Today in the United States is the federal holiday known as Washington’s Birthday (not “Presidents Day—see item #1). In honor of George Washington’s birthday, here are 9 things you should know about America’s foremost founding father.
1. Although some state and local governments and private businesses often refer to today as President’s Day, the legal public holiday is designated as “Washington’s Birthday” in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code. The observance of Washington’s birthday was made official in 1885 when President Chester A. Arthur signed a bill establishing it as a federal holiday.*
2. Washington was actually born on February 11, 1732, under the Julian calendar in effect at the time he was born. But his birthday is considered to be February 22 under the Gregorian calendar which was adopted throughout the British Empire in 1752.
3. Although Washington wore false teeth, they were not made out of wood. One set of teeth created by his dentist, included a cow’s tooth, one of Washington’s teeth, hippopotamus ivory, metal, and springs.
4. Washington also never wore a wig, chopped down a cherry tree, or threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River (which is over a mile wide).
5. Although his religious beliefs are still a topic of heated debate, evidence of Washington’s religious life would warrant calling him a “deistic Christian.” Although he was raised in the Anglican Church and frequently attended services, Washington was never confirmed and consistently refused to take Holy Communion. He often used deistic language in reference to God and never used the terms “Jesus” or “Christ” in his correspondence or public communications. (The most famous reference came in a 1779 letter to a delegation of Indians, but the letter was in the handwriting of an aide and most historians argue that the letter was written by the aide rather than Washington.)
6. Washington operated the largest liquor distillery in the country during the 18th century. In 1799, Washington’s distillery produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey, valued at $7,500 (approximately $120,000 today). The average Virginia distillery produced about 650 gallons of whiskey per year which was valued at about $460.
7. During the French and Indian War, Washington had two horses shot out from beneath him and found four bullet holes in his coat. However, despite many close calls he was never injured in any of the military actions he served in.
8. Washington was the only founding father to free his slaves. In his will he freed all 124 of his slaves and left enough money in his estate to care for all of them for decades after his death.
9. Washington was the only president who never lived in the White House, never lived in Washington, D.C., and never represented a political party.
* Some sources—including Wikipedia and the U.S. Mint—incorrectly claim that President Nixon changed the name of the holiday to “Presidents Day” to honor all past presidents. While Nixon did issue an executive order making the third Monday in February a public holiday, the claim that he changed the name of the observance is a modern myth.