25 Hilarious Historical Facts You Won’t Believe Actually Happened
History doesn’t have to be dull! As a matter of fact, our ancestors were just as messed up and said and did just as many embarrassing things as we do today, in modern times. To prove this point, Reddit users on a recent AskReddit thread shared the funniest fact they know about history, and as usual, they did not disappoint. Discover some of the silliest historical facts you’ve probably never heard of.
Ben the Prankster
“The founding fathers wouldn’t let Benjamin Franklin work on the Declaration Of Independence because they were afraid he would slip a joke into it.” JasonYaya
This is more urban legend than historical fact. It is true that Benjamin Franklin was well-known for his sharp wit and satirical writing, but this did not stop him from working on the Declaration of Independence. In fact, Ben Franklin did have a hand in the creation of the famous document, serving on the committee to draft the Declaration alongside John Adams, Roger Sherman, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert Livingston. According to historian and biographer Ormond Seavey, Jefferson often consulted Franklin about the draft as he was composing it. As for jokes in the Declaration, Seavey tells ThoughtCo, “our modern notion of jokes would not have made sense to these Eighteenth-Century people.” Back then, satire and irony were used often as very serious rhetorical tactics.
They Did It All for the Booty
“Notorious Pirate/Pirate hunter Benjamin Hornigold once attacked a ship just to steal all of the crew member’s hats. His men had gotten drunk and lost their hats during a party the night before and decided to board a ship to get replacements.” SalemWitchBurial
It’s true! Historian Peter Earle backed up this admittedly outlandish claim in his book, The Pirate Wars, stating that one of the captured passengers later recounted, “They did us no further injury than the taking most of our hats from us, having got drunk the night before, as they told us, and toss’d theirs overboard.”
Putting the ‘Mal’ in Malpractice
“In 1847, Robert Liston performed an amputation in 25 seconds, operating so quickly that he accidentally amputated his assistant’s fingers as well. Both patient and assistant later died of sepsis, and a spectator reportedly died of shock, resulting in the only known surgical procedure with a 300% mortality rate.” Montuvito_G
The 19th-century physician Robert Liston was famous for his speedy surgeries, often lasting only around 30 seconds. In his book “Practical Surgeries,” published in 1837, he emphasizes the importance of quick surgeries, arguing that “these operations must be set about with determination and completed rapidly.”
Among the many stories of Liston’s surgeries, the one described above is the most famous, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Matt Soniak at MentalFloss calls it “possibly apocryphal” and it’s almost certainly exaggerated.
Even if Liston did have his mishaps, his overall mortality rate was actually impressive compared to his peers. According to historian Richard Hollingham, of the 66 patients Liston operated between 1835 and 1840, only 10 died — a death rate of only around 16%.
Just Go With It
The Pentagon wasn’t built that way for any defense reason — in fact, it’s not even a regular pentagon. It was designed to fit nicely into the empty field between five major roads, but then later there was some reason why they had to build it somewhere else, I think it was too close to some city or something. Anyway, they’d already paid someone to design this five-sided building so they just said f**k it, it’s a pentagon now. nupanick
This one’s true, but there’s more to it than this. In July 1941, a group of Army officers met at the War Department in Washington to discuss building a new headquarters. There were a number of parameters to consider, but once they narrowed the location down to a plot of land that the government already owned in Arlington, Virginia, they then had to figure out how to cram 40,000 people and 10,000 cars into the tract of land they had to work with. They weren’t allowed to build a tall building due to building ordinances and a shortage of steel, so they came up with the rough pentagon shape that exists today.
According to The Washington Post, “The Arlington Farm tract had a peculiar asymmetrical pentagon shape bound on five sides by roads or other divisions. Finally, guided by the odd shape of the plot, they designed an irregular pentagon.”
Let’s Cut to the Chase, Shall We?
“The first thing said to the Pilgrims by Native Americans, specifically by Samoset:
“Do you have any beer?” In perfect English.
By the time the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, European trade routes to North America already existed for generations. Trade diplomats and fishermen traveled extensively to and from Europe.” TheSpanishImpostion 403 403
History backs up the fact that Samoset was the first Native American to greet the pilgrims. As for whether or not he requested everyone’s favorite frosty brew, many authors seem to think it’s not only probable, it’s true.
Yeah, we know; this sounds far-fetched, like something out of a Monty Python movie… but it’s true. According to Mental Floss, the emperor had requested that a rabbit hunt be set up for him and his men. Chief of Staff Alexandre Berthier was in charge of setting it up, so he had men capture up to 3,000 rabbits to be released during the hunt.
“When Napoleon started to prowl—accompanied by beaters and gun-bearers—the rabbits were released from their cages. The hunt was on. But something strange happened. The rabbits didn’t scurry in fright. Instead, they bounded toward Napoleon and his men. Hundreds of fuzzy bunnies gunned it for the world’s most powerful man.”
Speaking of Napoleon…
“After Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, his priest-confessor (Vignali) allegedly cut off Napoleon’s penis. This was later sold as part of a collection and ended up in the possession of Dr. Abraham Rosenbach.
Rosenbach took Napoleon’s penis on tour; it was displayed on a small velvet cushion in New York’s museum of French art.
Apparently it’s now owned by the Lattimer family in New York.” gegg1
Oh my, this one is not very flattering for old Napoleon. Not only is this true, but now the record shows that Napoleon’s “little Napoleon” was just as famously small as the man was. According to The Independent:
“Apparently, it was cut off during his autopsy by his somewhat cruel doctor, Francesco Autommarchi, in front of 17 witnesses, before it was then acquired by priest Abbé Anges Paul Vignali who gave the leader his last rites. It passed through Vignali’s family before it was eventually bought by American rare books dealer A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1924 and then displayed at the Museum of French Art in New York in 1927.”
On Second Thought, I’ma Go Home With Them….
In 1866, Liechtenstein sent out an army of 80 men to participate in the Austro-Prussian War. They came back with 81 men, suffering no casualties and having made one friend along the way. yesilfener
Yep, this actually happened! The best part? This was the last battle the tiny country ever engaged in. Like, ever.
Be right back; moving to Liechtenstein.
Castro Liked Ice Cream. Like, a Lot
“Fidel Castro really likes to drink and eat dairy products, so he made a giant ice cream shop and it’s still functional. He mixed two breeds of cows to create a super cow that would stand up to heat and give out lots of milk and her name is ubre blanca.” Imnotgaymike
Yeah, this is true. Castro loved dairy products, particularly ice cream, so much that he had arguments about it with other world leaders. There are countless stories about Castro’s obsession with milk and the cows that produce it. You can read a few of them here.
All That Math Didn’t Amount to a Hill of Beans
“Pythagoras, the man who made one of the most iconic mathematical discoveries in history, had a phobia of beans.”
Ironically, it was his fear of beans that caused his death. When attackers chased him into a field of beans, he refused to enter and was killed instead.
Yes and no. Yes — Pythagoras was kind of a strange dude. Around 530 B.C., he and some of his followers settled in Crotona in South Italy and started living by his very unique set of life rules. Some even think they were kinda-sorta a cult, but that’s neither here nor there. One tenant of the Pythagorean society was that they weren’t allowed to eat beans. No one is certain why beans were off-limits, but historians have theories:
“A strange side note of the Pythagorean diet is that they were forbidden to eat beans. The reason behind this is not entirely known. A funny anecdote tells us that Pythagoras believed that a human being lost a part of his or her soul whenever passing gas.” – Classical Wisdom
There are other theories out there too, but most scholars agree that this wasn’t as much as a “phobia” as it was a belief. As for his death, it wasn’t exactly “death by bean dip,” but it was close:
“Suddenly Pythagoras came to a stop. A vast bean field stretched before him. He stood frozen, uncertain what to do. His eyes focused on a single bean dangling inches from his papyrus-covered feet. So true was he to his ideals that, even at the risk of losing his own life, he was unwilling to trample upon even a single bean. Staring down upon that vibrant bean, the sun low in the sky, he imagined it to be blossoming into a divine ripeness before him. And as he stood there, hesitating, contemplating his next move, his pursuers caught up with him. They lifted their weapons, and bringing the knifes down hard, spilled Pythagoras’ blood on the plants – ending his life for the sake of a bean, and for the deep wisdom immersed in that diminutive cosmic object.” – Philosophy Now
Psst… I Need to Tell You Something….
“The Pope Saint Leo once convinced Attila the Hun to just turn around and leave, and no one knows how he did it.
Then, years later, he encountered a dude called Gaiseric just South of Rome. Convinced him too to turn around and leave. NO ONE KNOWS HOW.” – username omitted.
This is an accepted truth in Catholicism, and the best explanation they seem to have is that there were only two popes known as “The Great,” and he was one of them. The Catholic Herald explains:
“Leo’s strength of personality was also evident in his confrontations with secular power. In 452 he encountered Attila the Hun near Mantua, and persuaded him not to proceed to the sack of Rome. Again, in 455, he met the Vandal Gaiseric outside the walls of Rome and succeeded in preventing the city’s wholesale destruction.”
The “B” Stands for Big. *Wink Wink*
“President Lyndon B. Johnson liked showing journalists his penis (whether they wanted to or not) and also talking about how big it was.” fh3131
He also nicknamed it “Jumbo.” True story.
“Ah, Things Are Looking Up. Oh, Crap.” – Aeschylus
“Valerius Maximus wrote about Aeschylus’ death.
Basically, the Dramatist Aeschylus heard of a prophecy that he would meet his demise by a falling object, because of this he went outside of the city in order to avoid his death, little did he know that an eagle with a turtle flew over and dropped the turtle on his shiny bald head, mistaking his head for a rock.” King-Shakalaka
This is both true and false. Sources confirm that he did die in an usual way:
“He returned to Sicily for the last time in 458 BCE and it was there that he died, while visiting the city of Gela in 456 or 455 BCE, traditionally (although almost certainly apocryphally) by a tortoise which fell out of the sky after it was dropped by an eagle.”
But there’s no word on whether or not he heard a prophecy before heading to Sicily.
“What Do You Mean ‘The War Is Over?'”
“There was a Japanese soldier named Hiro Onoda who never realized ww2 was over until 1974. He was sent to a small island in the Philippines to spy on the American forces. He evaded capture and remained in the jungle to carry out his mission for the next 30 years. His former superior had to come out of retirement to convince him the war was over.” morethan1problem
Absolutely true. Onoda lived on the island in the Philippines where he’d been stationed, all by himself, for 29 years. He returned to Tokyo a hero, dying at the age of 91 in 2014.
World’s Slowest (And Stickiest!) Death
“Molasses flooded Boston on an unseasonably hot January day in 1919. For decades after, you could allegedly still smell the molasses during the summer. Unfortunately, 21 people died and 150 people were injured as a result of the flood… which makes it more absurd, in a rather morbid way.” Daringineer
As funny as this may sound, picture a 15-foot tall wave of sticky molasses flooding the streets, crushing houses, and swallowing everything in its path. Not so funny now, is it?
This disaster occurred when a 50 foot-tall steel holding tank on Commercial Street in Boston’s North End burst open. The tank had been used to create alcohol, and prior to the accident local residents reported hearing “rumbles and metallic creaks emanating from the tank.” – The History Channel.
Must Have Smelled GREAT in There
“At the palace of Versailles, there were no restrooms. people would just crap in the corners. It would be cleared out every few days.” zandy2z
Yup, lots of parties and no indoor plumbing lead to pretty disgusting conditions in the opulent palace. Visitors often complained about the awful smell inside the palace, and out — people often used the gardens as a toilet, too. It got so bad that King Louis XIV ordered that the hallways be cleaned of feces at least once a week, and they brought in orange trees planted in vases to mask the stink.
“Pull Mein Finger!”
“Hitler suffered from the most horrendous gas complaints. His extreme diet, recurring stomach problems (likely psychosomatic) and reliance on quack drug pushers like Morell made life at his dinner table terrible for his guests. Speer writes about it in Inside The Third Reich. I guess that’s why he had a dog?” StandUpForYourWights
True. By all accounts, Hitler was a gassy guy.
“According to the medical records, which were commissioned by the U.S. military, Hitler regularly took up to 28 different drugs to attempt to restrain his farting. This included pills containing strychnine, a poison, “which probably explains his stomach pains,” said Bill Panagopulos, president of Alexander Autographs.” – MNN
Only the Nose Knows
“Danish astronomer, alchemist, nobleman and all-around weirdo Tycho Brahe lost his nose after challenging another scientist to a duel to settle once and for all whose mathematical formula was better. He wore a metal prosthetic nose for the rest of his life.
He also had a pet moose that died when it drank too much beer and fell down a flight of stairs. In 1601 Tycho attended a party during which he held himself from going to the bathroom, subsequently suffered a burst bladder, and died 10 days later.” magdaahw
There’s a lot to unpack here… but it’s all true. First of all, Brahe did indeed lose his nose in a duel: “In 1566 at the age of 20, he lost part of his nose in a duel with another Danish nobleman named Manderup Parsbjerg. The duel is said to have started over a disagreement about a mathematical formula.”
And yes, he did have a pet moose who liked to drink beer. That party scene went down just as described above, believe it or not.
The thing about Brahe’s death is that rumor had always stated he died of a ruptured bladder after holding his urine for too long, but when the body was exhumed in 2010, researchers found high levels of mercury in his system. For a while, they thought we’d gotten it all wrong, and he’d died of mercury poisoning… but then, upon further examination, they backed up the initial claim. He did indeed die from a ruptured bladder, after all. Whaddya know.
The Original Hat-Wearing Hipster
“John Hetherington is a presumed apocryphal English haberdasher, often credited as the inventor of the top hat, which is said to have caused a riot when he first wore it in public on 15 January 1797.
Reportedly he had ‘appeared on the public highway wearing upon his head what he called a silk hat (which was shiny lustre and calculated to frighten timid people)’ and the officers of the Crown stated that ‘several women fainted at the unusual sight, while children screamed, dogs yelped and a younger son of Cordwainer Thomas was thrown down by the crowd which collected and had his right arm broken.'” nicokeano
People used to get really worked up about stuff like hats! In 1797, Hetherington was charged with breaching the King’s peace, found guilty, and ordered to pay a £50 fine. Why? He went out rocking a top hat, that’s why. People had never seen one before so they were scared and started rioting. Whoa.
Well, It’s Not Going to Lick Itself!
“Mozart once wrote a six-piece canon titled Leck mich im Arsch, literally Lick/Kiss My Arse.” Random-Rambling
It’s true! Listen to it here on YouTube.
He Did It All for the Nookie
“Thomas Jefferson, writer of The Declaration of Independence, 3rd president of the United States, and founding father, broke his wrist trying to jump over a fence in Paris to impress a girl.” Puffinator-0
It’s no surprise that Jefferson was a bit of a hound dog, and this story is 100% true. After surgeons set his wrist bones, he suffered pain in his wrist for the rest of his life. Because of this injury, he wrote many of his famous love letters with his left hand.
Mona Lisa Loves Watching People Wee
“After Leonardo da Vinci died ownership of the Mona Lisa went to King Francis I of France, who hung her in his bathing room.
In the 1982 version of Annie there’s a bit where Daddy Warbucks is deciding whether he wants to keep the Mona Lisa and says, ‘There’s something interesting in that woman’s smile. I might learn to like her. Hang her in my bathroom.’ The first time I saw that movie after learning this fact I laughed my head off when I heard this line!” revchewie
Well, sort of. After da Vinci died he left the painting to Francois I of France. According to PBS, the king hung the painting “in a prominent place in the Apartement des Bains in the palace at Fontainebleau, where she was admired by visitors from all of Europe.”
So yes, it was technically a bathroom, but “it is said that the Louvre museum was born in the French king’s bathroom. He had so many paintings in his private quarters that the area was converted to a semi-public art gallery.” So, it was not exactly in the crapper.
Louis XIV later moved the French court to the (super stinky) palace of Versailles, and Mona went with them. His son Louis XV did hate the picture and ordered it to be removed; it bounced around a bit from there before ending up in the Louvre, where it remains today.
He Wrote ‘Twilight’ Before It Was Cool
“Benito Mussolini wrote a romance historical fiction novel called The Cardinal’s Mistress and it’s about as bad as it sounds. It’s funny to think that the guy who literally invented fascism was also a connoisseur of shitty fanfiction.” KingAlfredOfEngland
It’s true, and you can even buy it on Amazon.
“This Is My Horse, Potato”
“One of the three greatest race horses who ever lived and one of the three foundation sires of thoroughbreds as we know them today was named potooooooo or pot8os because the stable hand got to name him and he didn’t know how to spell potato”. elcasaurus
As far-fetched as it sounds, this is true! Many famous thoroughbreds alive today have Pot8os in their family tree. According to Horse nation, “Legends differ somewhat, but the gist of the story remains the same: Potatoes, as the colt was known, was bred by Willoughby Bertie, the fourth Earl of Abingdon, out of Sportsmistress by the legendary Eclipse and born in 1773. The story goes that a stable lad, misunderstanding the horse’s name (or intentionally being a goofball) broke down the word “potatoes” into “pot”… plus eight O’s. So the horse’s feed bin sported the name “Potoooooooo” which gave all the boys a good laugh and apparently also amused the Earl of Abingdon greatly. The horse actually ran under the name “Potoooooooo” for a few starts until it was finally shortened to “Pot8os.”
Um, He Died Doing What He Loved?
“Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt died while swimming and they commemorated him with the Harold Holt memorial swimming pool.” Leygrock
On December 17, 1967, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt went swimming off the coast of Cheviot Beach near Melbourne. He was never heard from again. They held a memorial service for him, but his body was never found.
Since Holt was such an avid swimmer, the people of Australia decided he’d be best remembered for something that he loved. So they built the Harold Holt Swim Centre in Stonnington in his honor. Which is weird, but oh well.