Do you ever wish you could travel back to the past and see what it was REALLY like? We can’t help you with that, but maybe these totally crazy things you never knew about history will quench that thirst. Read on to learn some things your history teacher definitely didn’t talk about! Start Slideshow
The bubonic plague epidemic was caused in part by the Pope.
Pope Gregory IX told his followers that cats were associated with the devil. As a result, people started killing cats. With fewer cats around to hunt rats, the rat population exploded…leading to the spread of the bubonic plague.
Napoleon was once attacked by rabbits.
The French emperor’s chief of staff collected hundreds of rabbits for a rabbit hunt that Napoleon wanted to hold. But when the bunnies were released from their cages, instead of running away, they swarmed Napoleon and his guests, driving them away.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee didn’t own any slaves at the beginning of the Civil War.
But you know who did? Union general Ulysses S. Grant.
Dentures used to be made of the teeth of dead soldiers.
The corpses’ teeth would be removed, then placed in artificial gums for use by living people.
Ronald Reagan worked as a lifeguard.
Before he was president, and even before he was an actor, the future world leader saved 77 people as a lifeguard at his local pool.
The Great Fire of London killed only 8 people.
Most of the damage was done to buildings – about 13,500 homes were destroyed.
Egyptian servants were sometimes slathered in honey to keep flies away from the Pharaoh.
Fortunately for those servants, honey has antibacterial properties, so their skin probably looked great.
Guanajuato mummies have their faces fixed in horrified expressions.
Many think this is because they were buried alive, but the mummies are victims of a cholera outbreak in 1833, and were naturally mummified by the dry climate.
Lord Byron kept a pet bear in his dorm.
When the poet became a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1805, he was told pet dogs were banned. So he brought a (tame) bear to live with him.
The Austrian army once attacked itself.
In 1788, the Austrians were scouting for forces of the Ottoman Empire near the city of Karansebes, but two different sections mistook each other for Ottomans, and fired on each other instead. 10,000 soldiers died, and two days later, the Ottomans showed up and captured the city.
17th century rich people ate human corpses.
They thought that consuming flesh, drinking human blood, and even rubbing human fat on the outside of the skin could cure any number of diseases. Spoiler alert: it cannot.
A giant honey mushroom in Oregon is over 2,400 years old.
Its root system covers over 3 square miles of land…but you can’t tell from above that it’s all connected.
The parliament of Iceland is the oldest operating parliament in the world.
It was established in the year 930. Yes, that’s a year with three digits. Dang!
Women drank beaver testicle potion as birth control.
I think we can all be glad we’re not living in 16th-century Canada right now.
Kim Jong Il wrote six operas.
Those operas will probably never be released to the Western world…which we’re thinking is a good thing.
Winston Churchill smoked up to 15 cigars a day.
He died at age 90 of a stroke – not lung cancer.
In the early 20th century, children were given morphine in syrup form.
The highly addictive opiate drug was sold over-the-counter.
King Tut’s parents were brother and sister.
DNA tests show that Tutankhamen’s mother and father both had the same father.
Russian faith healer Rasputin survived multiple assassination attempts – in a single day.
He was shot, stabbed, and poisoned unsuccessfully. His murderers eventually prevailed, though, and threw his body into a river.
Daniel Boone didn’t wear a coonskin cap.
He wore a felt cap, like this one in a rare depiction of him.
During the Great Depression, people started reusing the fabric from flour sacks to make dresses.
When the flour companies realized this, they started printing their bags with floral and other designs to make them more appealing to consumers.
At least one Civil War general provided prostitutes for his men.
Reasoning that his men would be in better spirits if their, er, physical needs were attended to, General Hooker hired women for his whole troop. Legend says that his name was then used as a term for sex workers, but the word “hooker” as applied to a lady of the night was used in the 1840s, well before the Civil War.
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna ordered a full military funeral in 1838…for his leg.
The Mexican leader lost his left leg when it was hit by a cannon, and had a funeral – with full military honors – for it when it was buried.
Notorious gangster Al Capone started one of the first soup kitchens.
During the Great Depression, churches and other organizations started soup kitchens to help feed the many unemployed people. One such kitchen was started by Al Capone, who made all his money in organized crime. The Chicago Tribune claimed that he served 120,000 meals to hungry Chicagoans.
The U.S. Air Force at the start of World War I was, to put it mildly, quite small.
The Air Force in 1912 was a part of the U.S. Army, and had only 18 men in it. And only 12 planes!
This is the Magnificent Argentine Bird, one of the largest birds ever to exist.
It had a wingspan of up to 21 feet. It’s now extinct.
These two men happened to go to the same prison in 1903. They’re not related…but they have the same name.
Both men were named William West, though one went by “Will.” When the second William West arrived at Leavenworth Prison in Kansas, the clerk was sure he’d seen him before, though he’d never been there. The confusion led to an important identification method we still use today: taking fingerprints.
In the time before alarm clocks, there was a job called a “knocker-up.”
The knocker-up would knock on clients’ doors or windows to wake them up for work during the Industrial Revolution. At least one of these people, according to stories, used a pea-shooter to rouse her clients.
lbert Einstein was once offered the presidency of Israel.
He declined, saying that he didn’t have the people skills that would be needed.
George Washington grew hemp in his fields.
While the hemp plant is related to marijuana, it’s unlikely that our first president actually smoked his crop.
In 1647, Christmas was officially outlawed in England.
When the Puritans were controlling the English government in the seventeenth century, they made laws attempting to prevent the citizens from celebrating religious feasts like Christmas and Easter, but people celebrated anyway. In 1647, preachers were actually arrested for giving Christmas sermons.
Sliced bread was invented by a jeweler who also had a degree in optometry.
Otto Frederick Rohwedder, who lived in Davenport, Iowa, started work on a prototype of a bread-slicing machine in 1912, but it was destroyed in a fire. He had a working model ready in 1928.
Henry VII was the last English king to win his crown on the field of battle.
His forces defeated the army of King Richard III in 1485, and in the 530 years since then, English monarchs have succeeded to the throne by means other than war.
At one point in the 1920s, the German mark was so hyperinflated that it took over 4 TRILLION of them to make a dollar.
In 1923, 4,210,500,000,000 marks were equal to one U.S. dollar, which means that this 50 billion mark was worth about a penny. Germans were forced to carry large baskets or suitcases full of almost-worthless money to buy the bare necessities.
Paul Revere was a dentist.
Revere was trained as a silversmith, but when his business started to sag during a recession in the 1760s, he took up dentistry to help make ends meet.
The first woman to earn an M.D. in the U.S. was actually British.
Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Gloucestershire, England, in 1821, and earned an M.D. in 1849 from the Geneva Medical College in upstate New York.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert received a giant block of cheese as one of their wedding presents.
The half-tonne cheddar began life in June of 1839, and was presented to the Queen in spring of 1840, a few months after her wedding. She said she preferred a more aged cheddar, and it was returned for more aging. However, the cheese never made it back to Victoria and Albert, and may eventually have been fed to pigs.
Toltec soldiers carried wooden swords into battle.
The tribe that lived in what is now Central America used wooden swords in battles – but don’t think they weren’t effective weapons. They had razor-sharp pieces of obsidian embedded in them, allowing warriors to slice their enemies.
Sailors wore gold earrings so they’d be able to pay for a proper burial.
Since sailors didn’t have much in the way of material goods, and the valuable gold of an earring could be kept on their person at all time, after they died, it could be used to pay for their funeral.
A baboon was made a corporal by the South African army in 1918.
The baboon, who was found and ‘adopted’ by a farmer named Albert Marr, was named Jackie. Jackie actually saw battles in World War I, and would warn his regiment of the enemy approaching.
The lance was officially still a weapon used by the British Army until 1927.
They weren’t used much anymore at that point, but they were still listed as a weapon.
General Custer is the youngest general ever promoted in the U.S. Army.
He was 23 when he was made a general.
John D. Rockefeller gave away over $500 million over his lifetime.
He died in 1937 after giving away about $540 million – which is actually worth about $8 BILLION in today’s money.
The ancient Greeks used urine as mouthwash.
They believed it could help stave off a number of diseases and whiten their teeth. To be fair, we don’t know that it DOESN’T whiten teeth…
At its peak, the Persian Empire encompassed almost half of the world’s population at the time.
In 480 B.C., the world population was somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million people – and the Persian Empire may have controlled as many as 50 million of them!
Jeffrey Dahmer was a born-again Christian.
After he was imprisoned for the killing and dismemberment of 17 people, Dahmer began exchanging correspondence with a few ministers, and even completed a Bible course while in prison. Whether his intentions were genuine is unclear, since he was killed by other inmates about 2 years into his sentence.
7Up used to contain lithium.
Most people have heard that Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine, but did you know that its citrusy cousin, 7Up, used to contain lithium, a mood-stabilizing drug now used primarily to treat folks with bipolar disorder? Lithium was in the recipe all the way up through the 1950s!
Osama bin Laden (or maybe his men) had an extensive porn collection.
Although the terrorist leader had frequently denounced Western culture for its obsession with sexuality, when his compound was raided and bin Laden killed in 2011, a huge cache of books and computer files containing pornography were found. It’s unclear whether the porn belonged to bin Laden himself or his followers, but either way it’s a little hypocritical.
The last time horse troops – AKA cavalry – were used in battle was in WWII.
The Mongolian Army used cavalry troops to attack the Germans in WWII. 2000 Mongolian soldiers died. No Germans did.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa has ALWAYS been leaning.
Construction on the famous leaning tower began in 1173 and was completed in 1372. During the construction process, the foundation was not level…but they went ahead and kept building the thing for another 200 years anyway. The angle got worse over time, but has since been mostly stabilized so it doesn’t topple over entirely.
The Pony Express only lasted about a year and a half.
Though you’ve likely heard of the Pony Express – the fastest way to get mail delivered from coast to coast back in the day – it actually only operated from April 1860 to October 1861. What happened in 1861? Telegraph service was established.
Peter the Great, who ruled Russia in the 18th century, was literally GREAT.
Peter the Great, Tsar and then Emperor of All Russia from 1682-1725, stood 6 feet, 8 inches tall.
Sultan Ibrahim I of the Ottoman Empire once drowned 280 of his concubines.
The reason? One of them had slept with another man.
The Anglo-Zanzibar War is the shortest war in history.
How long did it last? Just 38 minutes. The United Kingdom suffered only one injury in the short war, while the Zanzibar Sultanate lost about 500 men.
Human skulls were used by ancient civilizations as cups.
Many ancient cultures hollowed out the skulls of their slain enemies and made them into drinking cups, with the earliest ones dating to about 14,000 years ago in what is now England.