Improbable Research: The US President Who Counted

Out of all the presidents who have served the United States, George Washington was the only one who truly mattered. This statement, with its dual interpretation, concludes a four-page paper that was published in the Alabama Journal of Mathematics in 1978. The paper, titled "George Washington: He Liked to Count Things," was written by Pete Casazza, a mathematician who goes by numerous pen names. Casazza, who is presently a professor of mathematics at the University of Missouri, produced this work under the pseudonym Cora Green when he was previously connected with Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama.

Casazza/Green presents over 40 specific items that America’s first president counted. These are simply samples, he emphasises, that were chosen from a large range of items: "He took pleasure in counting items on his Mount Vernon estate. He counted and listed his horses, cataloguing them by color, working mares and others, unbroken or not, as well as recording their height, age, and weight. Ewes, hogs, calves, yearlings, spades, axes, and knives were all counted…"

As commander-in-chief of the rebel American army during wartime, General Washington counted "soldiers and armies (along with the distances between them), guns, ships, horses, mortars, batteries…the number of casualties suffered by his army…listing time periods, killed and wounded, and separating it into colonels, Lt colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, and privates."

During times of peace, President Washington counted the number of bushels of wheat planted on his farm and the quantity of trees- oak, yew, hemlock, aspen, magnolia, elm, papaw, lilacs, fringe, swamp berry- that were grown.

He counted nuts. He counted seeds. He counted miles traveled, and compared them with the estimated distances on maps.

Washington was initially a professional surveyor, and this could have been a matter of inclination as well. Casazza/Green notes, "He documented in his journal on May 11, 1788, that he spent the whole Sunday at home counting different types of peas and beans…He learned that it took exactly 3,144 small peas known as gentleman’s peas to fill a pint, 2,268 peas of the type he purchased from New York, 1,375 of the peas he had obtained from Mrs Dangerfield, 1,330 of those given to him by Heziah Fairfax, 1,186 of the large black-eyed peas, and 1,473 bunch hominy beans. After coming to his conclusion, he then calculated the number of hills a bushel of each kind of pea and bean would grow, allowing for five in a hill."

The paper does not give clear evidence as to whether Washington enjoyed counting objects. Who can truly tell what someone else is thinking in any scenario? Nor does it try to persuade readers that this was a psycho-medical concern, an undiagnosed case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. And for that, we may want to count our blessings.


  • rosewebb

    Rose Webb is an educational blogger and volunteer who also studies for a degree in law. She loves to write about her experiences and share her knowledge with others, and is passionate about helping others to achieve their goals.

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