10 Really Cool Historical Facts You Might Not Know

Many of us don’t enjoy studying history and talking about it because we find it too serious or too boring. But when you read these cool historical facts that are not known to many, your perception about history is bound to change. Did you know we once had a year without summer due to a volcanic eruption, or that in 1752, the 3rd through 13th of September did not happen in England due to the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar? Keep reading for more such facts! You would love to share them with your friends.

1. The second officer of the Titanic refused to get off the ship until he had helped the others and got trapped underwater. A boiler exploded that set him free. He then served in World War II and saved the lives of 127 men at Dunkirk.

CharlesHLightoller
Image credits: F.G.O. Stuart, williammurdoch via wikimedia

Known as the man who survived two world wars and two ship sinkings, Charles Lightoller was the second officer aboard the Titanic. He was the seniormost member to have survived the sinking and is known to be the one who enforced the protocol of helping women and children out of the ship first followed by the men. He stayed on board until the end trying to help the others and was sucked under a grate and submerged under water until the warm air from a boiler explosion set him free. He served in World War I and World War II as an officer of the Royal Navy.

The second ship disaster in his life was aboard the Falcon, a ship that should have been scrapped long before he was given charge of it. On one of its many adventures, the Falcon collided with the trawler John Fitzgerald. Despite the crew’s attempts to save the ship, it sank. This time, too, Lightoller was the last to get off.

He is known to have played a role in the Dunkirk evacuation when all the boats that could help the soldiers at Dunkirk were called in. Lightoller steered his boat Sundowner and rescued 127 soldiers, sailing them to safety while dodging enemy aircraft while at the sea. (1,2)

2. Canada and Denmark have had one of the funniest border disputes in history over an island. Each nation’s military will visit the place, uproot the other country’s flag, and leave a welcome note with a bottle of schnapps or Canadian Club depending upon their nationality.

Hans Island
Image credits: crossed-flag-pins, Twthmoses via wikipedia

A strange dispute has been going on for over three decades now over the barren Hans Island located far in Arctic north. No one knows why Canada and Denmark have been fighting over this half-a-square-mile territory for so long. The crux of the dispute is that, according to international law, countries can claim territories up to 12 miles from their shores, but Hans Island lies within 12 miles of both countries. It was declared to be a Danish territory by the League of Nations, but after that body dissolved, there has been no certainty about its status.

The dispute began sometime in 1984 when a minister from Denmark placed the Danish flag there with a welcome note and a bottle of brandy. This started a battle of sorts. Today, if the Canadian army visits the territory, they leave a note that says, “Welcome to Canada” and a bottle of Canadian Club. If the Danish army visits, they leave a bottle of schnapps with a similar note. This war has been dubbed as the “Whiskey War,” and the governments have kept a good sense of humor over it. Plans are underway to make Hans Island a shared territory. (source)

3. Philip II of Macedon wanted to conquer Sparta. He sent a warning to the Spartans that read “If I win this war, you will be slaves forever.” The Spartans replied with just one word, “If.” Their boldness paid off, and Philip II left Sparta alone.

The king of Macedon from 339 BCE to 336 BCE, Philip II was the father of Alexander the Great. He had a dream of expanding the Macedonian empire and many Greek cities had submitted to him. Thereafter, he turned to famous Sparta. This is one of the lesser-known Spartan stories. Philip II sent the Spartans a note that read “If I win this war, you will be slaves forever.” Another version of the note read, “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your cities.” The Spartans, known for their bravery, replied simply, and according to all the accounts in history, their reply was the same. They wrote, “If.” The Spartans’ bravery worked. Philip II did not attack Sparta and neither did his son, Alexander. (source)

4. For over three decades from 1845-1879, the Peruvian economy’s backbone was seagull poop. This bird poop also caused the War of the Pacific.

Image credits: Gerry Thomasen via flickr

Seabirds like the Guanay cormorant, the pelican, and the Peruvian booby have supported Peru’s economy for quite a long time now. From 1845 to 1879, the poop from these birds accounted for most of Peru’s revenue. The country is the world’s largest producer of organic fertilizer (yes, the bird poop) which is used to boost crop yield. This bird poop known as “guano” is rich in nitrogen and often needs to be excavated. Peru has 21 guano islands which once had 60 million birds living on them producing poop in high quantities.

There is an eight-month collection period for guano when all the collection has to be done by hand as no machines can be used to prevent scaring the birds away. The laborers who work to collect the poop earn two to three times the amount than what they would earn otherwise taking home a monthly average of $428 which is much more than Peru’s minimum wage. Guano, which is exported to Europe and the United States, has sparked diplomatic disputes and actual wars. The War of the Pacific was indirectly caused by it between 1879 and 1884. The population of guano birds has drastically decreased today with only five million of them left alive. The future of the industry largely depends on the conservation efforts of Peru. (source)

5. Some 2,400 years ago when the Gallic troops tried to sack Rome, the city was saved by a flock of holy geese that honked so loud that the guards were alerted who then defeated the attacking troops.

Image credits: John Leech via posner.library/wikimedia, Henri-Paul Motte via bruun-rasmussen/wikimedia

In history, Rome has been sacked innumerable times. Some 2,400 years ago, Gallic troops had conquered most of it except the Capitoline Hill which was defended vigorously by the Romans. On one night, the Gauls tried to quietly enter the area but did not know that some geese would make their efforts futile. While climbing the hill, the Gallic troops disturbed a flock of sacred geese that lived in the temple of Juno. Once disturbed, the geese began honking loudly which alerted the Roman guards who fought and threw the Gallic troops off the hill preventing the sacking. Rome was saved, then, by unexpected saviors. (source)

6. The last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, met Wolfgang Mozart when he was six. She helped him when he slipped on the floor, and later, he proposed marriage to her outside Vienna.

Image credits: Johann Nepomuk della Croce, Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty via wikimedia

It is hard to imagine a connection between the famous Queen of France Marie Antoinette and the musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but they both shared a special bond when they were young. At the age of six, Mozart had begun to do concerts on his own. His family used to perform in royal courts. During one of his concerts, he met Marie Antoinette at the royal family’s Habsburg summer residence outside Vienna. The last queen of France was seven in 1763 when the meeting happened. What followed afterward was straight out of a fiction book.

Mozart, while walking on a polished floor, slipped. Marie ran to his rescue and helped him. Impressed, Mozart proposed marriage to the young queen. What would have happened if that love story would have actually happened? (source)

7. More than 1,200 years ago, prehistoric Eskimos during the “Meteorite Age” used metal from space rocks to make tools like spears for hunting. Three hundred years later, Earth-mined iron was brought to Greenland.

How cool would it be to have tools made from meteorites? Even though that sounds quite advanced, that is something prehistoric Eskimos did before they were introduced to iron excavated from the Earth for tool-making. Around 10,000 years ago, a giant meteorite fell on the Greenland ice sheet and broke apart into eight huge pieces. One of these pieces was named “Ahigitio” and weighed 31 tons, while another was named “The Man” and weighed 22 tons. These were the huge space rocks they mined for iron using basalt stones to hammer off pieces according to Danish researchers. Knives, harpoons, spears, and other tools were made by the Eskimos for centuries. It was only 300 years after this that the Norse settlers brought iron ore to Greenland. The iron that came from their meteorites could be distinguished from the other iron that was found on the Earth because it contained nickel. (source)

8. Mary Sawyer of Sterling, Massachusetts had a white pet lamb whom she took to school and loved. In 1830, a true story about Mary and her lamb was written inspiring the kids’ rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb…”

Image credits: Dudesleeper, William Wallace Denslow via wikipedia

Mary really had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow, and who followed her to school. Most of the famous rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb…” is true! A girl named Mary Sawyer of Sterling, Massachusetts rescued a lamb. On May 24, 1830, a story was published about Mary and her lamb who followed her to school. But lambs were not allowed in school, so the teacher kicked it out. We know that from the rhyme. But there is more to that story.

According to the New England Historical Society, Mary loved the lamb so much that she persuaded her reluctant parents to let her raise it. She would hand-feed the lamb who could not swallow at first but learned to do so eventually. Mary stated, “The day the lamb went to school, I hadn’t seen her before starting off; and not wanting to go without seeing her, I called. She recognized my voice, and soon I heard a faint bleating far down the field. More and more distinctly I heard it, and I knew my pet was coming to greet me. My brother Nat said, ‘Let’s take the lamb to school with us.’ ” The first version of the poem was written by John Roulstone, and then fourteen years later, Sarah Josepha Hale added three paragraphs to it with a moral lesson. (source)

9. Pieces from the Wright Brothers’ airplane, Kitty Hawk, were taken aboard the Apollo 11 and landed on the moon along with Neil Armstrong. The pieces were in his “personal preference kit.”

Image credits: nasa.gov, John T. Daniels via loc.gov/wikimedia

On December 17, 1903, Kitty Hawk took off as the first powered flight. Then, 63 years later, pieces of that flight took off for the moon with the man who is known to be the first to be set foot there. When Apollo 11 left for the moon in July 1969, Neil Armstrong took two pieces of Kitty Hawk’s propeller in his personal preference kit. Each astronaut was allowed to bring along a bag of personal belongings on the spacecraft. He was a fan of the Wright brothers and he described himself to be a “devotee” of theirs in public. In July this year, the pieces of this propeller were put up for sale and were expected to fetch at least $100,000 apiece. (source)

10. The sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams. was once gifted a pet alligator by Marquis de Lafayette. He kept in the White House’s bathroom for a few months.

Image credits: pixabay, Mathew Brady via National Archives and Records Administration/wikimedia

In an election where neither of the candidates won a majority of the votes, John Quincy Adams was chosen as the sixth President of the United States by the U.S. House of Representatives. Not a very popular president, Adams was famous for one thing—for having a pet alligator! French aristocrat Marquis De Lafayette had gifted it to him, and he had accepted the gift for a few months before returning it. This pet alligator was kept in the bathtub of the bathroom of the East Room of the White House for months! It is said that Adams enjoyed the spectacle of watching guests flee the place in sheer terror after seeing the “guest” in the bathroom.

Other presidents of the United States have also kept weird pets. Calvin Coolidge had lion cubs, an antelope, and a wallaby among other pets. Herbert Hoover also had an alligator, Benjamin Harrison had two opossums, and Woodrow Wilson kept sheep. (1,2)

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