It is quite difficult to keep track of history. This means that over the years, many things get overlooked and eventually lost in the shuffle. Just consider daily news, for instance. Often, the big headlines overshadow everything else going on and sometimes, if a story is large enough, weeks can go by where interesting events and noteworthy news gets brushed aside. Even historians have a difficult time keeping up with everything.
When we were in school, many teachers tended to skip the juicy stuff, instead opting to paint a broad stroke of what we need to know. Well then, it’s a good thing that Reddit exists! If it weren’t for this beautiful website, we might be missing so much fascinating history that got lost when publishers were putting together their textbooks. From battling for soup to human potato heads, here of some of the most overlooked historical facts, as told by Reddit.
40. America´s Only Monarch
Emperor Norton who in 1859 proclaimed himself “Emperor of the United States” and subsequently “Protector of Mexico.” He even had currency and proclamations printed.
39. The First One That Got Away
The first ship built by the US Navy was captured and forced to run errands for an African king. They had to fill the ship to the brink with tigers, lions, antelopes, parrots, ostriches, and 100 slaves, and deliver it to the main Islamic ruler dude in Constantinople (Istanbul). If this wasn’t bad enough, on the way there they had to stop the ship five times a day to face Mecca so that the Muslim passengers could pray!
38. Those Pretty Vikings
Far from being filthy savages, the Vikings were actually very well-groomed for the time period; they took a bath every Saturday, frequently changed their clothes, and combed their hair every single day. In fact, there are letters from English monks complaining about those damned Danes stealing all the local girls with their comparative hygiene.
37. By George, There Was One Before George!
The first President of the United States was John Hanson.
36. No Surrender
Weird events transpired in Brazil in August 1945.
A secret organization (Shindo Renmei) was formed in Sao Paolo to work against what they viewed as “Western propaganda” that was claiming that Japan had surrendered to the Americans. Japan had never been defeated in its 2,600-year history so the immigrants to Brazil believed that it was a fraud created to break the Japanese spirit. The entire community of Japanese immigrants in Brazil, around 200,000 people, became split between “victoryists” (kachigumi) and “defeatists” (makegumi) who believed that Japan had surrendered in WWII. The “victoryists,” through Shino Renmei, went as far as to produce fake issues of Life Magazine that depicted General MacArthur bowing to Japanese officers.
Violence eventually erupted between the groups with Shindo Renmei murdering leading “defeatists” for being traitors to Japan. After thousands had been killed, the Brazilian state intervened and deported the leading “victoryists.”
35. Flags Are Red, Flags Are Blue
That the reason the great majority of the world’s flags have red, white, and blue in them is that red and blue were the first permanent dyes discovered.
34. False Crusade
I once learned about a crusade called the Children’s Crusade. All these teenagers and kids wanted to go spread God across the land but were not able to man the ships to take them to the different places. So, a group of adults took all the kids on the boats—maybe a couple thousand, I can’t remember—and instead sold them into slavery in Africa!
33. Career Right Hand Man
Senator Joe McCarthy had a right hand man during the era of McCarthyism. His name was Roy Cohn. After the hearings, Roy Cohn went on to be a lawyer in New York. Prior to his death from AIDS, he was the lawyer for, and mentor of, a budding real estate tycoon. That man was Donald Trump.
32. Saved by the Poo
The Thirty Years War, one of the most devastating wars in early modern Europe, started when a group of Protestants tossed a couple of Imperial delegates out of a window. The delegates survived the 70-foot fall because they landed in a pile of manure.
31. Hawaiian Power Was Mighty
The Hawaiian Kingdom, especially King Kamehameha the Great and King Kalakaua. I sadly know many that believe that the Hawaiian Islands were never a nation.
When in fact one has to wonder where they would be today if the United States didn’t annex them. Kalakaua was the first King to circumnavigate the globe, and the Iolani Palace had electric lighting and plumbing before the White House. There was even a point where Hawaii boasted a higher literacy rate than the United States and Europe.
But we’ll never know now.
30. Don´t Drink and Plot
Fort Blunder. If you look at the Vermont and New York border with Canada, you’ll notice it follows the parallel up to Lake Champlain, then bumps north a smidge.
That’s because a surveyor was drunk and accidentally plotted the location of a fort to defend against Canada about a mile and a half into actual Canada.
They corrected the error with a border negotiation.
29. Aztec Awesomeness
The Aztecs are overlooked in most history classes, but they were far from the primitive tribesmen that most people think of. At the height of its power Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Triple Alliance was rivaled in size by cities like London and Constantinople, and it was all built on a giant artificial island.
It’s a shame their culture was obliterated because though they might have been a bit too obsessed with sacrificial killing, they were an incredibly fascinating civilization.
On top of this, they were defeated by Cortes and his handful of European soldiers—as well as almost 100,000 other natives that were enemies of the Aztecs. People tend to leave that part out. It could easily be argued that if they weren’t so obsessed with sacrificing and fighting their neighbors they would never have been beaten.
28. Mussolini’s Mafia Extinction
Mussolini nearly wiped out the Mafia, but the American Government brought them back to power in order to help fight the fascists.
27. Don’t Sleep on the Byzantines
The Byzantine Empire (or the Eastern Roman Empire or whatever you would call it).
All of it.
All the stumbles, all the resurgences, not to mention all the meaningless disasters.
Any nation surviving for 1,000 years from the dark ages to the start of the Renaissance has served well in its time, all things considered.
The fall of Constantinople is great. The last Roman Emperor charges off into the city with his sword to fight off the invaders, never to be seen again.
They were completely surrounded and had almost no shot and still almost ended up winning in 1453.
26. The Long Road to Typing
So the first printing “technology” was carving entire pages of books onto wooden blocks then stamping all the blocks onto paper to produce books.
This was extremely time-consuming because of all the carving that was required. In addition, these blocks only allowed you to reproduce one particular book. Still, it was an amazing technology that allowed people to pass on stories and knowledge. People became more educated and intelligent. To this day, still one of the most important inventions in history.
Then, someone came up with the idea that instead of carving entire pages onto blocks, why not carve single letters and use those letters to compose words and sentences? That way, not only do you do less carving, you also get way more scale and can produce any material you want.
This simple idea to go from carving entire pages to just letters? It took 400 years before someone came up with it. 400 years. The average life expectancy at that time was around 40 years. That’s 10 generations (Lifespan doesn’t mean generations) of people who have come and gone before someone realized there was a better way to do things.
25. In the Name of Charles
I’m going to say European kings named Charles.
The Charleses in France had an unfortunate tendency to be labeled with less-than-complimentary epithets: Charles the Fat, Charles the Bald, and Charles the Mad. That always tickled me.
Also King Charles II of England. Ever been to a pub called the Royal Oak? That is named after the tree Charles climbed to escape the roundheads when he was fleeing the civil war.
Top quotes: “I always admired virtue but could never imitate it.”
In response to his brother’s concerns about assassination attempts on Charles II: “I am sure no man in England will take away my life to make you King.”
When parliament questioned his aptitude for kingship in parliament: “I’m definitely the best king in England at the moment.”
24. Secret Agent Games
He comes up now and again on TIL, but for all the history about WWII that is often bandied about in the culture at large I had never heard about the fascinating double-agent Juan Pujol Garcia, also known by his codename: Garbo.
Juan was from Spain and had become disgusted by fascism. He wrote letters to the UK and the US saying “Hey, I’ll spy on Germany for you guys!” UK and US said, “Nah, we got this.”
Juan said to himself “I’ll go ahead and spy anyway” and posed as a Nazi-loving Spanish government official to become a German agent. He was assigned to spy on London, but instead went to Lisbon and made up phony reports based on English magazines and newsreels.
After a while, the UK realized someone was doing a jolly good job diverting Nazi resources and took him on as a spy. He worked throughout the war, with Germany funding his totally real network of not at all imaginary spies. He was responsible for diverting many German troops during the invasion of Normandy. He was also awarded medals by both the Nazis and the Brits for his work.
23. Liechtenstein and Friends
That time Liechtenstein sent 80 soldiers to war and they made a friend so they returned with 81.
22. Mimic the Gods
After WWII, some tribes in the Pacific islands got their first exposure to “civilization” when US military bases would be set up. The military would bring supplies and food with them which the villagers liked. When the war ended, cults formed that built new runways, mimicked army drills, and even built straw planes to try and bring back the “Gods” that gave them food, medicine, and supplies.
21. Hungry for Hippos
The American hippo bill. During a meat crisis in 1910, some American legislators wanted to introduce African hippos to the southern wetlands so we could all enjoy “lake cow bacon.” Obviously, the bill never passed.
20. Your Gods Can Be My Gods Too
Romans believed in other people’s gods and goddess. So when they would attack a city they would pray to the god/gods of said city to abandon the occupants and support the Romans instead. If they won, they would give the god a special place in Rome or completely incorporate it into the state religion.
Also, the Ancient Greeks did not view it as gay or straight they saw it as dominant and submissive. In short, they had no concept of being gay.
19. Weekend at the Pope’s
The time a pope dug up another pope’s skeleton, put it on trial, found it guilty, had it reburied, dug it up again, and chucked it into the river.
18. Not So Stuff Knights
The image we have of armored knights being clumsy and slow is basically just Victorian misinformation. Knights were terrifying.
17. Read The Letter to Class, Cato
Cato the Elder, a Roman senator, would give several vehement speeches, all ending in something along the lines of “Carthago delenda est,” roughly translating to “Carthage must be destroyed.” Carthage did end up getting destroyed a couple years after he died.
Years later, Cato the Younger was on the Senate. Julius Caesar was reading a note during a meeting, causing Cato to accuse him of being a spy. After Caesar denied the accusations, Cato asked Caesar to read out the note, because if he really was innocent, he wouldn’t have anything to hide. Caesar agreed. It was a love note from Cato the Younger’s sister.
Furthermore, I think Carthage should be destroyed.
16. Sabotaging Your Own Armies
During the First Sino-Japanese War, a Chinese admiral pawned one of the main guns on his flagship to a scrap dealer, in order to pay off some gambling debts.
This was the same war where the Empress embezzled from the army to fund her palace renovations.
15. For the Soup of It All
The Kettle War. The only casualty was a soup kettle and the soup inside.
14. Kuwaiti Fried Chicken
I’ve got two:
The first is The Battle for Castle Itter, basically, when German Wehrmacht teamed up with French POWs, American GIs, and Austrian resistance to defend a castle being attacked by SS, I think after Hitler’s death.
The second is Operation Kuwaiti Field Chicken (yes, KFC) when the US Army wanted to strap live chickens to the tops of vehicles during the First Gulf War to detect chemical weapons. The chickens died in transport.
13. It’s All Based on Faith
Hundreds of US communities started using their own currencies during the Great Depression in order to bypass economic downfall. Of course, there was the Dust Bowl and other factors at play, but it generally worked. Sometimes, it’s as simple as stepping outside the systems that are in place. Some of our problems really only exist on paper.
12. Hey Plato! We’re Gonna Need a New Definition
When Plato gave Socrates’s definition of man as “featherless bipeds” and was much praised for the definition, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato’s Academy, saying, “Behold! I’ve brought you a man.” After this incident, “with broad flat nails” was added to Plato’s definition.
Diogenes was fantastic. He lived in a jar in the middle of a marketplace, got captured by slaves, was brought to tutor a man’s children, befriended the family, was set free, and got himself another jar.
11. German Potato Heads
My favorite story which I love to tell people is during the battle of Verdun (WWI), the Germans outfits would get ruined, e.g. helmet spikes falling off. So fast forward to some high-up German commanders coming to visit them. The soldiers are scrambling to look good for them but alas, their helmets are ruined. So what do they do? They carve potatoes into a spike and stick it on their heads. Always makes me laugh.
10. My Peninsular Now
The Toledo War—a border dispute between Michigan and Ohio that almost broke out into armed conflict between the states’ militias. Ever wonder why Michigan has the “upper peninsula” when it logically should be part of Wisconsin? The Toledo War is why.
9. Nothing for Erp the Hun
Attila the Hun had a son named Erp.
He also left this son absolutely nothing, dividing his kingdom between three other sons.
So he got no inheritance and a hysterical name.
8. George, George, George of the Tavern
George Washington’s bar tab. It was a farewell celebration in his honor. The site mentions the number of guests as well as what alcohol was stocked. You think that night you went clubbing and puked on a bouncer was “partying hard?” George Washington and his buddies would’ve laid us all under the table.
7. Pink Boys and Blue Girls
Pink wasn’t always a girl’s color and blue a boy’s color — in fact, it was once the other way around.
The distinction of blue for boys and pink for girls didn’t take full hold until the middle of the 20th century.
6. He-Man Civil War Club
Mark Twain and his buddies decided to join the Confederate army. It was an excuse to get away from the wives, hang out in the woods, and drink. This went on for a couple of weeks until word came that the Union army was advancing. Shortly thereafter, all the men quit their made up unit and headed home.
During WWII, there were sightings up and down the eastern coast of U Boats. Hemingway heard there was one off of Key West and decided he should hunt it down. He and a couple buddies loaded up a boat with booze, guns, and grenades. They were unsuccessful and returned home shortly after the booze ran out.
5. Conning Coolidge
When Calvin Coolidge was president he went on a fishing trip to South Dakota—for THREE MONTHS. Unbeknownst to him, the local officials were stocking the locations he was fishing with extra fish because they wanted him to like South Dakota. Why? They wanted federal money and support to create Mount Rushmore.
4. Old School Soldier
Jack Churchill. As per Wikipedia:
“Lieutenant-Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming “Jack” Churchill, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar (16 September 1906 – 8 March 1996) was a British Army officer who fought throughout the Second World War armed with a longbow, bagpipes, and a basket-hilted Scottish broadsword.
Nicknamed “Fighting Jack Churchill” and “Mad Jack”, he is known for the motto: “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.” It is claimed that Churchill also carried out the last recorded longbow and arrow killing in action, shooting a German NCO in 1940 in a French village during the Battle of France.”
3. Cruel Jokes Get You Killed
Alboin, King of the Lombards, took his wife Rosamund as a spoil of war after he killed her father in the Lombard-Gepid War. Then at one point, he made her drink from her father’s skull, which he kept as a trophy and fashioned into a mug, telling her to “drink merrily with your father.” She had him assassinated.
2. For The Fun of Farts
Another funny incident: they held Montezuma hostage in modern-day Mexico City. While a hostage, he still had gold and was a king, so he was treated half-decently. One of the Spanish guards accidentally farted in his face. The guard was embarrassed and apologized profusely for humiliating a noble. To show there were no hard feelings, Montezuma gave the guard a gold piece. The stupid guard then farted again hoping to get another gold piece.
1. How to Inflate a Tank
World War II’s Ghost Army Regiment—an Allied force who recruited from art schools and theater. Used deception tricks such as inflatable tanks to deflect attention and deceive the enemy.
Both insane and genius at the same time.