Weird History
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American Historical Events That Sound Made Up But Aren't

March 2, 2021 5.1k votes 1k voters 80k views12 items

List RulesVote up the US history facts that sound like fiction.

For such a relatively new country, the United States of America has managed to rack up its fair share of weird moments in history. A lot of weird US history facts even make it into our textbooks, like disappearing colonies, a bunch of drunk guys throwing tea into a harbor to help kickstart a revolution, and presidents fighting off assassins with canes. But there's an awful lot of bizarre historical tidbits out there that most people never hear about.  

Out of all the weirdness that's come from this country since the start, we've compiled some of the very weird (but true!) US history facts that helped shape the US of A into the country it is today. Some of them give an extra bit of depth to the history surrounding their time periods, and others are just plain fun.

  • Photo: Ivan Vtorov / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    In 1959, an American National Exhibition was held in Moscow on the orders of President Eisenhower, marking one of the first attempts to share popular American brands with the USSR. The event, attended by both Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, was quickly turning into a disaster as the two men started to argue.

    In order to break the tension, Pepsi-Cola Vice President Donald Kendall handed Khrushchev a cup of Pepsi to calm him down. He sipped the soda, and newspapers the next day were full of pictures of the minister with a Pepsi in his hand. Soon after, Pepsi became the first Western product to be sold and produced in the Soviet Union.

    As the decades went on, Pepsi only grew in popularity, and ultimately became a staple in Soviet society - to the point where the USSR couldn't afford to keep producing it. In 1989, the Soviet Union needed $3 billion to maintain its Pepsi facilities and distribution, but it simply didn't have the money to afford it, and none of its exports were worth enough globally for Pepsi to consider a trade. So instead, the Soviets offered what they had: military equipment.

    After receiving 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer, Kendall quipped to the US National Security Advisor, "We are disarming the USSR faster than you." The materiel briefly made Pepsi the owner of the sixth-largest military on the planet - until it was sold to Sweden to be scrapped.

    In later years, Kendall admitted that he'd arranged for Nixon to argue with Krushchev for a marketing stunt. But for one fleeting moment, Pepsi was the first - and only - food company to have doubled as a military force.

    Sound fake?
  • Photo: Howard Pyle / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Puritans In Massachusetts Got Friendly With Pirates

    The United States' start in the 17th century coincided with the Golden Age of Piracy. Many pirates, including William Kidd and Blackbeard, had hideouts along the coasts. But one pirate, Captain Thomas Cromwell, made an unlikely group of allies in the New World: Puritans.

    In circumstances later called "divine providence" by Massachusetts governor John Winthrop, Cromwell was blown into Plymouth Harbor with 80 men and a ship full of treasures recently looted from the Spanish. While several notable people, including William Bradford, disapproved of the pirates' drunken behavior, the locals were glad for the crew's liberal spending; the pirates even gave freely to the poor, according to Winthrop.

    So, after spending a few weeks in the area (and gifting Winthrop a very nice sedan), when the crew made their way up to Boston, they received a warm welcome and ultimately gave the city the dubious honor of being "the common receptacle of pirates from all nations."

    Sound fake?
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    A Student Designed The Current American Flag For A Class (And Got A B- For It)

    In 1958, Hawaii and Alaska's admittance to the US as states was imminent, so history teachers all over the country asked their students to design a new flag with 50 stars. One student in Ohio, Robert G. Heft, dove into the project with gusto, using his mother's sewing machine (despite having never sewn before) to create a new American flag.

    Heft's design was simple: just staggering the stars so there was enough room to add two more. It was so simple, in fact, that he only got a "B-" on the project for lacking originality. Because of his effort, his teacher joked that if Heft's flag was chosen, he'd give him an "A."

    A year later, Heft received a phone call straight from President Eisenhower. Out of 1,500 submissions, Congress had chosen Heft's design. His flag still flies today, and his teacher did, in fact, retroactively give him an "A." 

    Sound fake?
  • Photo: H.W. Bradley or William Rulofson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The US Had An Emperor - And Everyone In San Francisco Loved Him

    In 1859, a man named Joshua Abraham Norton sent a proclamation to the San Francisco Bulletin, where "at the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States," he declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States of America. He then proceeded to list his occupation as "emperor" in the 1870 census, and even created his own currency for use in the "Imperial government of Norton I."

    On the political side of his reign, Norton fired the governor of Virginia, abolished Congress, and dissolved the union just before the Civil War. Of course, none of this meant a single thing, and Norton didn't have a hint of legal power.

    And yet, the San Francisco locals loved him. Police saluted him whenever he passed by, and businesses put up special plaques to let the "emperor" know they accepted his money (but only from him) and sometimes even offered their services to him for free. Ultimately, Norton perished destitute in 1880, and San Francisco gave him a grand funeral all the same. Thirty thousand people attended the ceremony of their beloved emperor.

    Sound fake?