Weird History
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Facts About Historical Figures We Just Learned This Week That Made Us Say 'Really?'

Updated January 29, 2021 8.2k votes 1.9k voters 78.7k views12 items

List RulesVote up the facts about historical figures you think are most interesting.

Teachers and textbooks can't teach everything about the most famous figures in history. Thankfully, many other tools are available to reveal facts that never came up in school. The Reddit thread r/todayilearned is full of fun facts about historical figures - such as Elizabeth II, Abraham Lincoln, and more - that almost seem unbelievable.

Vote up the new facts you think are the most awesome!

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
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    Two Jewish Prisoners Saved Almost 39,000 Pictures Of Inmates At Auschwitz With A Sneaky Plan

    As was common in many concentration camps during WWII, many prisoners in Auschwitz were forced to do administrative and labor duties: sorting new arrivals' possessions, constructing and expanding the camps, and taking photos of the other captives. Nearly 39,000 prison photographs were taken in the photo lab at Auschwitz, alone.

    In 1945, during the evacuation of the camp, two men, Wilhelm Brasse and Bronisław Jureczek, who were working in the photo lab were directed to burn all photographic evidence. Instead, the two men came up with a way to save the pictures. They placed wet photo paper at the bottom of the furnace before placing the real pictures inside. With the furnace so packed and the wet paper creating so much smoke, the blaze went out quickly, and - once unsupervised - the men were able to take the unharmed pictures out of the furnace to smuggle them out. They were later cataloged and have been kept in the Archives of the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum. 

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    Six Inmates Out On A Maintenance Project Saved The Sheriff Who Was Watching Them

    In 2017, Polk County Sheriff Johnny Moats was put on watch duty of six inmates performing maintenance work out at a cemetery. Due to the extreme heat and humidity of the day, coupled with complications from a previous brain surgery, Sheriff Moats fell unconscious. The inmates decided that instead of fleeing, they would call for help and try to save the officer's life. The men called 911 while attempting to cool Moats down by removing his bulletproof vest.

    Johnny Moats fully recovered a short time later, but insisted on trying to help the men who saved his life. In addition to the pizza party they received for their do-good behavior, Moats petitioned for each of them to receive a shorter sentence as repayment for saving his life. 

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  • Photo: United States Government / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    Kay Antonelli Was Given The Working Title Of 'Computer' By The US Government

    Kay Antonelli is highly regarded as one of mothers of modern computer programming. An Irish immigrant who moved to America at a young age, she excelled in math classes, and was one of only three math graduates from Chestnut Hill College's 1942 graduating class.

    After graduating, Kay signed up with the American government to help with calculations of ballistic trajectories. Her official title for this position was actually "Computer." She was quickly recruited to a highly secretive team of other women 'computers' to begin programming the world's first electronic computers.

    The women on this team were eventually recognized in the Women of Technology hall of fame in 1997.

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  • Photo: Bart Hölscher / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
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    Antoine-Augustin Parmentier Credits Potatoes For His Fine Health As A Prisoner Of War

    Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was a French army pharmacist during the Seven Years' War. He was captured by the Prussians and was kept as a prisoner-of-war until 1763 when the war ended. During his stint as a POW, he was given a constant ration of potatoes, which at the time was food the French had banned over fears that they spread disease and caused leprosy.

    When Parmentier was released without developing any diseases, he realized potatoes had been both healthy and tasty, and he made it his life's mission to make the rest of the country see this food's benefits. Parmentier even hosted dinners with potato-centric meals to help others see for themselves how potatoes could be used regularly. Due to his advocacy, the French government repealed the potato ban in 1772, and awarded Parmentier for his research that proved potatoes were of great nutritional value for those who would otherwise suffer from dysentery.

    In the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery where Parmentier is buried, visitors can see that his grave is decorated with potatoes and potato plants to commemorate the success of his research that allowed the country to realize the useful food they were missing out on.

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