Whether it's the truth about Washington's teeth or Lincoln's little-known love of cats, discover some of the most incredible facts about two of America's most revered presidents.
Today, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are often seen to be as serious and solemn as their carved faces on Mount Rushmore suggest. But though both presidents presided over important eras in American history, each had another side that the history books often skip over.
The image of George Washington, for example, as the president who could not tell a lie, who cut down a cherry tree and had wooden teeth, doesn’t exactly represent who he was. For starters, his teeth weren’t even made of wood. The truth is that George Washington’s teeth were a combination of different alloys, ivory from walruses and hippopotamuses, cow and horse teeth — and human teeth.
In the 18th century, poor people — white, Black, enslaved, and free — sometimes sold their teeth to dentists in order to make money. Dentists would amass a large collection so that they could match tooth size and color to their clients’ needs. Teeth were even purchased from enslaved people working on Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation, though it’s unclear to this day if the teeth in Washington’s dentures came from enslaved people.
Likewise, there’s more to Abraham Lincoln than most realize. Before he became the president who steered the United States through the Civil War, he had more success as a wrestler than a politician, and once nearly got into a duel with broadswords after mocking the Illinois State Auditor. Behind his serious face, Lincoln had a sharp sense of humor and a deep love for animals, especially cats.
“[Lincoln] was fond of dumb animals, especially cats,” one person who’d known the president recalled, and another remembered that Lincoln would pick up cats and talk to them for 30 minutes at a time. He even once fed a cat with a golden fork during a formal White House dinner. When his wife called him out, he replied, “if the gold fork was good enough for President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.”
These presidents may be best known for their accomplishments in the face of adversity, but they definitely had a lighter side. Washington and Lincoln — often remembered to be as stoic as statues — were, after all, only human.