Cowboys Wore Cowboy Hats
Cowboys on the American frontier had no real interest in wearing something as bulky as a cowboy hat. The most popular headgear worn by people in the 19th century (particularly by gunslingers) was a bowler or derby hat. It’s hard to imagine Wyatt Earp with a bowler, but it’s true.
Benjamin Franklin Didn’t Think America’s Bird Should be the Turkey
Sorry to burst your bubble, but Franklin didn’t think the turkey should be our national bird. It’s true that he didn’t like the bald eagle because it had a “bad moral character.” In a letter to his daughter, he joked about turkeys as our national bird, but he never actually meant it in earnest. Franklin, a joker, did say that turkeys wouldn’t hesitate to “invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”
Napoleon Was Short
It’s become a popular joke that Napoleon was short. It even spawned the phrase “Napoleon complex,” but Napoleon wasn’t short. In truth, he was 5’7”. By today’s standards, that may be short, but that height was pretty respectable in France when he was alive. Over time, we’ve just gotten taller.
Columbus Discovered America
First of all, Columbus wasn’t the first person that sailed to America. That honor goes to Leif Eriksson, a Viking who walked on North American soil approximately 500 years before Columbus. On top of that, Columbus never came to the later-named nation of the United States of America. Instead, he landed on the Caribbean Islands.
(Image via Wikipedia)
Einstein Flunked Math
Einstein is undoubtedly one of the smartest people that’s ever lived, but stories have circulated that he flunked math. We all love the idea that even the great Einstein struggled, but that’s not the truth. Einstein failed a college entrance exam, but it wasn’t because of the math section. He actually bombed the botany, zoology, and language sections.
Iron Maidens Were Used as Medieval Torture Devices
Medieval torture was gruesome, but iron maidens were completely made up. The first stories didn’t pop up until the 18th century. Once it started, the story spread as a way to encourage the idea that the Middle Ages were gruesome and violent.
George Washington “Cannot Tell a Lie”
The story goes that when Washington was six years old, he chopped down his dad’s cherry tree. When his dad confronted him, he stated, “I cannot tell a lie” and confessed. This tale was completely fabricated in 1806 in a biography of Washington.
Gladiators Were Slaves
When fighting for an audience first became a thing, sometimes local slaves would be chosen, but they were most often criminals. Furthermore, they weren't called "gladiators." When gladiator fighting rose to popularity, gladiator schools were erected, and the attendees were ex-soldiers, who were looking for a good payday. Later, noble people even stepped up to become gladiators.
Salem Burned Witches at the Stake
The Salem Witch Trials were one of the darkest periods of American history, but no one was burned at the stake during this historical event. Between 1692 and 1693, almost 200 people were accused of witchcraft. Most were jailed, some were hanged, and one unlucky soul was crushed with heavy stones. Not a single one was burned.
California Isn’t an Island
Okay, this wasn’t one that we ever believed here in America, but it was too funny to leave out. Apparently, in the 16th century, an old Map of California left it hanging off the side of the continent like an Island. It was a long-held European misconception that was around for over 100 years! It all started from a 1510 Romance novel titled Las sergas de Esplandian by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo.
Paul Revere Never Shouted in the Streets
The idea of Paul Revere riding through the streets yelling “The British are coming!” is certainly a great one, but it never happened. At that point, the colonies were technically British, so it wouldn’t make sense. In addition to this, everyone wasn’t cool with the idea of a revolution. Historians agree he rose alarm, but it was more of a whisper and was probably “the regulars are coming out.”
Washington Had Wooden Teeth
Washington did have dentures, but they weren’t made out of wood. The dentures in question were made from hippopotamus ivory, which stained easily and gave it a grain that looked like wood. Other materials he used included gold, lead, and even human teeth.
Vikings Wore Horned Helmets
Any time we see a depiction of a Viking, they’re usually wearing a horned helmet. It makes them look a little scarier, but it’s all made up. The only horned helm ever discovered was in a Norwegian warrior’s burial just north of Oslo. Anthropologists found some helmets that had “brow ridges,” but some historians aren’t entirely sure that Vikings wore helmets at all.
Alexander the Great had the Largest Empire in Ancient History
The Mongolian Empire was easily the largest empire in ancient history, not Alexander's. That’s precisely why so many people are related to Genghis Khan. That’s also why China had such a hard time keeping the Mongols at bay. Alexander the Great had a big empire, but if we’re comparing size, the Mongolian Empire wins easily.
Darwin Never Claimed Man Evolved from Apes
Darwin was a smart man, and he never claimed that modern man evolved from apes. What Darwin actually said was that he believed we shared a common ancestor. From there, the different species evolved by a process of natural selection. You can check out his quote in his book, On the Origin of Species.
Country Sizes Are Different
In school, we’re used to seeing the globe spin around, but did you know that the sizes of each country are wildly off from their actual square mileage? On our globe, Canada looks larger than the United States, but the U.S. is actually bigger! Russia, China, and many other countries are also a lot smaller than we originally thought.
The Declaration Was Signed on July 4th, 1776
It’s said that the United States of America was founded on July 4th, 1776 because everyone signed the Declaration of Independence on this day. This one is a lot to unpack. First, the first draft of the Declaration wasn’t presented until July 2nd, and a revision was approved on the 4th. This is when John Hancock signed it. However, it took months for the remaining Continental Congress members to sign it. Historians agree there’s no way all 56 members were in the same room at the same time to sign it.
Black Tuesday Caused Mass Suicides
The Wall Street crash of 1929 is still one of the most devastating financial situations in American history. It’s said that investors jumped from skyscrapers after the crash. In actuality, there were only two suicides by jumping from tall buildings. One of them was an elderly female clerk, Hulda Borowski, who may not have even jumped because of the stock market plummet.
Shakespeare Created Hamlet
Everyone knows the story of Hamlet, but Shakespeare didn’t create it. He based it on another piece called The Life of Amleth, which was written by Saxo Grammaticus. Both stories were based on the Prince of Denmark, both men went mad because of the hasty marriage to the killer, and both princes kill the usurper.
“A.D.” Means “After Death”
Many people think that A.D. means “after death.” It’s a good way to differentiate A.D. from B.C., but it isn’t correct. A.D. stands for Anno Domini, a Latin phrase actually means “in the year of the Lord.” Many historians (and those in scientific fields) use C.E. and B.C.E., meaning “common era” and “before common era,” respectively.
Nixon Was an Environmentalist
Nixon was far from an environmentalist, even if his signature did give us the EPA and the Safe Drinking Water Act. In reality, Nixon was doing what he could to keep supporters. At the time, both air and water were toxic, so he naturally did what he could to fix it to get a higher approval rating.
Mongolian Empire is the Largest in Human History
While the Mongolian Empire is the largest in ancient history, it doesn’t even come close to the largest in human history. At its peak, the British Empire accounted for over 26% of the world’s landmass. That’s almost 10% higher than the Mongol Empire. The size peaked in 1920. Then, the world wars and conflict with other nations caused the British Empire to shrink dramatically.
People Only Lived to 30 During the Middle Ages
It seems like Death has always loomed like a dark cloud over the Middle Ages. The most dangerous period for someone in the Middle Ages was infancy, and the mortality rate for babies was as high as 50%. Once the babies get older, they had a good chance of living to be up to 60 years old. On average, men died around 45, and women lived to be 50. Wealthy people would live even longer.
Marie Antoinette Said, “Let Them Eat Cake”
“Let them eat cake,” is a phrase that’s been used to show how out of touch rulers (and people) are. Well, the first time it appeared, it was in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography in reference to Marie-Therese, who was married to King Louis XIV in 1660. In fact, when the book was published, Antoinette was only nine and hadn’t even married.
Thomas Edison Invented the Light Bulb
Edison had over 1,000 patents, but he didn’t invent the lightbulb. There were a lot of people playing around with the idea of an electric light before Edison got his hands on the idea. What Edison really did was create the first light bulb that was practical and affordable. The true father of the light bulb is Warren de la Rue, a British astronomer and chemist.
Thousands of Persians Fought 300 Spartans
The story that 300 Spartans were stacked up against more than 20,000 Persian soldiers is exciting. The real story is still thrilling, but it’s leaving out something important. The 300 Spartan soldiers were backed by a 5,000 to 7,000 Greek army. Even if you consider the larger number, 7,300 versus 20,000 is still shocking, but we can’t forget those Greek soldiers that fought side-by-side with the Spartans.
War of the Worlds Caused Mass Hysteria
It’s said that Orson Welles fooled the world in 1938 when he presented War of the Worlds, and this broadcast caused mass hysteria because people thought it was real. The “mass hysteria” claim is inflated, though. The only person that thought it was real was a single farmer.
Cinderella Wore Glass Slippers
Disney films don’t really put historical facts high on the list when they’re making a movie. If you ever thought Cinderella’s glass slippers were impractical, you’re right. There are a ton of variations of the fairytale, but the earliest describe Cinderella wearing slippers made of white squirrel fur. The tale was re-written in 1697 by Charles Perrault and replaced the word vair with verre, which means glass.
Betsy Ross Sewed the First American Flag
The only evidence we have that Betsy Ross designed and sewed the American flag is from her grandson. The real creator was probably Francis Hopkinson, who also signed the Declaration of Independence. He designed many seals for the United States government, so it isn’t a jump to think he did the same for the American flag.
Hitler Created the Autobahn
Hitler wasn’t an engineer, and there’s no way he had input. In fact, construction of the Autobahn began in 1929--that’s four years before Hitler became chancellor! When Hitler came to power, he took the program over and claimed he started it, which wasn't true at all.
The Pilgrims Started the Thanksgiving Holiday
Despite what we though, the Pilgrims were not responsible for the Thanksgiving holiday. It wasn't until the Lincoln presidency that the United States began to observe the holiday annually--more than a century after the Pilgrims held their celebration!
Manhattan Was Purchased for Beads
This one is partially true. The misconception is that the Island of Manhattan was purchased for around $24 worth of beads. History doesn’t show what items were involved in the transaction, but it equaled “60 guilders.” That would be roughly $1,000 today, and this was the same amount that was paid for Staten Island. No doubt that it’s still low and wouldn’t even pay a month’s rent for an apartment there today, but it’s an important distinction.
Cars Were Invented in America
If someone asked you about the first car ever made, most of us bring up Henry Ford’s Model T, which was first introduced in 1908. It was great and all, but it wasn’t the first car. In reality, Ford wasn’t even the first person to sell a vehicle in the United States. That distinction goes to Ransom E. Olds, who sold the first Oldsmobile in 1901. Nicolas Joseph Cugnot was the first person to create an actual vehicle in 1769.
Southerners Feared Kitchen Fires
Some people claim that Southerners kept their kitchens unattached because they were afraid of house fires. But the reality has to do with Southern weather--it gets incredibly hot down there. Kitchens also get super hot, and a kitchen in the summer can be absolutely miserable. Without air conditioning, the original Southerners detached their kitchens, so the rest of the home wouldn’t heat up too.
Lincoln Abhorred Slavery
Lincoln gave us the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, but that's not the whole story. Lincoln had some complicated feelings about slavery. In a letter, written in 1862, he wrote, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps save the Union.”
Everyone in the Colonial Era Wore Wigs
We know a colonial setting when everyone is wearing a wig, but only about 5% of the population wore wigs. During this time, wigs were costly and only worn by those that could afford them – lawyers, statesmen, and gentry women. Even if the average Joe wanted to wear a wig, they couldn’t afford one on a blue-collar salary.
The Founding Fathers Were Christians
Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were deists, meaning they believed in God but didn’t subscribe to any holy book. George Washington was an Episcopalian, and John Adams was a Unitarian. Adams even claimed, “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
Medieval People Spiced Rotten Meat to Mask Flavor
What happens when you eat rotting meat? You get sick. That’s just a fact. Medieval people weren’t about to get a stomach ache every time they wanted some protein. Plus, spices were much too expensive to put on rotting meat that would still get you sick. Spices were only used to embellish high-quality food.
Alamo Was Fought to Keep America Free
History is actually a lot darker than "Remember the Alamo." After Mexico’s War of Independence from Spain, Texas was still a part of Mexico. Since Mexico had banned slavery in 1829, they weren’t okay with the fact Texans still had slaves. Thus, the 1836 Battle of the Alamo occurred.
Lindbergh Made the First Transatlantic Flight
Being the “first” to do something makes you special, so when Charles Lindberg took his first transatlantic flight between New York and Paris in 1927, it made headlines. It was the first time he’d done it, but the first one was completed in 1919 by two British aviators named Alcock and Brown. They flew nonstop from Newfoundland to Ireland.
The Wild West Was Incredibly Violent
If you think about the Wild West, we think it was an unruly time with lots of shootings. The West wasn’t actually that violent. During 1859 and 1900, there were around 1.5 gun-related murders per year. That happens every few minutes in some United States cities today. Even the O.K. Corral shootout wasn’t so much a shootout as it was the Earp brothers firing at the Clanton-McLaury gang. This “violent massacre” had a body count of three.
George Washington Was Our First President
George Washington was far from our first president. There were several presidents elected during the American Revolution. The first was a man named Peyton Randolph, who created the Continental Army. George Washington holds the distinction of being the first president that was elected by the people, but he was technically the 15th president.
The Forbidden Fruit Was an Apple
Continents Aren't Where We Think
This one may be hard to explain, but stick with me. Our mental idea of maps is very off. For example, most of us grow up thinking Europe is right across from the United States, but that’s wrong. In fact, Europe lines up with Canada with Paris being further north than Montreal. Barcelona is at a similar latitude as Chicago, and Venice lines up with Portland, Oregon. Who knew?
The Globe Had One Massive Landmass Called Pangea
This is both true and false. The globe was once one giant landmass called Pangea, but that isn’t all! Before Pangea, there were a few others (plus some scientists probably haven’t discovered). This includes Pannotia and Rodinia. Basically, continents have been moving around for a while. Scientists figure this out through carbon dating – oh, the miracle of science!