Weird History
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Historic Things We Learned That Left Us Stunned

July 16, 2021 3.5k votes 677 voters 40.1k views12 items

List RulesVote up the historic stories that leave you speechless.

The facts we learned in history class frequently focused on Western politics, large-scale conflicts, or the exploits of European royals. But there are some fascinating history stories we never learned in school.

From a dairy-based crisis that nearly broke Norway to Russian scientists bent on creating human-animal hybrids, many of these stories seem more fiction than fact. Vote up the ones that genuinely surprise you.

  • 1

    Poland's Army During WWII Had A Bear Among Its Ranks

    In 1943, a group of Polish soldiers adopted an abandoned bear cub in Iran whose mother was believed to have been fired at and felled. The soldiers had recently been evacuated from the Gulag in the Soviet Union, and immediately fell in love with their pet cub. They taught him to salute, and regularly wrestled and swam with him. 

    The soldiers and their cub ran into trouble, however, when they prepared to go into active combat, where pets were not allowed. So the cub was enlisted in the 22nd Artillery Transport Company of the 2nd Corps, given a serial number, the rank of private, and named Wojtek, which means “joyful warrior.” He became known for his love of beer and cigarettes, which he ate. 

    Wojtek fought alongside his human friends, and even assisted in moving ammunition crates. After WWII, Wojtek went to the Edinburgh Zoo, where his old comrades regularly visited him. 

    Stunning story?
  • Photo: US Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Two Nuclear Bombs Once Fell On North Carolina

    In January 1961, a mishap occurred that had the potential to devastate the entire Eastern Seaboard of the USA: An Air Force bomber broke in half, inadvertently dropping two nuclear bombs outside of Goldsboro, NC. 

    Previously classified documents from the National Security Archive released on June 9, 2014, revealed the two Mark 39 devices were close to detonation, but neither did so:

    Both multi-megaton [Mark 39 devices] involved in the mishap were in the "safe" position. Yet the force of the [impact] initiated mechanical actions that normally required human intervention. In both cases, the "fuzing sequence" had begun: an important step toward arming [an atomic device]... [T]he one that came closest to detonation landed intact, but by the time [No.] 2 hit the ground, it was in the "armed" setting because of the impact of the crash. The arming switch that had prevented [No. 1] from detonating was in itself highly vulnerable. 

    The 1961 Goldsboro incident shook Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who later stated, "By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted."

    Stunning story?
  • 3

    The Man Who Invented Cruise Control Was Legally Blind

    Ralph Teetor, born in 1890 in Hagerstown, IN, was one of the greatest inventors of the mid-20th century. At age 5, Teetor was playing with a knife and accidently blinded one eye. In less than a year, he lost sight in his other eye due to a unique condition called sympathetic ophthalmia, in which trauma to one eye induces damage to the other. 

    Teetor went on to earn an engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and worked for his family's business, the Teetor-Hartley Motor Co., which manufactured automobile engines and other goods. During WWI, he developed a process to balance steam turbine rotors for the US Navy, and after WWI, he joined his family in a venture called Perfect Circle to perfect piston rings. 

    He began working on a mechanism to control and regulate a car's speed, which was designed not just to put a cap on speed, but also to assist in limiting gasoline consumption. Teetor received a patent for his speed-control invention, which he called Speedostat, in 1950.

    In 1958, Chrysler offered Speedostat as an additional feature for luxury models, and soon the mechanism became standard for all Chrysler vehicles. Other manufacturers followed, and when Cadillac introduced the feature, the company rebranded it Cruise Control.

    Teetor's many inventions streamlined mechanical processes in a variety of fields, and despite limited resources at the time, he seemed to never be hampered by his lack of vision. His cruise control device created the path for future innovations. 

    Stunning story?
  • Photo: Vincent Mugaba / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    The Russian Government Funded A Scientific Experiment To Create An Ape-Human Hybrid

    In February 1926, the new Bolshevik Russian government, in the process of assuming full power, opted to fund a bizarre scientific experiment. Ilia Ivanov was a Russian biologist and expert in artificial insemination amd creating animal hybrids, such as a zebra mixed with a donkey (known as a zeedonk). But Ivanov's mission went beyond strange mammalian hybrids when he traveled to New Guinea, fully funded and supported by the Bolshevik government, to try to artifically inseminate a human woman with ape sperm. 

    The experiment went nowhere as he looked for women willing to carry a half-human, half-ape fetus, and tried to take sperm from healthy chimanzees and apes. In 1930, Ivanov and many other Russian scientists were exiled to Kazakhstan, and the project ended. 

    Ever since Ivanov's scheme came to light in the 1990s, many have speculated about why the Russian government would sponsor such a plan: perhaps to breed a type of super-race soldier, or to prove the truth of Charles Darwin's statements about evolution. The Bolsheviks did want to eradicate religious belief, and might have believed scientific experimentation would accomplish that goal, as silly as the science seems today.

    Stunning story?