• Weird History

14 Surprising Historical Last Events

List RulesVote up the historical 'lasts' that opened your eyes to the past in a whole new way.

People, trends, norms - they all come and go. As a result, history is full of firsts, lasts, and everything in between. What's innovative one day may be rendered obsolete within a few years, decades, or even longer, while methods of communication continue to change at exponential rates.

When it comes to identifying exactly when something fell out of use, narrowing down the last event can be helpful in understanding why and how a historical phenomenon came to an end. Whether it's when the last duel was fought, when the Tower of London last served as a prison, or when the last telegram was sent, the end date says a lot. Historical lasts are full of some fascinating revelations. 

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  • Photo: Civil War Harper's Weekly / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    1

    Passing Of The Last Civil War Widow - 2020

    Helen Viola Jackson married Civil War veteran James Bolin in 1936. Jackson was 17 when they wed, while James was 93 years old.

    Their marriage, according to Jackson, was based on convenience and "respect," noting her husband "really cared for me [and] wanted me to have a future." The two were living in Missouri at the time, with Jackson struggling to survive during the Great Depression. Bolin, who'd fought for the Union during the Civil War, wanted to help and promised to leave Jackson his pension when he passed.

    Because Jackson was concerned she looked like an opportunist, she never applied to receive Bolin's pension after his passing in 1939. She never remarried either, and only spoke about her relationship with Bolin in 2017.

    At the age of 101, Jackson - the last widow of a Civil War veteran - passed in December 2020.

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  • Photo: Hephaestos / Kauko56 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    2

    Last Use Of The Guillotine - 1977

    Often associated with the French Revolution, the guillotine has origins in the Middle Ages. It was a method of execution that was purported to be more humane than other techniques, and found use well into the 20th century.

    The last time the blade of a guillotine came down on a convicted criminal's neck, it was that of Hamida Djandoubi. The Tunisian immigrant lived in Marseilles, France, and was sentenced to execution after having slain his girlfriend. He was executed on September 10, 1977.

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  • Photo: Unknown / Wikipedia / Fair Use
    3

    Last Native Speaker Of Manx, One Of The Defunct Celtic Languages - 1974

    Cornish and Manx are two Celtic languages that, according to the Endangered Language Alliance, have "completely fallen out of everyday use." The last native speaker of Cornish, Dolly Pentreath, perished in 1777, while Manx continued in remote areas of Britain through 1974.

    The final native speaker of Manx was Edward "Ned" Maddrell, a resident of the Isle of Man. Born in 1877 or 1878, Maddrell learned Manx as a boy, worked as a fisherman for much of his life, and passed in late 1974. Recordings of Maddrell speaking Manx exist, as do books and dictionaries, and there have been efforts to bring the language back on the Isle of Man.

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  • Photo: National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    4

    Last Telegram Ever Sent - 2013

    On January 27, 2006, Western Union in the United States sent its final telegrams - a collection of messages that went out via their network of lines that began in 1851. It's difficult to pin down exactly when the very last message went out, but this wasn't the end of telegrams worldwide. That didn't happen until 2013.

    In India, telegram messages came to an end on July 14, 2013 - officially nixing the communication technique. The government-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited ended telegram service due to economic losses brought on by "SMS and smartphones... [rendering] this service redundant." 

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