12 Facts About History We Were Genuinely Surprised We'd Never Heard Before

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Vote up the historical facts that really caught you off guard.

Don't you love it when you find out a new history nugget - a gem you've never heard before? There's so much interesting history in the world that it's impossible to know it all - and we're learning more every day. 

When we come across surprising facts, it's hard not to share them with our fellow history buffs. Who wouldn't want to know that renowned sex therapist Dr. Ruth used to be a military sniper? Or that one of the top politicians in the US has been making appearances in Batman movies for decades? Or that the metal detector was invented to try to save a president's life?

Here's to encountering many more historical stories we didn't know - and learning more interesting tidbits every day. Read on to get your daily dose of surprising history facts!

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    1,420 VOTES

    The Founder Of Little Caesars Pizza Paid Rosa Parks's Rent

    Rosa Parks and Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Caesars Pizza and owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, may have never crossed paths had it not been for a newspaper article. Parks moved to Detroit in 1957, two years after her historic refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, AL. She peacefully lived in the city for nearly 40 years, until 1994, when someone broke into her home and assaulted her. 

    A local judge, Damon Keith, and real estate developer Alfred Taubman teamed up to find the civil rights hero a safer home. After Ilitch saw a local newspaper article on the subject, he offered to pay for Parks's housing "for as long as necessary." His good deed wasn't revealed until after his 2017 passing.

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    Sex Therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer Was A Sniper For A Military Group In Israel

    If you're not familar with sex therapist/Holocaust survivor/sniper Dr. Ruth Westheimer, you're missing out. 

    Dr. Ruth rose to fame in the 1980s on her radio show Sexually Speaking, which led to a TV program, The Dr. Ruth Show

    But before becoming the leading authority on all things sexual, she was born Karola Ruth Siegel in Germany in 1928. Ten years later, she was sent on a train with other Jewish children to an orphange in Switzerland. Her parents and all of her relatives perished during WWII. 

    When she was still a teenager, Dr. Ruth joined the Haganah, the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces. She proved to be an excellent shot, and became a sniper and scout (despite only standing 4 feet 7 inches tall). Her sniping career ended when a bomb exploded outside her quarters. She sustained a serious foot injury and had a slow recovery.

    She persevered, however, eventually moving to the US, where she put herself through college and graduate school. The surname Westheimer is that of her third (and final) husband.

  • Alexander Graham Bell Invented The Metal Detector To Try To Save President James A. Garfield's Life
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    967 VOTES

    Alexander Graham Bell Invented The Metal Detector To Try To Save President James A. Garfield's Life

    Most people these days think of metal detectors as the tools of hobbyists looking for treasure on beaches and in fields. But the history behind the device is far more heroic. 

    US President James Garfield was in a train station on July 2, 1881, when Charles J. Guiteau shot him. While the medical team was able to stabilize the president, they were unable to find the bullet to remove it - making the president's chance of recovery very slim, especially after poking at his wound with unclean hands.

    Enter legendary Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell. He heard of the president's state, and decided to further explore an anomaly he had discovered while working on the telephone - one that caused an audible sound in the receiver when a metal object came near. Creating a prototype with his team in a matter of days, Bell practiced on animal carcasses, and then Civil War veterans who still had shrapnel in their bodies. 

    By July 26, Bell was at the ailing president's side, trying his technology. Unfortunately, a bad part made the device unusable. After some tweaks, Bell returned on August 1. This time, Garfield's physician allowed Bell to only scan the president's right side - where he was convinced the bullet had lodged. Bell was unable to locate the bullet, and was excused from helping further. 

    Garfield passed on September 19. When physicians performed an autopsy, they found the bullet had, in fact, been in the left side of his body

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    957 VOTES

    Lighters Were Invented Before Matches

    It's easy to assume that matches have been around for ages, right? In truth, the technology behind the cigarette lighters we're familiar with today was invented first. 

    In 1823, German chemist Johann Dobereiner invented the "tinderbox," or Dobereiner's lamp. While it may not look anything like today's lighters, it was also marketed as a tool to light pipes and fires. On the other hand, matches weren't invented until 1826 - by accident. Chemist John Walker created the match after discovering that a stick coated with chemicals burst into flame when he scraped it across the hearth at his home. 

    Although Walker did begin selling his invention after refining it - adding a piece of sandpaper to the cardboard box for striking - he never got a patent. Thus, others ended up getting rich off his idea.

  • One US Senator Appeared In Five 'Batman' Movies
    Photo: The Dark Knight / Warner Bros. Pictures
    847 VOTES

    One US Senator Appeared In Five 'Batman' Movies

    Senator Patrick Leahy is the longest-serving member of the Senate, and as of 2022, is third in the presidential line of succession. While many know him for his politics, many others know him for another, somewhat surprising reason: Batman

    The Vermont native has been a lifelong fan of all things Batman. His first collaboration with the caped crusader came in 1996, when he teamed up with DC Comics to create a graphic novel showing the horrors of land mines. He then gifted a copy to each of his fellow senators to drive home the dangers of the devices. 

    Afterward, Leahy continued his relationship with the DC team, appearing first in Batman Forever, and getting increasingly bigger cameos in later movies, including Batman & Robin, The Dark Knight, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

    Leahy does not make an appearance in 2022's The Batman, however, explaining that he was too busy with the pandemic and other bills to take any time off for a movie cameo. 

  • Winston Churchill And Mahatma Gandhi Were On The Same Side Of A Battle In The Second Boer War
    Photo: Elliott & Fry / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    670 VOTES

    Winston Churchill And Mahatma Gandhi Were On The Same Side Of A Battle In The Second Boer War

    History's powerhouses Winston Churchill and Mohandas (later called Mahatma) Gandhi were well-known adversaries. Churchill wanted to keep Great Britain strong, which included all of Her Majesty's colonies. Gandhi wanted to see his homeland of India freed from British rule and united as one country. As each man fought passionately for his side, Gandhi eventually won out - with India gaining its independence in 1947.

    However, long before the battle for India, Churchill and Gandhi were actually united on the same side in the same conflict. During the Second Boer War (October 1899 to May 1902), Britain was fighting against the two Boer Republics (the South African Republic and the Orange Free State). Britain recruited soldiers from all of its colonies, including India. As fate would have it, a young Churchill and Gandhi were on the same battlefield at Spion Kop. The British ended up losing.