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

November 18, 2020 4.6k votes 705 voters 15.9k views12 items

List RulesVote up the facts about historical figures you wished you would have known ages ago.

Not everything we want to know about some of the most famous figures in history was taught to us through teachers and textbooks. Thankfully, there are so many other ways we can learn all of the facts we wished we'd learned ages ago. The Reddit thread r/todayilearned is full of fun facts about historical figures - like Elizabeth II, Abraham Lincoln, and more - that we can't believe we never knew before. It makes learning new facts so easy. Vote up the ones you think are the most awesome!

  • Samuel Morse Created Morse Code After Being Out Of Town When His Wife Died - And He Missed The Funeral
    Photo: Archives of American Art / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    From Redditor u/Figgyee:

    TIL that in 1825 painter Samuel Morse received a letter which read that his wife was sick. The day after that a new one said that she was dead. When 2 days later he went to his wife, he discovered that she was already buried. P*ssed off for the slowness of communications, he invented the Morse code.

    Context: In 1825, Samuel Morse received a few letters while he was working away from his wife. The first read that his wife was ill and the next day while he was packing to leave, he received another letter that told him she had already died. After rushing home to find her already buried, Morse was so gravely upset with the delay in his messages that he was determined to find a better way to transmit messages. When he met inventor Charles Thomas Jackson in 1833, that's what they set out to do. By creating the telegraph and drafting a series of dots and dashes to communicate via copper wires, 13 years after his wife died, Morse and Jackson successfully created a faster way of communicating and called it Morse Code.

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  • From a former Redditor:

    TIL that after Beethoven went deaf, he found he could affix a metal rod to his piano and bite down on it while he played, enabling him to hear perfectly through vibrations in his jawbone. The process is called bone conduction.

    Context: Beethoven was almost entirely deaf for pretty much the last decade of his life, but he had noticed his hearing difficulties in his 20s. To continue playing piano and hearing the way his music sounded, he relied on vibrations. He replicated "hearing" using vibrations by attaching a small rod to the piano and biting down on it while he played. Because our eardrums vibrate from sound, the vibration on Beethoven's jaw imitated hearing while he was hearing impaired. This experiment was the start to the official alternate hearing method called bone conduction.

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  • From Redditor u/SSJStarwind16:

    TIL" George Washington allegedly said before his death that he "would never set foot on English soil again," so when they erected a statue of him in London, they put US soil under the statue to honor that claim

    Context: Due to a widely believed legend that George Washington claimed to never set foot on British soil again, a statue that was erected in London at Trafalgar Square needed some alterations before it could be on display. Soil had been shipped from Virginia to be placed below the statue, which kept George Washington's wish intact.

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  • Williamina Fleming Went From Maid To Astronomer
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    From Redditor u/palmfranz:

    TIL in the 1880s, the Harvard Observatory director was frustrated with his staff, and would say "My Scottish maid could do better!" So, he hired his Scottish maid. Williamina Fleming ran a team for decades, classified tens of thousands of stars, and discovered white dwarfs and the Horsehead Nebula.

    Context: Williamina 'Mina' Fleming started working as a maid for Edward C. Pickering who was the director of the Harvard College Observatory, in 1879. Apparently he was intrigued by her intellect and drive that he let her work on some clerical work part time while she was also his maid. She was made a permanent member of the staff in 1881 and about five years later, when he formed a task force comprised of mostly women, he appointed Mina has the head. The rumor is that he did this while angry with a male employee, claiming his maid could do better. 

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