10 Interesting but Lesser-Known Events from History

Millions of historical events have contributed to creating the world we know today. Our school textbooks just provide us information on some of the grandest historical events but leave out the lesser-known stories. So, we decided to bring to you some lesser-known historical events. From the purchase of Alaska by the United States to the project of creating spy cats, we bring to you some of the most interesting but lesser-known events from history around the world.

1. In 1867, Russia sold the territory of Alaska to the U.S. for $7.2 million. A mere 50 years later, the Americans had earned that amount back 100 times over.

US purchases Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million
With this check, the United States completed the purchase of almost 600,000 square miles of land from the Russian Government with $7.2 million. Image Credit: Edouard de Stoeckl and William H. Seward via Wikipedia

The United States acquired Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867. The Russian Empire was eager to sell off Alaska as the place lacked natural resources and was uninhabitable. Moreover, they feared that the UK might seize Alaska in case war broke out between the two. As a result of the purchase, the United States added 586,412 square miles of new territory.

There were mixed reactions from both the nations on the purchase. It was not quite clear why the United States wanted to purchase Alaska and whether the deal would be profitable. One of the American newspapers asked, “Why does America need this ‘ice box’ and 50,000 wild Eskimos who drink fish oil for breakfast?” Even the Congress disapproved of the purchase. But the deal was finalized at $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre ($4.74/km2).

It was in 1896 that the Klondike Gold Rush took place and Alaska came to be seen as a valuable addition to the United States. The gold rush brought in hundreds of millions of dollars. The seal fishery was another attraction that brought considerable revenue to the US. There have been reports suggesting that the revenue that came from the seal fisheries was in excess of the price paid for acquiring Alaska. So, in no more than 50 years, the United States was able to profit from its purchase. (source)

2. Inspired by Jules Verne’s Around The World in 80 Days, Nellie Bly was the first to attempt traveling around the world in 1889. She completed her journey in only 72 days and even met Jules Verne himself.

Around the World in Eighty Days/ Nellie Bly
Cover of the French first edition of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Published on January 30, 1873/ Nellie Bly who traveled around the world in 72 days. Image Credit: Jules Verne via Wikipedia, H. J. Myers via Wikipedia

Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days is a classic that took us around the world with Phileas Fogg. An American journalist, Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, or better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, was the first to attempt to travel the world in 80 days. In 1888, Bly suggested to her editor that she take a trip across the world to prove Jules Verne’s calculations. A year later, on November 14, 1889, she embarked upon the 40,070-kilometer journey and boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line.

At the same time, the New York newspaper Cosmopolitan sponsored its own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, to beat both Bly’s and the fictional Phileas Fogg’s time. During the course of her journey, Bly traveled through England, France (where she met Jules Verne in person), Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Colombo (Ceylon), the Straits Settlements of Penang and Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. As she was traveling via steamships and rails, she had to suffer occasional setbacks due to bad weather and arrived at San Fransisco two days behind her schedule. But she was able to make up for the delay as her employer, Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World, chartered a private train for her. She reached New Jersey on January 25, 1890. It only took her around 72 days to get back to New York, thus completing her travel around the world in just 72 days. She beat Phileas Fogg’s record and became the first person to travel around the world. The other reporter arrived four days later. (source)

3. Switzerland attacked its neighboring country, Liechtenstein, three times and by mistake every time.

Swiss–Liechtensteiner border
Swiss–Liechtensteiner border. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

Switzerland holds a strange record in attacking its neighbor, Liechtenstein. Apparently, Switzerland has attacked Liechtenstein three times in 30 years, surprisingly by mistake each time!

Liechtenstein is a small country only 62 square miles in area. The country has a population of 37,000 people. But in spite of its small size, Liechtenstein is one of the richest countries in the world with one of the lowest unemployment rates. Another thing about Liechtenstein is that it does not have an army of its own. It disbanded its army in 1868 and is one of the 22 countries today without an armed force.

The first time Switzerland attacked Liechtenstein was on December 5, 1985. The Swiss Army was organizing a training exercise that involved launching missiles.  Unknowingly, the Swiss Army launched the missiles into the heavily forested Liechtenstein causing a massive forest fire. The Liechtenstein government was very angry and Switzerland had to pay a heavy sum for the environmental damage.

The second attack took place on October 13, 1992. The Swiss Army received orders to set up an observation post in Treisenberg. They followed the orders and marched to Treisenberg. What they didn’t realize was that Treisenberg lies within the territory of Liechtenstein. They marched into Treisenberg with rifles and only later realized that they were in Liechtenstein.

The last attack was on March 1, 2007. A group of Swiss Army infantry soldiers was in training when the weather took a bad turn. There was heavy rainfall and the soldiers were not carrying any GPS or compass. Eventually, they ended up in Liechtenstein! Switzerland apologized to the Liechtenstein government for the intrusion, yet again. (source)

4. In the first Olympics of 1904, the men’s marathon first place finisher completed the race in a car and was disqualified. The second place finisher was carried to the finish line by his trainers, and the fourth finisher took a detour to eat during the race.

Frederick Lorz and Andarín Carvajal
Frederick Lorz, who finished first with the help of a car and Andarín Carvajal who ran the marathon wearing street clothes and even took a nap in between. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

The men’s marathon in the 1904 Olympic Games might have been one of the strangest races in history. It was more of a comedy show than a serious event. Only a few of the runners in the marathon had previous experience. The other participants were “oddities.” There were 10 Greeks who had never run a marathon, two belonged to the Tsuana tribe of South Africa and arrived barefoot to the race, and one was a Cuban mailman who wore street clothing to the race.

That was not all. The first to complete the race was American runner Fred Lorz. Apparently, Lorz had dropped out of the race after nine miles and then hitch-hiked in a car. When the car broke down at the 19th mile, he jogged to the finish line. He was banned from the competition for life.

Tom Hicks
Tom Hicks, Marathon Olympic Champion and his supporters at the marathon. St. Louis Olympic Games, 1904. Image Credit: Wikipedia

The second to arrive, and the champion, was Thomas Hicks. Ten miles from the finish line, he almost gave up but his trainers urged him to continue. He was given several doses of strychnine, a common rat poison, to help get him to the end of the race. When he reached the stadium, his trainers and supporters who carried him to the finish line! Even though he got the gold medal that time, he never ran professionally again.

Andarín Carvajal, a Cuban postman, ran the race in street clothes. He had not eaten in 40 hours and took a detour into an apple orchard during the race. He ate some rotten apples that gave him stomach cramps. Despite falling ill, he managed to finish in the fourth place! (source)

5. The world’s first completely covered underwater diving suit was invented as far back as 1715 and consisted of an airtight oak barrel. The suit was used mainly for salvage operations of shipwrecks. 

John Lethbridge barrel
Replica of the John Lethbridge barrel (1715), intermediate between diving bell and standard diving dress. Cité de la Mer, a maritime museum in Cherbourg, France. Image Credit: Ji-It via Wikipedia

John Lethbridge was the inventor of the first underwater diving suit. Lethbridge came up with this idea while working as a salvager for the East India Company. His design consisted of an airtight, oak barrel.  The barrel was six feet in length and the diver had to lay flat on his stomach once the barrel was put into the waters with the help of a rope. It had two airtight holes on the sides for the hands and a hole with glass in the front for the diver’s window. During trials, Lethbridge demonstrated that the suit enabled divers to stay 12 fathoms underwater for at least 30 minutes at one go.

Once the diver comes out of the water after 30 minutes, fresh air was pumped into the suit through a vent using bellows. The used air was let out through another vent at the same time.

The suit was used mostly to retrieve material from wrecks. During Lethbridge’s first salvage operation using his invention, he recovered 25 chests of silver and 65 cannons! (source)

6. In 1920, Wall Street in New York City fell victim to a deadly terrorist attack. To this day, no one has claimed responsibility or been prosecuted for the attack.

Bomb in Wall Street, 1920
The bombing on Wall Street, 1920. Image Credit: Wikipedia

September 16, 1920, Wall Street in New York was bustling as usual with bankers and stockbrokers when an unforeseen event took place. As the church bells struck 12 noon, 100 pounds of dynamite detonated in front of the Assay Office. Apparently, the dynamite was concealed in a horse-drawn wagon that had been parked for some time in front of the Assay Office. A J.P. Morgan employee, Andrew Dunn, later recalled, “That was the loudest noise I ever heard in my life. It was enough to knock you out by itself.”

That day Wall Street looked like more of a battlefield than a financial district. The streets were covered with debris, blood, and charred bodies. The explosion killed 30 men and women on the spot. Later, eight more people succumbed to their injuries. Hundreds of people were injured with many of them getting serious burns.

Site of the 1920 Wall Street bombing
The site of the 1920 Wall Street bombing. Marks still visible today. Hand shows the scale of the marks. Image Credit: NortonJuster7722 via Wikipedia

A day after the attack, postal workers uncovered flyers that have been dropped into the mailboxes in Wall Street. The flyers read, “Remember, we will not tolerate any longer. Free the political prisoners, or it will be sure death for all of you. American Anarchist Fighters.” This immediately led the authorities to suspect the Galleanists, a gang of anti-government Italian anarchists led by Luigi Galleani, but they could not uncover any more evidence to charge the Galleanists.

The FBI followed numerous leads but they couldn’t come close to any significant evidence. The last known inquiry into the bombing took place in 1944. The FBI reopened the case and concluded that the explosion was most likely caused by “Italian anarchists or Italian terrorists.” Mario Buda, a Galleanist, was also considered as a likely suspect but was never charged. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack even after 98 years. (source)

7. During the WWII, French women having babies with German soldiers were punished by shaving their heads bald. This was done so that everyone would know they betrayed their country.

French women having relations with German soldiers were punished by shaving their heads and parading them through town
French women having relations with German soldiers were punished by shaving their heads and parading them through town. Image Credit: War History Online

There are many dark sides to war, and in most cases, it is the innocent and oppressed that suffer. One such dark side to the war was the brutal head-shaving and beating of women in France who had been charged with collaborating with the enemy. Basically, the women, who have been known to have physical relationships with German soldiers, were publicly harassed and punished by shaving their head bald.

The punishment of shaving women’s hair, which is supposed to be the most seductive feature of a woman, dates back to the biblical times. It was a common punishment for adultery. During the 20th century, it was reintroduced as a means to ridicule women who had physical relationships with the enemy or were prostitutes.

During World War II, this act of humiliation was repeated on French women accused of collaborating with the German soldiers. Apart from shaving their heads, they were paraded in the streets, marked with black ink, and even stripped half naked. At least 20,000 women have been documented to have had their heads shaved. (source)

8. Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s (secret) medical report could have saved India from getting partitioned.

Lord and Lady Mountbatten meet Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah
Viceroy of India: Lord and Lady Mountbatten meet Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Image Credit: No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit via Wikipedia

Freedom at Midnight, a book by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, delves into the partition of India. According to them, the partition could have been avoided if “the most closely guarded secret in India” had been known. The secret was that Jinnah was suffering from tuberculosis and had just a year or two to live.

How would that knowledge have stopped the partition? If the people opposing the partition would have had knowledge of Jinnah’s approaching demise, then they would have definitely stalled the process until he was too ill to make decisions or had passed away. Jinnah knew this and kept his secret well-guarded. He died 11 months after the formation of Pakistan. (source)

9. In the 1960s, the CIA spent $20 million to train cats to be spies. Known as the Acoustic Kitty Project, the first mission was sabotaged when the cat was allegedly killed by a taxi.

Acoustic Kitty Project by the CIA
Acoustic Kitty Project by the CIA. Image Credit: Today I Found Out

The Central Intelligence Agency Directorate of Science & Technology branch of the CIA was responsible for launching the Acoustic Kitty Project. Their main intention was to use cats to spy on the Kremlin and Soviet embassies. The procedure involved implanting a microphone in the cat’s ear canal. Also, a small radio transmitter was placed at the base of the cat’s skull and a thin wire went into its fur. The cat would be able to record as well as transmit sounds from its surroundings.

The first mission for the Acoustic Kitty Project was to eavesdrop on two men who were talking in the park. The cat was released nearby, but it was immediately killed by a taxi. In 2013, a former director of the technical branch of the CIA, Robert Wallace, said that the project was abandoned due to difficulties in training the cats.

In any case, the project was considered a failure and was shut down in 1967. A former CIA officer, Victor Marchetti, said that the project cost around $20 million. (source)

10. In September 1957, a group of nine brave Black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, enrolled in an all-White school. There was so much protest that 1,200 soldiers had to escort them for their first class.

Little Rock Nine
New York City Mayor Robert Wagner greeting the teenagers who integrated Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas. Pictured, front row, left to right: Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Carlotta Walls, Mayor Robert Wagner, Thelma Mothershed, Gloria Ray; back row, left to right: Terrence Roberts, Ernest Green, Melba Pattilo, Jefferson Thomas. Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Little Rock Nine referred to a group of nine African-American students who enrolled in the Little Rock Central High School. The year was 1957. During that time, most of the schools in America practiced segregation laws in which Black students were not allowed to attend all-White schools. The Supreme Court had passed a law in 1954 that asked all schools to abolish segregation. The Little Rock Central High School agreed to comply with the law and implemented the registration of Black students in 1957.

Little Rock Nine
Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort the Little Rock Nine students into the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. Image Credit: US Army via Wikipedia

There were many protests when the news of nine Black students being admitted to the all-White school got out. Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to physically block the students from entering the school campus. One of the nine students, Elizabeth Eckford, recalled later, “They moved closer and closer. … Somebody started yelling. … I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.”

Little Rock Nine Monument
Little Rock Nine Monument. Image Credit: von Commons übertragen via Wikipedia

The crowd became so hostile towards the young students that President Eisenhower had to send federal troops for their security. One thousand two hundred soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army were ordered to accompany the nine students. Amidst verbal and physical abuse, the nine made their way into the school towards the end of September 1957.

Even though the Little Rock Nine made their way into the school on 25th September, they had to suffer the abuse of their White counterparts throughout their school years. But they had the courage to go back every day. In 1999, each of the nine students was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the then US President Bill Clinton. (source)

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