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Discovering the Real George Washington

Explore the life and legacy of George Washington in the Donald W. Reynolds Education Center.

Learn about Washington's first job as a surveyor, how he learned to lead during the French and Indian War, and his growing businesses at Mount Vernon. Discover his role in the Revolutionary War and founding our nation. See dozens of Washington artifacts, movies, a 4D theater, and an interactive theater, all included with general admission.

The Education Center exhibit on George Washington’s life is closed for an extensive rebuild. It will reopen in 2026.

Learn more about the Exhibition Closure

George Washington Exhibition Project

From July 2024 through 2025, this exhibit on George Washington’s life will be off display for an extensive rebuild.

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Reconstructing George Washington

The Mars Family and Foundation Gallery

This unique gallery is designed to resemble a state-of-the-art forensics laboratory. Vials, facsimiles of body parts, and stainless-steel work surfaces surround a flat-panel monitor that displays images from the million-dollar forensic investigation, conducted from 2003 to 2005, which resulted in the creation of three life-sized figures of George Washington.

Visitors can watch a History Channel film that describes the scientific process involved in creating the figures based on anthropological study, historical research, and artistic interpretation.

Showing Washington at ages 19, 45, and 57, these figures appear in the three education center galleries centered on those periods of his life.

Young Virginian

The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation Gallery

In this gallery, multimedia exhibits and artifacts offer insights into George Washington's childhood and examine his youthful ambitions, struggles, and hardships. An animated timeline of significant events in his early years is projected on a wall.

The first of three forensically based life-sized figures of Washington — here as a 19-year-old surveyor — is showcased, standing amid a full-scale diorama that includes trees, animals, and forest sounds. Washington's original drafting tools are exhibited in a nearby case.

Other displays focus on his youthful travels and on the 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, which the adolescent Washington carefully copied out by hand and took permanently to heart.

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Colonial Officer

The Richard King Mellon Foundation Gallery

Here the light dims to convey an impression of the forbidding wilderness in which Washington soldiered as a British colonial officer during the French and Indian War.

A diorama set into the wall and containing hundreds of small figures and animals conjures up the Battle of Fort Necessity in July 1754, when Washington's tactical misjudgments, as well as rainy weather, combined to help the French defeat the English in the first major engagement of the war.

A large lighted map shows the sequence of battles sites spreading across colonial North American and Europe. Washington's sword from this war is also on display.

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Diorama of the battle at Fort Necessity

Gentleman Planter

The Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation Gallery

Leaving the French and Indian War exhibits, visitors encounter displays that evoke Washington's journey home from the war.

His marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759 is represented by her jewelry and reproductions of her gold silk damask wedding dress and sequin-covered shoes.

Visitors can sit on a reproduction of the Washington family box pew from Pohick Church in nearby Lorton, Virginia, as they watch a History Channel film about the role religion played in Washington's life and his views on religious freedom.

This gallery also touches upon Washington's service in the Virginia House of Burgesses and his involvement in Freemasonry, which lasted his entire adult life.

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A 40-Year Romance

The Melody Sawyer Richardson Theater

What seems at first glance to be a tastefully decorated sitting room or parlor — with a fireplace, portraits, fine draperies, and rows of Windsor chairs — is actually a 30-seat theater. Here visitors can watch a History Channel film, narrated by actress Glenn Close and shot at several historic locations, which highlights the Washingtons' courtship and marriage.

The film focuses primarily on the important role played by Martha Washington, showing, for example, how she spent more than half of the Revolutionary War years at her husband 's side, often performing nursing duties.

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First in War

The Gordon V. and Helen C. Smith Foundation Gallery

The daunting challenges George Washington encountered as commander in chief of an untrained, under-funded ragtag citizen army are the subjects of the exhibits here. By viewing a three-dimensional mural of British forces, visitors get a vivid sense of how superior the British army and navy seemed in comparison to the Continental Army. A soldiers' hut at Valley Forge illustrates the hardships inflicted by the long, bitter winter of 1777-78. Viewable through the window of the hut is a History Channel film depicting Baron von Steuben drilling fledgling troops.

The second of the forensically based life-sized figures of Washington shows him at age 45, looking stoically determined astride his horse Blueskin.

Nearby is an interactive map with buttons that, when pressed, illuminate major battles of the Revolutionary War. Projected on a screen inset in the front doorway of an 18th-century tavern is a History Channel film that covers Washington's innovative use of espionage during the war.

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Revolutionary War 4D Theater

Presented in this 110-seat theater is a fast-paced, "4-D" multimedia production tracing Washington's important military victories at Boston, Trenton, and Yorktown.

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Citizen Soldier

The Douglas and Eleanor Seaman Gallery

Featuring an elaborate cornice molding with heavily detailed neoclassical elements and marbleized, gilded Ionic columns, this gallery boasts a life-sized figure of "King Washington" that appears to dissolve into an image of him as a farmer and private citizen. This effect is created by means of special lighting and the use of mirrors — a long-standing theatrical technique known as Pepper's Ghost.

The message conveyed is that after the Revolutionary War, George Washington, unlike other historic military men pictured here, resisted the temptation to become a king or dictator. Instead, he transferred his power to the civilian government and returned to a tranquil agrarian private life at Mount Vernon.

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Things to See

Be Washington

Step inside Washington’s boots in this first-person interactive leadership experience.

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Visionary Entrepreneur

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Gallery

George Washington's post-Revolutionary War life at Mount Vernon as a landowner, experimental farmer, and businessman is examined here. A lifelike mule illustrates how Washington introduced that hardworking animal to American agriculture and also pulls a reproduction Rotherham plow, one of the advanced farming tools he utilized.

A model of Washington's gristmill demonstrates his use of sophisticated milling processes, and an early whiskey still reflects his entrepreneurial spirit in that burgeoning industry.

Mount Vernon's lucrative fishery is also depicted, and a History Channel film explains how important the Potomac River and regional canal were to Washington's vision for the new nation.

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The Dilemma of Slavery

The J. Hap and Geren Fauth Gallery

This gallery explores slavery as an integral part of daily life at Mount Vernon in the 18th century. An audio recitation of individual slaves' names and the tasks they performed at the estate set an appropriately somber tone. Interpretive texts and period tools introduce visitors to the personal stories of several enslaved residents, two of whom are represented in portraits.

A History Channel film features scholars and descendants of Mount Vernon slaves discussing questions that visitors can "ask" from an interactive rail: Did George Washington treat his slaves well? What was it like to be a slave at Mount Vernon? Why did he specify that his slaves were not to be freed until after his death? What were the effects of his decision to free his slaves?

A timeline illustrates the evolution of Washington's view on slavery and his increasing awareness that it contradicted the ideals of the new nation.

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Washington's Dentures

The Donald and Nancy de Laski Gallery

George Washington's dentures are the highly personal focal point of this gallery. Surrounding them is a timeline detailing his dental agonies — from losing two teeth during the French and Indian War to acquiring his last set of dentures, in 1798. As visitor consider this chronicle, they better understand the daily pain Washington endured for much of his life.

A toothbrush and other cleaning tools that were used in vain to try to save his teeth also are exhibited.

Finally, a History Channel film describes how Washington's dentures were fabricated and assures viewers that, contrary to myth, they were not made of wood.

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Indispensable American

The Charlotte and Walter Kohler Charitable Trust Gallery

Visitors enter this gallery under an archway consisting of large three-dimensional cutouts of the 13 original states, which collide chaotically to underscore the fractious and confusing state of the nation in the years that immediately followed the Revolutionary War.

Interactive computer monitors near a painting of Washington presiding over the Constitutional Convention of 1787 enable visitors to learn about the men who shaped the U.S. Constitution and about the issues and areas of contention that were involved in the writing of this monumental document. Visitors also hear lively debate by convention delegates on topics such as executive powers and slavery. The gallery underscores the fact that, at the convention, George Washington was once again the "indispensable man".

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The People's President

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation Gallery

In this interactive depiction of the first U.S. presidential inauguration, visitors see the last of three forensically based life-sized figures of Washington — this one at age 57 — taking the oath of office in April 1789 on a replica of the balcony of Federal Hall in New York.

Beyond the Federal Hall facade are screened two History Channel films. The first illuminates the precedents Washington set at the nation's first president, and the second includes a montage of U.S. senators reading his Farewell Address from the Senate floor, as they have done every year on his birthday since 1896.

On the wall, drawings by modern political cartoonists illustrate major issues of Washington's presidency. And visitors can learn about members of his cabinet by opening the doors of, appropriately, a wooden cabinet.

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Private Citizen

The Richard and Adelia Simplot Gallery

The mood is somber and reverential in this gallery, which details Washington's final hours. There a display of 18th-century medical instruments similar to those used to treat the former president during his brief fatal illness. An 18th-century bier and a reproduction of his coffin are surrounded by cases displaying objects commemorating Washington's life and death. Visitors can watch a video of the historic 1999 reenactment of his funeral and see a re-creation of the Mansion's third-floor garret chamber, where Martha Washington sought refuge following her husband's death and probably burned all their personal correspondence in order to safeguard their privacy. Inspiring words from famous Washington eulogies are projected on a black gallery wall.

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The Grand Finale

The Gay Hart Gaines Legacy Theater

Visitors conclude their education center experience with a film finale that envelops them in images, music, and the spoken word. Created by Dennis Earl Moore Productions of Brooklyn Heights, New York, it is presented in ultra high-definition video and 19-channel audio on a seven­-foot-tall hemispherical screen employing 13 projectors.

The Grammy-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus performs "America the Beautiful" as the backdrop for a series of historic images and modern photographs that capture the breadth and essence of American cities, symbols, landmarks, and landscapes. Drawing upon the famous eulogy delivered at Washington's funeral by General Henry ("Light Horse Harry") Lee, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough and former U.S. Secretary of State General Colin Powell offer pertinent reflections on Washington's remarkable character, enduring legacy, and vital contributions to the nation's history and culture.

Saving Mount Vernon

The Johnston-Lemon Group Gallery

All visitors to Mount Vernon pass through this gallery, which is incorporated into the serpentine corridor connecting the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center to the Mount Vernon Inn, gift shops, and estate exit. Here they can learn the inspiring story of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association — how its members rescued the estate and set the standard for historic preservation in America. In a time when American women were rarely able to play leadership roles, the original Regent, Ann Pamela Cunningham, and her Vice Regents took the initiative and began the careful restoration of Washington's dilapidated home.

Combining contemporary and historic images with text, the exhibit also examines the Association's determination to preserve the remarkable view across the Potomac River that Washington so enjoyed. The exhibit concludes by underscoring the Association's commitment to educating the broadest possible audience about the life, leadership, and contributions of George Washington.

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Hands-on History

The Anne and James F. Crumpacker Family Gallery

Created with Mount Vernon's youngest visitors (ages three to eight) in mind, this hands-on history area exposes children to the same themes and ideas presented in the galleries. But here, touching objects is both allowed and encouraged.

Children can learn about Washington and his era by dressing in 18th-century clothing and putting on short impromptu plays on a stage fitted with a historic view of the Mansion.

They can also read books, explore activity boxes, and "meet" the first president's farm animals — a noisy lot!

Other learning materials include games of the 18th century, puppets, puzzles that use shard to teach about archaeology, and a miniature Mansion that can be fitted with "period furniture".