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

March 2, 2021 1.5k votes 395 voters 57.4k 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?
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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: 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?
  • Photo: Oliver F. Atkins/Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Richard Nixon had a well-documented dependence on alcohol and prescription medication throughout his presidency, which could send him into explosive rages. That alone is dangerous in itself, but even more so when it's the man with access to the largest amount of nuclear weapons in the world. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reportedly told his aides, "If the president had his way, there would be a nuclear war each week!"

    Shortly after his election, Nixon was overheard drunkenly talking to Kissinger about Vietnam, and he said, "Henry, we've got to nuke them." A year later, when a US spy plane was shot down by North Korea, he ordered a tactical strike in retaliation, going so far as to ask for target recommendations before Kissinger intervened and had everyone agree not to plan any further until Nixon sobered up the next morning. 

    Even during a chat in a pool, Nixon lost his temper while discussing Cambodia over drinks. Still in the water, he got on the phone and said, "Bomb the s**t out of them!" 

    Ironically, the day the administration came closest to nuclear war, Nixon was once again drunk - but this time to the point of stupor. He slept through a nuclear alert, and National Security Advisor Alexander Haig had to pretend to consult him about what to do. Ultimately, Haig sent a stern letter to the USSR in the president's name, and the crisis was averted by the time Nixon woke up.

    Sound fake?