14 Questions From History We're Glad We Finally Asked - And Answered
History is full of commonly known facts, figures, names, and dates. In school, history textbooks introduce students to key individuals and groups who influenced the past, ideally incorporating them into the larger context of a time and place. Documentaries, television, and books add additional information - when we seek it out - and offer some entertainment, too.
But what about unexpected questions that pop into your head, random or not? Those are the mysteries you really want answers to and, luckily, we're here to solve them for you.
Check out the questions about history that made us curious, and the answers we found, then vote up the most fascinating tidbits about the past.
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Who Decided What Alphabetical Order Is?
Whether it's a young child learning their ABCs or an adult running through the alphabet in their head to keep those LMNOPs straight, there's an order to the alphabet used by English speakers (and individuals throughout much of the Western world).
The English alphabet has its origins in Egyptian and Semitic writing systems, as well as the Phoenician and Greek alphabets. The order of the symbols seems to have been in place by about 1000 BCE, but it's not clear why.
Some theories suggest letters were given a numerical value at some point in history, ultimately influencing their order. It's been suggested that the alphabet itself is one giant mnemonic device.
During the Roman period and into the Middle Ages, letters were added and shifted slightly, but the development and dissemination of Latin throughout the Mediterranean and into Europe meant the general order of the alphabet itself had a large reach among individuals who adopted it.
Once the order of the alphabet was established, learning it through song (at least in the modern sense) was still centuries away. It wasn't until 1835 that Charles Bradlee copyrighted "The A.B.C., a German Air with Variations for the Flute with an Easy Accompaniment for the Piano Forte." The musical arrangement, attributed to Frenchman Louis Le Maire, is the same as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep."
Music fans may have noticed that "Dream On," one of the songs on Aerosmith's self-titled debut album from 1973, has a sound that isn't consistent with the band's other tunes. The ballad was written by lead singer Steven Tyler and, according to the artist, was steeped in his affinity for classical composers.
The meaning of the song is, as Tyler put it, "simple. It's about dreaming until your dreams come true. It's about the hunger and desire and ambition to be somebody that Aerosmith felt in those days. You can hear it in the grooves because it's there."
The Aerosmith frontman explained why "Dream On" has a different sound from some of the group's other songs:
I changed my voice when we did the final vocals... I was insecure, but nobody told me not to do it. I thought I didn't sound right on tape... I used this voice for [the entire album]... except "Dream On." "Dream On" is the real me.
- Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain3385 VOTES
When Was The First Vending Machine Invented?
Modern vending machines were developed during the mid-19th century, but the first vending machine has its origins in antiquity. Heron of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician and engineer, created a machine to distribute holy water for religious occasions during the first century CE.
Heron (also known as Hero) invented his machine while living in Roman Egypt. To dispense holy water, users inserted a coin into a vessel to turn a lever and release water.
Heron also wrote extensively on geometry and mechanics, discussing inventions like steam engines and water organs.
- Photo: Richard Outram / Flickr / CC-BY 2.04233 VOTES
Why Is The Next In Line To The English Throne Called 'The Prince Of Wales'?
The tradition of calling the heir-apparent to the English throne the “Prince of Wales” began with Edward I (d. 1307). Edward spent much of his life conquering Wales and Scotland, notably building a series of castles in the former to control it. Prior to Edward's interference, Wales had its own princes outside of what would later be associated with the English crown.
The first title of Prince of Wales with respect to English royals was Edward I's son, the future King Edward II. Prince Edward was dubbed the Prince of Wales in 1301 CE, but it wasn't until 1911 that a formal investiture ceremony became a key part of the designation. David Lloyd George, a Welsh politician, advocated for investing the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) at Caernarfon Castle in Wales, something that was done again in 1969 when Elizabeth II's oldest son, Charles, was given the title.
Charles was the 20th individual to become Prince of Wales and held the title for 64 years. He received the title in 1958 and was invested in 1969.
For the most part, the title is held by the eldest son of the reigning monarch. After the death of King Henry VII's oldest son and presumed heir Prince Arthur, his second son, Henry, became the Prince of Wales (he would go on to become Henry VIII). King George II (d. 1760) made his grandson (later George III) Prince of Wales after his oldest son, Frederick, died in 1751.
The 21st Prince of Wales, William, assumed the title in September 2022. His father, King Charles III, confirmed it in a speech he made on September 9, 2022.
- Photo: Unknown miniaturist from Liège-Maastricht area, c. 1300-1325 / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain5348 VOTES
Why Are There 13 In A Baker's Dozen?
The prevailing theory about the misnomer "baker's dozen" traces the origins of the 13-when-it's-actually-12 phenomenon to 13th-century English mandates about the weight of loaves of bread. Concerns that bakers were cheating customers and underselling their goods necessitated regulation, and to avoid punishment, bakers started to sell 13 loaves for the price of 12 - just to cover their bases.
The first use of the phrase "baker's dozen" may date to the late 16th century, and the term was well-defined by the mid-1800s:
BAKER’S DOZEN. This consists of 13 or 14; the surplus number, called the in bread, being thrown in for fear of incurring the penalty for short weight.
A second definition of "baker's dozen" perhaps gives insight into the context within which the concept originated:
To “give a man a baker’s dozen,” in a slang sense, means to give him an extra good beating or pummelling.
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Why Are More People Right-Handed Than Left-Handed?
Only about 10% of the human population is left-handed - but science isn't sure why. Theories vary - and the investigation to find the answer continues.
Researchers attribute handedness to brain development through history, a characteristic that extends to limb use in general. Evidence suggests that hominids have been predominantly right-handed for some 600,000 years, although the case for right-handedness prior to that is significantly weaker.
Other observers have argued that handedness is developed in utero, with left-handedness coming out of some sort of "brain trauma during birth." Research also suggests handedness is linked to genetics and, in part, it's likely that a world built to accommodate a mostly right-handed population is a driver of handedness on the whole.