Presidential Tall Tales That Are Unfortunately Not True

Legendary figures, sometimes literally
Presidential Tall Tales That Are Unfortunately Not True

Compared to the rest of the world, American history is remarkably short. We dont get Greek tales of cyclops living on our islands, or British ones of a regal fellow yanking a sword from a stone. As such, our folk heroes are usually fairly contemporary, and almost exclusively early presidents. 

Plenty of the tales of their bravery are true, but theres also space for very fun, very false stories about the founders of this country. And so, if you hear a tale about a president that sounds pulled maybe too directly from a storybook, theres a decent chance it is. Unless it's about Teddy Roosevelt, of course.

Here are three persistent myths about American presidents…

George Washington Had Wooden Teeth


This one seems patently insane on its face, but the past was just weird enough that it never got stamped out. After all, given the state of medicine during Washington’s lifetime, the idea that an old-timey doctor would stick two blocks in his mouth so he could chew his buffalo doesnt seem that far-fetched.

Now, Washingtons teeth definitely werent existent, and his replacements werent ideal. That much is solidly confirmed. Dental hygiene was more of a vibe-based thing back then, and if you did lose your teeth, you werent getting Hollywood-quality caps put in. Washington had only a single tooth left when he became president, but felt that his commands would hold more weight coming out of something a little more sturdy than a wet gum-hole, so he had multiple sets of dentures constructed. Wood, though, was never involved. 

What was involved was, well, other teeth. Not always from the same species either. The dentures in question were studded with combinations of human and cow teeth. If you dont believe me, you can see the teeth themselves on display at Mount Vernon, though they sadly dont offer try-ons.

Benjamin Franklin Discovered Electricity With A Kite and Key

Public Domain

Let’s debunk this one a step at a time. First, theres the fact that it seems like flying a kite that gets hit by lightning would seriously injure or kill someone, which it would. Given that Franklin remained alive, the holes start to make themselves known. Where we get the idea that he somehow pulled this feat off is from a huge oversimplification of science and an experiment that Franklin may have actually carried out. 

It’s also important to note that people already knew about electricity at the time. What Franklin may have been looking to prove was specifically that lightning was a form of electricity, which is still cool but lacks that same oomph. 

Now, if the experiment happened at all, which is still debated, he did fly a key-kite contraption during a thunderstorm, but there wasnt any dramatic crack of lightning and knowledge rolled into one. The best historians can give a strong “maybe, sure” to is that Franklin instead collected ambient electrical charge from the air, proving his point without, you know, turning into a cartoon skeleton.

JFK Called Himself A Jelly Donut

Philip R Hunt

The last popular bit of fiction relates to a supposed gaffe made in a Berlin speech in June 1963, where JFK supposedly proclaimed himself to be a jelly donut to a laughing German populace.

As the tale goes, he proudly walked on stage and declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner," thinking he was saying “I am a Berliner,” but in fact calling himself the noun of a Berliner, a German jelly-filled pastry. Its exactly the kind of gaffe that does feel very American. Being ignorant of other languages, how could he say that without ever running it by someone who spoke German, and so on? 

Except that he did run the line by the chief German interpreter for the United States, Robert Lochner, who found no error because there was no real error. Even thinking it might have been a local flub, Lochner was, in fact, a Berliner himself, who would also know that in Berlin, the Berliner was called a pfannkucken.

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