Thursday, April 26, 2012

Today's Trivia – Random History (1)

When I was a teenager, one of my most hated courses in high school was history – until 11th grade when I took World History, which was taught by the coolest, most interesting teacher in the school. He was such a remarkable professor, and so popular, that even the kids that barely showed up in school were in attendance for his course. He taught us many things, one of the most important being that school can be a lot of fun, and the most boring subjects can be exciting...when you’ve got the right teacher.

This week’s useless but interesting information is a little bit of history; a subject that I now adore. And I owe it all to my 11th grade professor.

- The name of the first airplane flown at Kitty Hawk by the Wright Brothers, on December 17, 1903, was Bird of Prey.

- The peace symbol was created in 1958 as a nuclear disarmament symbol by the Direct Action Committee, and was first shown that year at peace marches in England. The symbol is a composite of the semaphore signals N and D, representing nuclear disarmament.

- Members of the Nazi SS had their blood type tattooed on their armpits.

- Many of Rome's most ambitious emperors idolized Alexander the Great. When Julius Caesar was a 33 year-old general in Spain, he wept when he saw a statue of Alexander, lamenting that he had accomplished nothing, while Alexander had conquered the whole world by his age. The schizophrenic emperor Caligula built a bridge of wooden boats across the Bay of Naples and rode back and forth across it on a horse, wearing armor he stole from Alexander's tomb. Emperor Caracalla set out to conquer the same eastern lands Alexander had conquered, and made a great show of visiting his grave in Alexandria, Egypt.

- The 1st 20 African slaves were brought to the US, to the colony of Virginia in 1619, by a Dutch ship.

- The 1st nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus, commissioned by the United States Navy in 1954, made her maiden voyage on Jan. 17, 1955.

- The first modern Olympiad was held in Athens in 1896. 484 contestants from 13 nations participated.

- The first US Marines wore high leather collars to protect their necks from sabres, hence the name "leathernecks".

- The Hundred Year War actually lasted 116 years (1337 to 1453).

- Nevada was the first US state to sanction the use of the gas chamber, and the first execution by lethal gas took place in February, 1924.

- New Orleans' first Mardi Gras celebration was held in February, 1826.

- Of the 262 men who have held the title of pope, 33 have died by violence.

- When Saigon fell, the signal for all Americans to evacuate was Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" being played on the radio.

- The quarries where the Romans extracted travertine for the Colosseum and other great structures are still being mined today.

- Ohio is listed as the 17th state in the U.S., but technically it is number 47. Until August 7, 1953, Congress forgot to vote on a resolution to admit Ohio to the Union.

- Spiral staircases in medieval castles are running clockwise. This is because all knights used to be right-handed. When the intruding army would climb the stairs they would not be able to use their right hand which was holding the sword because of the difficulties in climbing the stairs. Left-handed knights would have had no troubles except left-handed people could never become knights because it was assumed that they were descendants of the devil.

- The shortest war on record was fought between Zanzibar and England in 1896. Zanzibar surrendered after 38 minutes.

- Medieval knights put shark skin on their sword handles to give them a more secure grip; they would dig the sharp scales into their palms.

- On October 4, 1957 the Russian satellite Sputnik 1 was launched. It was the first artificial satellite to be put into the Earth's orbit.

- For decades after Emperor Nero's death, people all over the Roman Empire claimed to have spotted him. Several men even claimed to be him, and started popular movements to be reinstated as emperor. Because of his notoriety and the questionable circumstances under which he died (he purportedly stabbed himself to death in hiding outside of Rome), Nero was the Elvis Presley of ancient Rome.

- In 1892, Italy raised the minimum age for marriage for girls to 12.

- Fourteenth century physicians didn't know what caused the plague, but they knew it was contagious. As a result they wore an early kind of bioprotective suit which included a large beaked head piece. The beak of the head piece, which made them look like large birds, was filled with vinegar, sweet oils and other strong smelling compounds to counteract the stench of the dead and dying plague victims.

- The ancient Egyptians slept on pillows made of stone.

- In 1965, Congress authorized the Secret Service to protect former US presidents and their spouses for their lifetime, unless they decline the protection. Recently, Congress limited the protection of former presidents and their spouses (elected after January 1, 1997) to 10 years after leaving office. President Clinton, who was elected in 1996, will be the last president to receive lifelong protection from the Secret Service.

- The Black Death reduced the population of Europe by one third in the period from 1347 to 1351.

- In 1947, Toys for Tots started making the holidays a little happier for children by organizing its first Christmas toy drive for needy youngsters.

- From its completion in 125 A.D. until 1958, the Pantheon's domed ceiling was the largest unsupported concrete span in the world. It was surpassed only with the construction of the CNIT building in Paris.

- From the Middle Ages up until the end of the 19th century, barbers performed a number of medical duties including bloodletting, wound treatment, dentistry, minor operations and bone-setting. The barber's striped red pole originated in the Middle Ages, when it was a staff the patient would grip while the barber bled the patient.

- Grand Rapids, Michigan was the 1st US city to fluoridate its water in 1945.

- In 1865, several veterans of the Confederate Army formed a private social club in Pulaski, Tennessee, called the Ku Klux Klan.

- Only two people signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, John Hancock and Charles Thomson. Most of the rest signed on August 2, but the last signature wasn't added until 5 years later.

- Between 1947 and 1959, 42 nuclear devices were detonated in the Marshall Islands.

- The Roman emperor Caligula made his horse a senator.

- A Mexican president once held a funeral for his own leg. The president, Antonio de Santa Anna, was the general who in 1836 led Mexican troops to victory over Texan rebels at the siege of the Alamo. Santa Anna's leg was amputated below the knee after he was wounded during a battle with French troops in December 1838. He kept the leg at his hacienda near Veracruz for four years, during which he rose to become effectively dictator of Mexico and the center of an adoring political cult. On September 26, 1842 his supporters solemnly paraded the leg through the streets of Mexico City to the accompaniment of the bands and orchestras, and then laid it to rest in a national shrine known as the Pantheon of Saint Paula. Two years later, however, the leg was stolen during the riots that surrounded Santa Anna's fall from power. Santa Anna died in 1876 at the age of 62. The fate of his leg remains unknown.

- There are more statues of Sacajewa, Lewis & Clark's female Indian guide, in the United States than any other person.

- To raise public revenue, Emperor Vespasian - who built the Colosseum - was the first to introduce pay toilets in the city of Rome. When his son and successor Titus protested that the toilets were raising a stink with the poor, Vespasian held a coin up to his nose and said, "money doesn't stink." Today, Romans still refer to public toilets as vespasiano.

- Until Sunday, September 3rd, 1967, driving was done on the left-hand side on roads in Sweden. The conversion to right-hand was done on a weekend at 5 p.m. All traffic stopped as people switched sides. This time and day were chosen to prevent accidents where drivers would have gotten up in the morning and been too sleepy to realize 'this' was the day of the changeover.

- The first written account of the Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, was made in 565AD.

- The world’s first skyscraper was the 10-storey Home Insurance office, built in Chicago in 1885.

- During Roman times buildings were up to 8 stories high.


  1. Isn't it awesome that some teachers can instill love in a subject like that? I had a similar science teacher in high school, but very few before and since then. I wish cool teachers like that could be cloned :)

    1. It is very awesome. People shouldn't be teaching unless they have a true passion for it. A passionate teacher can make any subject exciting.

  2. I had no idea that Toys for Tots had been around that long. I thought that was something more recent.

    1. So did I. Amazing how many new things you can learn.