had one tooth of his own, and his French dentist made him an ivory set to fit around that natural tooth.Did You Know That...
— Washington banned curse words from the army (although he said a lot of the words he banned)?— George Washington was the only president to win 100 percent of the electoral college for both of his elections?— George Washington was eleven when his dad died?— Washington’s mom was unpredictable and nagged and bothered him into his presidency?— First Lady Martha Washington was five feet tall?— Martha Washington missed her husband’s inauguration because she could not get to New York in time?— First Lady Martha Washington’s first husband, Daniel Custis, died, leaving her a widow with two children?— Washington suffered smallpox and lived through it?— Washington once had a relationship with Sally Fairfax?— Washington’s annual salary was approximately $25,000 (about $1,000,000 in today’s economy)?— Washington spent 7 percent of that annual salary on alcohol?— Washington had fine furs put on all his horses?— President Jimmy Carter bestowed on Washington the rank of “six-star general” and “General of the Armies of Congress”? (He felt that our first president should be the highest-ranking military official of all time.)— Washington loved to hunt fox?— As president, Washington had the United States remain neutral during the English and French quarrels?— President Washington would not shake hands because he thought this beneath the president? (He preferred bowing.)— George Washington traveled throughout his presidency and visited each state in the Union during that time?— Washington collected paintings on these travels? (They can be seen at Mount Vernon.)— President Washington’s favorite horse was a white horse named Nelson?— George Washington added the words “so help me God” to the presidential oath of office?— Washington decided that the president should be called “the president,” not “the king” or “His Majesty”?— George Washington was the largest distiller of alcohol in the state of Virginia? (He produced over 11,000 gallons of whiskey at Mount Vernon.)— Washington actually borrowed money to get to his own inauguration?— President Washington’s first inauguration speech was only ninety seconds long and consisted of 183 words?— George Washington ran a ferry service across the Potomac River during his first year in office?— America actually had a vice president before it had its first president? (George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789 — nine days after John Adams had been sworn in as vice president, on April 21, 1789.)— Washington’s second inauguration speech was even shorter than his first — 135 words, down from the 183 of his first inaugural speech?— George Washington had two horses shot from under him and four bullets pass through his uniform as he was fighting in the French and Indian War of 1754?— Washington wore a size-13 shoe?— Washington didn’t take a bath often because he believed that it was unhealthy for him?— Washington had an eighth-grade education?— George Washington was a young millionaire because of marrying the rich widow Martha Custis?— President Washington never lived in the White House?— Washington wore a suit that was “made in America” for his inauguration?— Washington died of tonsillitis and pneumonia at the age of sixty-seven?— Washington was the only president to have a state named after him?— The population of the United States when Washington was in office was almost 4 million?— George Washington was the first president to appear on a postage stamp? (Ten-cent stamp, U.S. Post Office, 1847.)— Washington was one of two presidents to sign the U.S. Constitution? (Washington, Madison.)— Washington had 300 slaves when he died?— Washington was very nervous at his inauguration and mumbled through his oath of office?— The famous portrait of George Washington was started a year before his death but was finished after his death? (John Adams’s son-in-law posed for the unfinished body and limbs.)— Washington’s eyes were a gray-blue color?
Excerpted from “The Essential Book of Presidential Trivia,” by Noah McCullough. Copyright © 2006 by Noah McCullough. All rights reserved. Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.