Weird History
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12 Historical Events You Didn't Realize Famous Figures Lived Through

Updated June 23, 2020 454.2k views12 items

It's a sister phenomenon to Historical Events You Won't Believe Happened at the Same Time: Historical Events You Didn't Realize Famous Figures Lived Long Enough to See. Why the disconnect? There are three main types of historical figures on this list that seem eerily out-of-place in certain time periods.

The first are historical figures who lived to be very old, and therefore were around when things not typically associated with their "story" occurred. Thus you have famous people that lived longer than you think, such as Charlie Chaplin and Pablo Picasso, engaging with a culture that seems too new for the historical "character" gets imposed upon them. Some of the longest-lived historical figures, like Irving Berlin (101) or George Burns (100), also fit this category.

There are also famous folks who lived for a normal amount of time, but died during the first few years of a major new technology. Thus you get the weirdness of color photographs of Mark Twain or Picasso theoretically playing Pong.

Finally, there are characters such as Buffalo Bill Cody who are so firmly associated with a certain time that it's hard to imagine them out of it. So in Cody's case, it's hard to believe the former Pony Express rider and Old West cowboy showman likely read newspaper stories about Zeppelins bombing major European cities during World War I. Read on for more examples of this curious phenomenon.

  • Orville Wright Was Alive When The U.S. Dropped Atomic Bombs On Japan

    Co-inventor of the airplane Orville Wright (1871-1948), died just three years after American B-29s dropped A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing almost 300,000 people. What's woefully ironic about this fact is that, when they first began perfecting the airplane, the Wright brothers actually thought it would serve as a deterrent (and maybe even an end) to modern warfare. "We dared to hope we had invented something that would bring lasting peace to the earth," Orville said at the time. "But we were wrong. We underestimated man's capacity to hate and to corrupt good means for an evil end."

  • Pablo Picasso Lived Long Enough To Play Pong

    Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was still alive and well - and actively painting - in November 1972, meaning he could have theoretically played a few rounds of Pong, which was released by Atari at the end of the month. Picasso died in April 1973, giving him several months to visit the U.S. and blow through a roll of quarters at a local arcade before his death.

  • Buffalo Bill Cody Was Alive When Paris Was Bombed By German Zeppelins

    Although on his last legs, Wild West showman William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846-1917) was still alive during the majority of WWI. This means that the famous cowboy, soldier, and Pony Express rider likely heard about newfangled German Zeppelins bombing Paris in January of 1916, a year before his death. This is strange to imagine given Cody build his career in a Wild West removed from the fast-paced, industrial world of WWI.

  • Shakespeare Was Still Alive When The British Started Colonizing the Americas

    William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was still on this mortal coil when the British began to colonize Jamestown (1607), Newfoundland (1610), and St. George's in Bermuda (1612). Stories about the attempts to colonize Jamestown and Bermuda, in fact, that scholars believe they likely inspired Shakespeare when he was writing The Tempest. In fact, "it's difficult to imagine the play we know" without them.