Do you remember all the times you sat through your history class, barely keeping yourself awake? You may not have fond memories of memorizing and remembering dates and other info, but these history facts will show you how interesting it can actually be.
- There is 5,000 years worth of recorded history.
- History is generally divided into 4 time periods: Prehistory, Ancient History, Post-Ancient History, and Modern History.
- Ancient stone tools were the oldest human artifacts ever recovered dating back to 3.3 million years ago.
- About 3,000 people in the U.S. are official historians.
- The first kingdoms were in Sumer and Egypt.
- The word history comes from the Ancient Greek historía (inquiry, knowledge from inquiry, judge).
- Many consider Herodotus of Halicarnassus as the “father of history”.
- In the Medieval and Renaissance periods, religious beliefs guided the study of history.
- Historians study or write about the past and function as an authority.
- Historians became a professional occupation in the late 19th century.
- Prehistory refers to the period before recorded history.
- Historiography studies the process of developing history as an academic discipline.
- History also refers to the knowledge provided by memory.
- People document historic events through writing or oral tradition.
- A chronicle is a historical record of facts and events arranged in chronological order (ie: a timeline).
- Cuneiform is the oldest form of writing.
- Protohistory refers to the period between prehistory and history.
- The Middle Ages are also called the Dark Ages due to the lack of scientific and cultural advancement.
- Back then, women wore wristwatches exclusively while men had pocket watches.
- The earliest forms of art discovered were of markings or etchings on stones and other hard surfaces such as shells.
Damascus is the oldest city in the world to be continuously inhabited.
According to studies, people have lived in Damascus for at least 11,000 years back. The capital of Syria is also known in the world as the City of Jasmine.
Pythagoras was against beans.
Pythagoras was not fond of beans. Aside from gifting us with the Pythagorean theorem, this philosopher also established the Pythagorean cult.
Comprised of his loyal students and followers, he led the Pythagoreans according to certain rules. For one, they were not allowed to eat or consume beans. No one knows for sure what he had against the legumes. However, one of the many absurd theories about his death is his refusal to cross a bean field. Allegedly, his pursuers cornered and killed him.
Many consider Hinduism the oldest religion in the world.
Originating from 2300 B.C. to 1500 B.C., experts consider Hinduism the oldest religion still practiced today. Scholars refer to it as Sanātana Dharma, which is Devanagari for “the eternal tradition”, or the “eternal way.”
The oldest Bible is thousands of years old.
The Codex Vaticanus is the oldest recovered copy of the Bible. The parchment book dates back to the 4th-century and is currently preserved in the Vatican Library.
The world’s oldest film is only 2 seconds long.
The oldest surviving film ever recorded is the Roundhay Garden Scene. French inventor Louis Le Prince directed the 2.11 second long clip.
The first toy advertised on TV is Mr. Potato Head.
Before making his film debut in the 1999 Toy Story, Mr. Potato Head was the first toy to ever feature in a television ad.
The oldest language that is still currently spoken is Tamil.
Tamil is a 5000-year-old language predominantly spoken by the Tamil people of India and Sri Lanka. It appeared in records as early as 3,000 B.C, making it the oldest language still spoken today.
The search for the Titanic was a coverup.
In 1985, Oceanography professor Robert Ballard announced his mission to find the RMS Titanic. However, it was actually a cover-up for a secret mission to locate lost nuclear submarines. Since his team found the nuclear subs ahead of time, Ballard’s team eventually searched for and located the Titanic.
Humanity received the first extraterrestrial signal in 1977.
While looking for signs of life on other planets, Jerry Ehman received a 72-second long signal from outer space. The signal came from outside the solar system. Scientists dubbed it the “Wow!” signal since Ehman scribbled “Wow!” on the printed data after seeing it. However, no one has been able to explain the signal, nor was it ever received again.
Thomas Jefferson broke his wrist while trying to impress a girl.
It seems that this former President and founding father is just like any other guy. In the summer of 1785, Thomas Jefferson broke his wrist trying to jump over a fence in Paris. He did it to impress Maria Cosway, a married woman. After the surgeons set his wrist bones, he suffered chronic pain in his left hand. Thus, he had to switch out his dominant hand and live as a lefty.
A mathematician once fought a duel to prove a formula and lost his nose.
For a mathematician, Tycho Brahe sure lived a wild life. In 1566, he lost part of his nose in a duel with Danish noble Manderup Parsbjerg. The duel supposedly settled an argument about a formula, but then-20-year-old Tycho Brahe lost his nose in the process. From then on, he had to wear a metal prosthetic nose.
Brahe also had a pet moose who died after falling downstairs due to drinking too much beer. Oh, and Brahe himself died from a ruptured bladder due to holding his pee at a party.
Romans used urine as mouthwash.
Aside from being one of the first civilizations to practice oral hygiene, Romans had a strange way of taking care of their teeth. Ancient Romans used to gargle pee. It kind of makes sense, since urine contains ammonia, one of the best natural cleaning agents on Earth. Hopefully, these history facts won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth.
The Phoenix Lights were the best-documented UFO sighting.
In 1997, strange lights appeared in the sky to thousands of people in Phoenix. The residents called news stations and even recorded the phenomenon on video, but no one has ever been able to explain it. Probably just their alien neighbors saying hi.
Albert Einstein could’ve been the president of Israel.
The Israeli government offered Einstein a spot as president on November 17, 1952 after the death of the former President, Chaim Weizman. However, Einstein declined, saying that he lacked the natural aptitude and the ability to deal properly with people.
Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb.
Though many credit Edison as the father of light, the concept wasn’t entirely his. Thomas Edison was able to create a fully-functional one in 1879. However, Warren de La Rue and Joseph Swan made earlier versions. The earlier light bulbs had the concept down, but they were not suited for practical use.
No one knows what the Voynich Manuscript means.
Archaeologists found the Voynich Manuscript in Central Europe 600 years ago. Until today, scholars still haven’t figured out what the pages mean, or even what language it was. The alphabet used was uniquely looped, the first ever seen of its kind. Recently, artificial intelligence detected possible Hebrew written in code. However, only 80% of the words matched Hebrew – and the sentences produced were incoherent.
Nobody has found Jack the Ripper.
Jack the Ripper killed and mutilated at least five women in London from August 7 to September 10, 1988. It may just sound like your typical serial killer, but the Ripper was especially notorious for the taunting letters sent to the police.
However, it’s not completely verified that the letters did come from the killer. To this day, the only thing certain about the Ripper is their knowledge of anatomy, possibly suggesting a medical background.
Russian dictator Joseph Stalin edited photos for censorship.
Long before Photoshop was a thing, Joseph Stalin had photos retouched to remove dead or missing people under his political purges.
Chinese women used to bind their feet.
Small feet were a symbol of beauty in traditional Chinese culture, which is why footbinding was a norm for women as early as 1243.
The Guanajuato Mummies might have been buried alive.
One of the more gruesome history facts: the Guanajuato Mummies distressed expressions could possibly mean they were buried alive.
In 1833, a cholera outbreak ravaged the small Mexican town of Guanajuato. During this time, the townspeople quickly buried bodies to contain the spread of the virus. The climate of Guanajuato led to a type of natural mummification.
Researchers theorize that the mummies’ pattern of grim expressions could’ve been due to the townspeople burying them alive.
No one knows where Klerksdorp spheres came from.
Klerksdorp spheres are strange, 3 billion-year-old rocks found near Ottosdal, South Africa. Archaeologists found the rocks with marks and lines along the sides. To this day, no one has been able to fully explain the marks.
Scientists state that only intelligent life could’ve made the markings, but the stones date back way before the time of Hominids. However, some scientists claim that natural weathering created the grooves and marks.
Winston Churchill smoked 8 to 10 cigars a day.
Winston Churchill developed a habit of smoking while attending an elite school in Britain. However his parents made him take a 6-month break from smoking. Eventually, he quit smoking cigarettes in favor of cigars. After a few months in Cuba, he developed a lifelong preference for Romeo y Julieta and La Aroma de Cuba cigars.
King Tut’s parents were brothers and sisters.
Move aside, Game of Thrones. It seems that incest has been a norm for way longer than we thought. A DNA test revealed that the elusive King Tut’s parents shared the same blood in the first degree. The test also showed the young ruler’s disability and malaria affliction.
The use of the word “hooker” originated in the late 1800s.
People started using the term “hooker” for prostitutes in the Civil War. General Joseph Hooker would often bring them to campaigns for his men.
Flour sacks were colorful during the Great Depression.
In the economic crisis of the 1920s, people had to make clothes out of flour sacks. In response, flour distributors would make their sacks more colorful so people could still be fashionable.
The Zodiac Killer is still unnamed.
Terrorizing North Carolina from the late 1960s-70s, this serial killer murdered seven victims and sent cryptic letters to the media. The letters would describe details about the murders and taunt the authorities. The killer also sent four cryptograms in the letters, which were practically indecipherable. To this day, the feds have only solved one of the cryptograms, with no suspect found as the Zodiac Killer.
The British Royal Air Force accidentally sunk a ship full of holocaust victims in 1945.
The SS Cap Arcona carried and transported Nazi concentration camp prisoners. In one unfortunate encounter, the British Royal Air Force opened fire and killed 5,000 innocent prisoners. Isn’t that one of the history facts you’d wish to forget?
The fate of the Roanoke colony remains unknown.
One of the biggest mysteries in history is the disappearance of the Roanoke colony. Sir Walter Raleigh founded the colony in 1584. Three years later, Raleigh’s friend John White checked on the colony. When his crew arrived on July 22, 1587, they found no trace of the colony aside from a skeleton and the word “Croatoan” inscribed on a tree. Up to now, no one has figured out what the word means or where the people went.
The Soviet Union and the United States were supposed to go to the moon together during the Cold War.
President John F. Kennedy proposed the plan to Nikita Khrushchev in the midst of the Cold War. Khrushchev was supposed to accept, but backed out after Kennedy’s assassination since the Soviets didn’t trust the succeeding President, Lyndon Johnson.
A helicopter was once found in an Egyptian petroglyph.
History is no stranger to conspiracy theories. When a thousand-year-old petroglyph showed a helicopter inscribed on it, people concluded that the Egyptians may have met aliens. According to this theory, aliens provided the Egyptians’ advanced knowledge in infrastructure and math.
There’s no confirmed purpose for the Roman dodecahedrons.
Since it was first discovered, over 100 Roman dodecahedrons have surfaced around Europe. Dating back to 100 and 300 AD, the dodecahedrons had a bronze or stone material with a hollow center. Its distinct 12 sides have led to much debate for its use, such as the zodiac or other purposes.
The Mary Celeste was the first ghost ship.
On December 5, 1872, the Mary Celeste turned up adrift in a ruined state. The ship floated 400 miles east of the Azores, spotted by the crew of the Dei Gratia, another cargo-carrying ship.
Upon inspection, no one was on the ship except abandoned possessions and no lifeboat. There was no sign of Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs’ family or the seven experienced crew members. To this day, the mystery of the ghost ship remains unsolved.
The Aegean Sea owes its name to a man who jumped in it and died.
According to local legend, the Aegean Sea stems from Aegeus, the father of Theseus. Before his son went off to war, Aegeus told Theseus to raise white sails when he returned successfully. However, Theseus forgot these instructions. Thinking his son died in the war, Aegeus drowned himself in the sea. Now, that’s definitely one for morbidly funny history facts.
Ancient Egypt may have had the first health-care plan in the world.
The laborers of ancient Egypt had access to many health-care benefits, according to archaeologist Anne Austin. Upon studying the remains of an ancient Egyptian village Austin observed how the workers were well-provided for. The researcher also found evidence to suggest that laborers could take days off to care for menstruating wives and daughters.
Persians had a drinking tradition for hard decisions.
Persians took truth or drink to a whole other level. According to Herodotus, the ancient Persians had a ritual for decision-making where they would get drunk on wine afterward. The ritual was meant to ensure that the person made the right choice. The Persians believed that liquor brings the truth out. If they felt the same about a choice when they’re drunk, they’d believe they made the right decision.
A key could have saved the Titanic.
Who would’ve thought that a tragedy that claimed 1,500 lives could’ve been prevented by something as small as a key?
Unfortunately, this was the case for the passengers and crew on the Titanic. The only thing that could’ve kept the massive ship from colliding with the giant iceberg was a pair of binoculars. However, the binoculars were locked in the crow’s nest, with its keys kept by discharged ship crew, David Blair. Without Blair on the ship, no one had access to the room, and the iceberg was not spotted in time. Definitely one of the more unfortunate history facts.
The Salem Witch Trials never burned anyone at the stake.
The Middle Ages were certainly a darker time. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 demonstrated how aggressive people can be when faced with the unknown. The townspeople arrested a total of 19 men and women for witchcraft, and accused hundreds of others. However, they didn’t burn anyone at the stake. Instead, they hanged or crushed to death the ones they found guilty.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is known as the oldest written story.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient epic poem from Mesopotamia that is often credited as the earliest surviving literature. The standard version traditionally spans 12 tablets, although there could be more. Historians debate whether the work is complete, since the last part ends mid-sentence.
Women used to wear muzzles as punishment in the 17th century.
In 17th century Europe, women who spoke inappropriately had to wear “branks” or a “scold’s bridle”—a metal muzzle locked around the head that sometimes included a spiked plate to put in the mouth.
Space travel was first proposed in the 1600s.
English theologian John Wilkins first mentioned “flying chariots” that could take men to the moon in his books. Wilkins believed that other beings lived in the celestial bodies. However, he also said we wouldn’t need equipment since our bodies would just learn to breathe in the “purer air.”
Fidel Castro survived over 600 assassination attempts.
According to Cuba’s intelligence service, there were more than 600 attempts to kill the Cuban dictator—by political opponents, criminals, and the United States. The assassination attempts ranged from exploding cigars, poisoned diving suits, and psychedelics.
Mary had a little lamb for real.
One of the history facts you won’t expect: The girl mentioned in this famous nursery rhyme was a real person. In 1817, a pet lamb followed 11-year-old Mary Sawyer to school. Later in the 1860s, she raised money for an old church by selling wool from the famous lamb.
Joan of Arc inspired the bob haircut.
Aside from liberating France and her canonization, Joan of Arc left a lasting legacy in style. Joan of Arc had cut her hair due to the voices in her head, which eventually caught on as the bob cut.
Women once marched for the right to smoke.
Women have been continuously fighting for their rights throughout history, but you wouldn’t expect this one: In 1929, women marched at the Easter Sunday Parade in New York, smoking cigarettes and carrying placards. However, it was actually a PR stunt spearheaded by Edward Bernays.
Nobody’s found the tomb of Antony and Cleopatra.
One of history’s most-known lovers that put Romeo and Juliet to shame is Antony and Cleopatra. Antony ruled Rome with Octavian as a general. He spent much time in Egypt where he fell in love with Cleopatra and had three children with her.
However, Octavian and Antony’s alliance ended in a falling out that sparked a war. Antony’s navy lost the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. When Octavian’s forces reached Egypt, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide as a last resort. To this day, no one has found their tomb – but many historians of their time wrote that they lay together in luxury.
People used to think forks were blasphemous.
When people invented forks in 11th century Italy, it alarmed the religious leaders. According to them, eating with artificial hands offended God.
Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America.
You can’t really discover something that’s already been inhabited. Christopher Columbus himself wasn’t even the first European to find America. Norse explorer Leif Erikson reached American shores in the 10th century. Additionally, Columbus didn’t even reach the states. Instead, he only explored South America and the Caribbean.
The Olympics used to have competitions for art.
In 1912, the Olympic Games first held competitions for the fine arts. It gave out awards for literature, architecture, sculpture, painting, and music. Modern Olympics founder Pierre de Frédy stated that the art events were necessary according to Ancient Greek tradition. Before the art events were removed in 1948, the Olympics awarded 151 art medals.
Benjamin Franklin jokingly hated the national bird.
In a 1784 letter to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin stated his disappointment at the newly-formed United States’ choice for its national symbol. According to Franklin, the bald eagle had “bad moral character,” because of stealing food from other birds. Instead, he believed they should’ve picked the turkey: a true Native American.
Walt Disney didn’t draw Mickey Mouse.
We may forever associate Mickey Mouse with Walt Disney, but it was actually Ub Iwerks who created the concept art for Mickey Mouse in 1928. This Disney animator drew everything that is distinctly Mickey Mouse— including the round ears and the red shorts.
The government approved The Declaration of Independence on July 2nd, not July 4th.
John Adams, the 2nd second U.S. president, believed that the holiday would fall on July 2nd. However, the national holiday fell on July 4th because of the public declaration.
People didn’t commit mass suicide on Black Tuesday.
On October 24, 1929, the U.S. experienced the most shocking stock market crash in its history. The event that triggered the Great Depression was notorious not just because of the financial crash, but because of widespread tales of investors jumping from skyscrapers. However, it didn’t really happen. There were only two recorded suicide cases during the Wall Street crash.
Pocahontas and John Smith didn’t fall in love.
When it comes to historical accuracy, you can take Disney’s Pocahontas as fanfiction.
A young Native American girl did befriend an Englishman in a bond that might have saved the Jamestown colony. However, Pocahontas was actually just 12 years old, which cancels out a romance with a 28-year-old man. Additionally, Pocahontas was just a nickname that meant “Little Playful One” or “Little Mischief.”
Europe had the first car, not America.
Ford gets a lot of credit for many firsts in the automobile industry. However, Carl Benz patented the first functional automobile in 1886—almost a decade before Ford came out with his quadricycle.
Albert Einstein never failed his math tests.
When it comes to a brilliant mind such as Einstein, there’s no shortage of tall tales surrounding his backstory. One of which is the common belief that Einstein flunked his math tests. However, it wasn’t actually the case.
In fact, when a Princeton Rabbi asked Einstein about it in 1935, he just laughed it off. He then stated how he mastered differential and integral calculus at 15. Definitely one of the history facts to remember the next time you want to justify your procrastination.
The first person rested in a cryonic chamber in 1967.
Cryonics is a technology that uses extreme cold temperatures to preserve a human body for future revival. James Bedford became the first person to be cryogenically frozen when he entrusted his body to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Established in 1972, the foundation now has 172 bodies preserved.
The Kentucky meat shower is still unexplained.
Back in 1876, it rained meat in Kentucky. Citizens who dared taste the meat claimed it was probably lamb or deer. Terrifyingly, scientists initially believed it was the lung tissue of a horse or a human infant. Nowadays, the accepted explanation is that a flock of buzzards regurgitated the meat onto the unsuspecting city.
Napoleon Bonaparte was once hounded by rabbits.
In July 1807, Napoleon requested a rabbit hunt for him and his men. Chief of Staff Alexandre Berthier had his men catch around 3,000 rabbits for the hunt. However, they released the rabbits, the creatures did not flee. Instead, they charged at Napoleon and his men, who were forced to retreat. Isn’t that one of the history facts that’d make anyone crack up?
A man once died because of a falling tortoise.
Aeschylus was a renowned Greek tragedian who wrote 70-90 plays in his lifetime. With all those tragedies, who would’ve thought that his life would end in one?
The author Valerius Maximus wrote that Aeschylus died outside the city because of a falling tortoise. Apparently, the eagle had mistaken Aeschylus’ bald head for a rock and dropped the tortoise there to break open its tasty meal.
A Japanese soldier never realized WWII was over until 1974.
For 29 years, Hiroo Onoda lived by himself at his post in the Philippines. Initially sent to spy on the Americans, he believed that the war was ongoing through the years, long after WWII ended. Eventually, his retired commanding officer had to fly back to the Philippines after 30 years to prove that the war is over.
The Great Molasses Flood killed 21 people and injured 150 others in Boston.
On January 15, 1919, a tank carrying 2.3 million gallons of molasses burst open on Commercial Street in Boston, killing 21 and injuring 150 locals. Upon inspection, the authorities found construction faults in the 50 foot-tall, with a fatigue crack most likely causing the burst. According to local folklore, the area still smells like molasses in the summer.
Hitler was extremely gassy.
According to medical records commissioned by the U.S. military, Adolf Hitler took up to 28 different drugs regularly to restrain his flatulence.
Mozart once wrote a six-piece canon titled, literally Lick/Kiss My Arse.”
Leck mich im Arsch is a canon in B-flat major composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1782. Experts believe it was a party song for his friends.
Benito Mussolini wrote a romance novel, The Cardinal’s Mistress.
In 1909, Mussolini published a historical fiction novel called The Cardinal’s Mistress. He based the novel on true events in his time at Trent. The novel was not well-received.
Marie Antoinette Never Said “Let Them Eat Cake”
People started associating the quote, “Let them eat cake,” with Marie Antonette when Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography mentioned a princess saying it. However, Antoinette would have been just 14 years old at the time and living in Austria, so it’s highly unlikely that it was her who said it.
A 17-year-old designed the American flag for school.
In junior high school, Bob Heft designed the U.S. flag. He made a 50-star flag for the class project. However, the U.S. only had 48 states at the time, so Heft got a B minus for his work. However, his prediction that two more states would be added ended up true.
Heft wrote 21 letters and called the White House 18 times. Eventually, President Eisenhower called to tell him his design would be used. The design for the current U.S. flag was made official on July 4, 1960.
A lot of history’s biggest disasters were caused by a lack of sleep.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill, Challenger explosion, and the Chernobyl nuclear explosion all could’ve been avoided if the person in charge had enough sleep.
Abraham Lincoln was a wrestling champion.
Before he was president, Abraham Lincoln reigned as the wrestling champion of his county. Abe fought in almost 300 matches, losing only once.
A man once escaped an avalanche using his own poop.
In 1926, an avalanche trapped Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen while he was on an expedition. Creating a cave in the snow, he spent days underneath developing frostbite. Eventually, he escaped by molding his poop into a shiv that he used to pick and dig himself out. He also had to amputate his foot using pliers and wire cutters.
Roman Catholics in Bavaria created a secret society in 1740.
The Catholics named the secret society the Order of the Pug. It was especially weird since its new members had to wear dog collars and scratch at the door as an initiation.
Henry VIII had “Grooms of Stool” who would wipe his ass.
During his reign, Henry VIII appointed four Grooms of Stool. Eventually, the king knighted all of them. Now that’s one of the history facts to consider when you’re starting to hate your job.
One of the most successful pirates in history is a woman.
Ching Shih was a Chinese prostitute who commanded a fleet of over 1,500 ships and 80,000 crew.
Voltaire did not renounce Satan when he died.
On his death bed in 1778, a visiting priest asked Voltaire to renounce Satan. However, the dying man replied, “This is no time to be making new enemies.”
The town of Salem once held a trial against tomatoes.
Apparently, it wasn’t just women and redheads that intrigued the town of Salem. Even tomatoes weren’t spared from the town’s suspicions. In 1820, the town held a trial to determine whether or not tomatoes were poisonous. Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson settled the trial when he ate a basket of tomatoes without dying or falling ill.
Buddhist monks used to mummify themselves alive.
From the 11th to the 19th century, Buddhist monks in the northern part of Japan practiced Sokushinbutsu. During this meditation, they would not eat or drink anything until they starve to death in the same position. Essentially, they would deliberately mummify themselves.
The shortest term for a U.S. president was only 2 months.
President William Henry Harrison was the 9th president of the U.S., but only very briefly. 2 months into his term, he died of a cold. Through his short illness, his treatments included leeches, opium, and snakeweed—which may or may not have made his condition worse. Definitely one for morbidly comical history facts.
One of history’s longest wars lasted for 335 years.
The war between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly was one of the longest wars in history. However, not one person died.
A man once survived both nuclear bombings in Japan.
Tsutomu Yamaguichi was in Hiroshima during the first nuclear explosion. Yamaguichi ruptured his eardrums, went temporarily blind, and sustained serious burns on his upper-left body. He only rested in a shelter with his workmates before proceeding to business as usual.
The following day, he traveled home to Nagasaki. The second atom bomb dropped on his first day back. This time, Yamaguichi did not sustain any injuries, but he suffered over a week of fever and nausea. Yamaguichi eventually lived to be 93.
Rome once had a horse senator.
One of the funnier history facts: In 37 AD, the Roman emperor Caligula made Incitatus, his favorite horse, a Roman senator.
Doctors used heroin to treat cough.
The Bayer pharmaceutical company distributed heroin as a cough medicine from 1898 to 1910. It was also marketed as a non-addictive substitute for morphine.