George Washington Gets a Makeover

ByABC News

Feb. 21, 2005 — -- Historians who have studied George Washington say we've got it all wrong.

"People look at the Gilbert Stuart portrait and think he jumped out of the womb about 65 years old," says Jim Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon, Washington's Virginia estate. "They can't imagine him as this reckless, rambunctious, really kind of action hero of the 18th century."

But in his younger days Washington was a ladies' man, a great dancer, athletic and a charismatic military figure with the largest distillery in the country.

To get this across, a team of scientists is creating a trio of action figures of Washington as part of a larger $95 million educational effort to reintroduce the first president to America, hoping to illustrate who he was better than those countless portraits.

Access to Washington's bones would have been the best way to get measurements of Washington's skull and body. But the curators at his estate did not want a "CSI: Mount Vernon," and refused.

So the history-changing process started with anthropologists searching for the best sculptures and artifacts from Washington at that time.

Computer scientists then used laser technology to make hundreds of scans of a bust said by Washington's family to have most closely resembled him, and of other sculptures by a French artist who spent weeks with Washington in the 1780s.

"It's like taking snapshots with a two-dimensional camera," said Anshuman Razdan, a professor at Arizona State University, "but it's actually three-dimensional, and then we put all of the data together into one cohesive 3-D object."

The only full set of Washington's dentures was invaluable in re-creating Washington's jaw.

What about the stories that George Washington had wooden false teeth?

"I was taught that too," said Jeffrey Schwartz, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "But actually it turns out that ivory was often used."

Ivory, when stained, looked like wood.

Another interesting discovery is that Washington was not wearing dentures in his dollar bill portrait.

All the calculations and measurements will be given this summer to a 3-D design studio in New York City, which will paint the figures, apply hair and clothe three different Washingtons — a surveyor at age 19, the commander in chief of the continental army at 45 and president at 57.

ABC News' Jake Tapper originally reported this story for "World News Tonight."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events