These items can be described as “things I discovered while looking up other things.” I have tons of them and I will continue to supplement this compilation from time to time. They are in no particular order but each is a great conversation starter. The only thing they have in common is that they are not commonly known, and that’s what makes them fascinating. I have many more such items so I will continue to supplement this compilation when the spirit moves me. So read on and you will learn things you never knew or thought you would.
Giraffes have the same number of bones in their neck as do human beings: six.
Jackie Robinson is well-known as the first African-American to play baseball in the Major Leagues, beginning in the 1947 season as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. But what is almost completely unknown is the second African-American ballplayer was Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, who joined the team that same year, mid-season. Both Robinson and Doby, as well as the others who soon followed them, were standouts in the Negro Baseball League.
Twelve American astronauts walked on the moon on six NASA missions from 1969-1972. They were the crews of Apollo flights 11-17. Apollo 13 was aborted when it ran into technical problems that forced its miraculous return to earth in a harrowing ordeal that was accurately filmed in the 1995 movie Apollo 13 directed by Ron Howard.
National Broadcasting Company (NBC) established two separate units in the late 1930’s, NBC Red and NBC Blue. In 1943 the Federal Communications Commission forced the company to divest itself of one of its network units. NBC Blue thus became American Broadcasting Company or ABC.
It is commonly known that the Press is also called The Fourth Estate. What is less well known is that the first three estates, in numerical order are, The Clergy, The Nobility and The Landed Gentry.
Arthur Winn, the investor of the Crossword puzzle first called the Word Crosses. But a printing error caused the two words to be switched and they became Cross Words instead. As the mistake was not discovered for several days afterward, it was decided to keep the mistake as branded to avoid confusion. Winn, however, suggested that the puzzles be named one word instead of two.
The first known televised sporting event was a baseball game between Columbia College and Princeton University in May 1939. It was broadcast from Baker Field in Manhattan on television station W2XBS, the4 forerunner of WNBC to an estimated audience of 240 TV sets.
The first nationally televised television broadcast was on September 4, 1951 when US president Harry Truman addressed the nation from the San Francisco Federal Courthouse to announce the signing of the US-Japan Peace Treaty. The better known signing of an unconditional surrender in August 1945 aboard the USS Missouri was actually a cessation of hostilities. It took five and a half years of US occupation of Japan to hammer out a final peace agreement.
There are so many volumes in the British Library in London that if you read five books a day it would take one 90,000 years to read them all.
In the Golden Age of Radio of the 1920’s and 1930’s there was only one radio broadcast spectrum, called AM for Amplitude Modulation. In 1939 Frequency Modulation (FM) was introduced but it took more than fifteen years for it to become mainstream because old radios had to be replaced with units equipped to receive both frequencies.
The British Army suffered the loss of 160,000 horses in World War I in addition to its 585,000 solider fatalities. Sixty percent of those deaths were caused by long range artillery shell fire.
It is estimated that the total length of all the trenches dug during World War One is 3,250 miles. Most of these lengths were also lined with barbed wire, an American invention developed to contain cattle on their grazing lands. To soldiers it was known’s as Devil’s Rope.
The word “piano” is actually short for the instrument’s full name, piano et forte, which translates from Latin into “soft and loud.”
Unlike vinyl records, audio CD’s play from the center and spiral outward to the edge.
If selected for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the honoree is assessed a fee of $16,500. Typically, the fee is paid by a sponsor, such as a movie studio, a television network or a record company.
The multinational corporation set up by the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein to launder money gained by evading UN sanctions was called Montana Management in honor of the Scarface character played by Al Pacino named Tony Montana.
The full name of the Wizard of Oz, as penned by L. Frank Baum, is Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Issac Norman Henkle Emmanuel Ambrose Diggs. It spells out O.Z.P.I.N.H.E.A.D. Not surprisingly, MGM chose to ignore this bit of wit in its 1939 film version of the fable.
In 1968 British author J.R.R. Tolkein sold the movie rights to The Lord of the Rings for $15,000. They were subsequently re-sold many times and have earned the current owner over a billion and a half dollars. Fortunately his family members still earn a royalty that is estimated to be more than five thousand times the amount Tolkein earned during his lifetime.
British author Ian Fleming was an avid bird-watcher and named his most famous character after the noted field guide author, James Bond.
Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the creation of a Montgomery Wards copywriter named Robert May in 1940. The character first appeared in a Christmas-theme coloring book given out by the retailer as a gift to visitors of its famous North Pole displays in its stores. Rudolf became a major star only after the Gene Autry song became a hit in 1949.
The famous Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) story Green Eggs and Ham contains only forty-eight words and was written in response to a challenge from his editor to write a story using less than fifty words. Dr. Suess’ first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected twenty-seven times before it was accepted for publication. The first Harry Potter novel by J.R. Rowling was rejected more than a dozen times before it was accepted by a publisher. It’s first printing was just 2,500 copies. Word of mouth recommendations from librarians and teachers is thought responsible for its eventual success.
The oldest continually published newspaper in the US is the Hartford (CT) Courant. It was founded in 1764 as a weekly and became a daily in 1856.
The X-ray machine was named in 1895 by its inventor, a German scientist named Wilhelm Renjehn. He wasn’t certain how the phenomena worked so he called them X-rays because X is the universally used mathematical symbol for an unknown variable.
Despite its name, the small intestine is actually about four times longer than large intestine. Another name for the large intestine is the colon.
Contrary to belief, newborn infants do not shed tears when they cry. That’s because tear ducts do not develop until about three months after birth.
Hay fever has nothing to do with hay, And it is not a fever. It is an allergy to airborne particles such as dust and pollen.
The Hindu practice of suttee or widow-death was outlawed by the British Raj in 1829. In this ritual, the widows would be torched along with the remains of their deceased husbands. Oddly, the biggest protest to the prohibition were by widows themselves, who believed burning in this ritual way was the quickest way to Nirvana, the Hindu belief of everlasting bliss.
Jimmy Carter was the first US president to be born in a hospital. The year was 1924 and he was born in the rural town of Plains, Georgia.
The adult human body contains approximately 100,000 miles of blood vessels. If stretched out they would circle the earth almost four times.
It is well-known that cigarette smoking can shorten one’s life. But the same is not necessarily true of cigar smoking. Consider the age of death of the following fervent cigar smokers: comic actor George Burns (100), pianist/composer Arthur Rubenstein (95), American industrialist Bernard Baruch (95), Baruch, British politician Winston Churchill (91), British author W. Somerset Maugham (91), British army general Bernard Montgomery (89), comic/actor Groucho Marx (87) and psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud (83).
The funny bone is not a bone at all. It is a nerve that runs along the humorous bone in the arm. Thus the name.
The names of seven of the eight original Ivy League colleges are different today then when they were founded. Brown University was originally called Rhode Island College; Columbia University was known as King’s College; Dartmouth was originally called The Wheelock School; Penn was Franklin’s Academy; Princeton University was the College of New Jersey; Yale University was known as The Collegiate School; Harvard University was originally known as Cambridge College. Only Cornell University in Ithaca, New York has maintained its founding name.
Perhaps the most impressive graduating class in American history is Brunswick, Maine’s Bowdin College Class of 1824. That illustrious class included future US president Franklin Pierce (1852-56), future famous author Nathaniel Hawthorne and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. They were the only three graduates that year.
The reason February has just 28 days is because Julius Caesar nicked a day from it to add to July, the month names in his honor. After his death, his stepson and successor Augustus got the same idea and lopped off another day from February to add to the month of August. To compensate for these thefts, Roman astronomer Lepidus gave February a 29th day every four years and that’s why we call it, in his honor, Leap Year.
New Year’s Day was celebrated in Britain and her colonies on March 25 until 1752. It was switched to January 1 in 1753 by royal proclamation of King George II because that was his birthday. And to realign the calendar that same year, he decreed that September 14 would follow September 2. Thus in 1752 there was no September 3-13.
Many wonder why Easter falls on a different Sunday every year. It’s rather complicated. A Vatican commission in 1813 determined that Easter should fall on the first Sunday after the last full moon in March provided it occurs after March 22, which is the feast day of St. Jerome. It also determined that Ester Sunday should be celebrated no later that April 24, which is the feast day of St. Helen. The Eastern (or Orthodox) Church refused to accept this ruling and the authority of Rome to make such a determination. Accordingly, it decided to recognize the Sunday after the Catholic (and Protestant) Easter as its Easter Sunday. However, every seven years it falls on the same Sunday because the Eastern Church considered doing so was a magnanimous gesture of solidarity between the two principal branches of Christendom.
Daylight Savings Time was initially adopted by Germany in 1915 during the heat of World War I. The idea was first proposed by a British scientist named William Willette in 1912. In 1916, Great Britain also adopted DST but called it Willette Time in his honor. It wasn’t commonly referred to as DST until it was adopted by the US in 1922.
The Frisbee throwing disc popularized by toy company Wham-O Products in the 1940’s was actually invented by the playful kids of Bridgeport, CT in the decade before. It’s name came from the Frisbee Pie Company, whose tin pie pans were found to be aero-dynamic and used as flying objects by bored teenage boys in need of non-destructive stimulation. The Frisbee, along with Wham-O’s Slinky, was inducted into the initial class of the Toy Hall of Fame in New York in 1975.
If you counted numbers out loud, you would not say a word with an “A’ in it until you reached one thousand. If you kept counting, saying one number every second you would not reach one billion until thirty-one years and seven months after you started.
If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle; if the horse has one front leg in the air, the person died as a result of wounds received in battle; if the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.
No words in the English language rhyme with month, orange, silver, or purple.
The word Scuba is actually an acronym for “Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.”
The word Clip has two opposite meanings: to clasp together as in “paper clip” and to cut apart as in “clip in two.”
The letters on a typewriter keyboard are arranged in an inexplicable array. But there is a logic behind the design. It’s because letters that commonly follow each other in words don’t get stuck at the carriage strikepoint and thus stick together. The array is so well-established today that computer keyboards that don’t have moving parts still use it.
Add the word “Hello” to the list of Thomas Edison’s inventions. He came up with word after conducting a series of auditory tests that were made in the first years of the telephone’s usage. It was his fiercely competitive answer to Alexander Graham Bell’s preferred phone answering response, “Ahoy.”
The cartoon illustrator who created the Donkey and Elephant mascots for the Democrats and Republican parties also created the popular image of Santa Claus as the bearded jolly old fat man who wears a fur-trimmed red suit supported by a think black belt. His name is Thomas Nast (1840-1902) and he is considered the father of the political cartoon. Ironically, the American Society of Newspaper Cartoonists awards an annual award called The Nasty” in his honor. Nast was born in Germany and learned his trade as an apprentice typesetter and printer.
The English language alphabet consisted of twenty-four letters until 1854. At that time the letters “J” and “U” were added. They were previously substituted by the letters “I” and “V.” Inscriptions on government buildings are the most common place one can find the earlier usages of the former dual letters.
The standard piece of lumber knows as a “Two by Four” is actually not two inches by four inches. It is actually one and a half by three and a half inches. The reason it is smaller than its customary name is because wood was historically sized before it was planed and finished.
The label “lobbyist” was coined by US president Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) as a pejorative because he was annoyed that public policy advocates would sit and wait for him in the lobby of The Willard Hotel where he often dined with his wife Julia.
A computer that is malfunctioning is said to have a “bug” in it. The term was coined by IBM scientists in the mid-1950’s when a mainframe they were experimenting on literally malfunctioned due to a moth that they found had become entrapped inside.
As everyone knows, school buses are always painted yellow. The reason this is so is thanks to a research study that was commissioned by New York businessman John D. Hertz (1879-1961), who owned a taxicab company (and a truck and bus manufacturing company too). His goal was to determine which color was most easily visible to a taxi-hailing customer. The experimenters discovered that yellow was the top choice. Not surprisingly, Hertz adopted the color yellow as the background for the logo of the eponymous rental car company he founded too.
Japan and Finland are the world’s only non-British commonwealth nations that adopted the practice of driving on the left-hand side of the road.
The practice of hiring flight attendants was first established by United Airlines in 1930. For the first four years all hirees were licensed nurses because it was thought an airplane seat was akin to a hospital bed.
Mineralogist James Smithson (1765-1829), the benefactor the Smithsonian institutions which bear his name, never visited the US and had no known connection to any Americans. It seems he left his fortune to an endowment is the US to foster the advancement and preservation of knowledge to spite the Royal Academy of Science in London because its board refused to publish a treatise he wrote on geology.
Newspaper journalist Margaret Mitchell’s only published novel was Gone with the Wind in 1937. Her preferred title was Tomorrow is Another Day and her central heroine was named Patsy, not Scarlett, O’Hara. The changes were demanded by her editor and she bitterly opposed them. She died in a car crash in 1945, having lived just long enough to see her creation win world wide success due to the massive popularity of the film adaptation. Her heirs, none of which ever knew her, became the beneficiaries of the millions of dollars the book and film has earned her estate. Incidentally, the published title was drawn from a nineteenth century poem by Ernest Dowson called “Cynara.”
French impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh was thought to have sold only one painting during his lifetime. According to his brother and manager Theo, the painting was a landscape that sold for the equivalent of $30. It has been lost to history but certainly would be worth in excess of $25 million today.
It is widely known that the second and third US presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826. It is not generally known that James Monroe, the fifth president died on July 4, 1831.
The first woman nominated by a national political party for the US presidency was a self-made New York financier and publisher named Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927). The party was the Equal Rights Party and the election year was 1872. Her running mate was the freed slave turned intellectual lecturer Fredrick Douglass (1818-95). The election was won by Republicans General Ulysses S. Grant and his running mate, Schuyler Colfax of Indiana, who was the Speaker of the House. But the Woodhull-Douglass ticket garnered two percent of the national vote. The irony is that on Election Day she was sitting in jail, having been charged with publishing an obscene newspaper. The basis of this charge was an article she published describing the hypocrisy of renown Protestant pastor Henry Ward Beecher, who had a widely reported adulterous affair. The charges were ultimately dismissed after her trial resulted in a hung jury. She continued to champion women’s rights and labor reform for the rest of her long and eventful life.
Never heard of the US state of Franklin? Maybe it’s because it only existed for about four years, beginning in 1784. In that year, the farmers of western North Carolina were so disgruntled with their eastern aristocratic neighbors, they voted to succeed and establish their own state. When none of the other thirteen extant states recognized Franklin, the rebels voted to join Tennessee, which became the fifteenth state admitted to the union in 1789, just a few days after Kentucky was admitted to the newly formed USA.
Twenty-five US states are named for Indian words: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, the Dakotas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming.
The only state to be created as a result of the US Civil War (1861-65) is West Virginia in May 1863. The residents of eighteen northwestern Virginian counties were enticed away from the Confederate State of Virginia but a coalition of abolitionists, free-soilers and anti-Democrats and promised quick recognition of its independence by the US Congress, over which they held overwhelming control due to the succession of the ten Confederate states. Due to the geography and topography of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as many as three hundred thousand Virginians actually lived west of the newly christened West Virginians. For this reason, the new state’s constitutional congress proposed calling itself Kanawha, after the river that traverses the capitol of Charleston. But that effort failed. West Virginia is the last state formed east of the Mississippi River.
It is common knowledge Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate State of America, had been a US Senator from Tennessee prior the US Civil War. What is less well-known is that he was the son-in-law to former US president Zachary Taylor, hero of the US-Mexican War.
Coincidentally, both Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida are situated in counties called Orange.
Actresses with the initials M.S. won the best supporting role Oscar four years in a row: Maggie Smith for Plaza Suite in 1978, Meryl Streep for Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979, Mary Steenburgen for Melvin and Howard in 1980 and Maureen Stapleton for Reds in 1981.
The man who first discovered oil in the US never profited from it. Edwin Drake of Titusville, PA, while drilling for water on his farmstead in 1859, hit an oil deposit but regarded it more as a nuisance than a valuable resource. Disgusted by the filth of it, he sold his land to a group of speculators who had ambition and vision. Drake did, however, participate in the resulting land boom: he was the county clerk and register of deeds.
Everyone has heard of the annual Nobel prizes presented by the Swedish Academy of Sciences. But how this endowment came to be is a fascinating but little known story. Alfred Nobel was the youngest son of a family of Swedish successful industrial pioneers. His father owned a number of manufacturing concerns, including an armaments company where Alfred developed dynamite, which made him very wealthy. His elder brother Ludwig was in the oil business and also earned great wealth from having secured extraction rights to Russian oilfields. In 1888, Alfred suffered a heart attack while vacationing in Switzerland. But local newspapers mistakenly believed the deceased Nobel was Alfred, not Ludwig. The obituaries that followed described Alfred as “the merchant of death” for having revolutionized the explosive power of munitions. Deeply disturbed by this unflattering glimpse into the future, he resolved to leave his fortune to benefit science and humanitarian causes.
The national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain is commonly called “The Union Jack.” (I don’t know why.) But what I do know is that the tricolor crosses emblazoned upon it represent the crosses of St. George, St. Patrick and St. Andrew; they are the patron saints of England, Ireland and Scotland. Wales is not represented because at the time it was adopted it was united with England. It achieved autonomy in 2004 but doesn’t have a patron saint. At least not that anybody can recall. Incidentally, though St. George symbolically represents England, parts or all of his remains are claimed by 68 churches and monasteries in Greece, six churches in Cyprus, 15 in Egypt, two in Israel and two in monasteries in Iraq.
Queen Anne of England (d.1702) bore 16 children, all of who predeceased her. She was the second daughter of the deposed Scot James II and the last monarch of the Stuart Dynasty. The present House of Windsor has ruled ever since. Incidentally, the moniker “Windsor” was not the original dynasty name. It was Saxe-Colburg. It was established in England by Frederick, Elector of Hanover, who became George I in 1703. How a German ascended to the throne of Great Britain is a story in itself. Anne, having no surviving offspring, left no direct heir. A mad scramble ensued in which James Edward Stuart, (pejoratively called The Old Pretender) a Catholic and heir to the Stuart line, claimed the throne. But he was opposed by the Protestant controlled Parliament. The majority Whigs favored a Protestant successor to Anne and the majority Whig party threw their support to Frederick, eldest son of Princess Sophia, granddaughter of James I. During World War I, King George V, swayed by fierce enmity over war rival Germany, changed the dynasty name to Windsor and thus it remains today.
The famous storming of the Bastille prison which launched the French Revolution in 1789 and which is still celebrated there today, freed just seven prisoners.
William C (Billy) Durant, the founder of General Motors was ousted not one but twice as head of the company in its early years. The Old Wagonmaster, as he was known, returned to Flint in 1929 and opened a bowling alley with what little money he had left. His initials remain today emblazoned on the cornice the majestic old GM headquarters building in Detroit.
The first man to successfully barrel himself over Niagara Falls in 1916 died seven years later from a broken neck after having slipped on a banana peel. That’s irony!
Also ironic is the fact that Robert Ripley, the founder of a popular newspaper cartoon feature in 1927, which featured odd facts from around the world, is buried in Oddfellows Cemetery in Santa Rosa, CA.
Marijuana wasn’t illegal under federal law until 1937, largely as a response to Mexican-American prejudice. Prior to that, the government wasn’t certain it could outlaw the sale of a plant. To address the irony of the situation, the Congress forbade the sale of cannabis products without a license. Then it refused to issue any licenses. It wasn’t until 1970 that a federal law banned marijuana outright. By then it was prohibited in all the states of the union.
It is believed that Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published in 1876, was the first novel to be written entirely on a typewriter. Twain kept this fact secret because he didn’t want to be asked to endorse the machine, a Remington 100.
The only spot on earth one can see bot the Atlantic and Pacific oceans is from the summit of Mt. Izaru in Costa Rica.
Perhaps no work of art is more fabled (or over-praised) than Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. But contrary to popular belief, the woman it portrays is not mysterious or unknown. In fact, she was Lisa Gherardini the wife of Florentine merchant Francesco del Giacondo. This is why the actual title of the portrait is La Gianconda.
We’ve all seen heroic equestrian statutes in parks and squares. But what we don’t realize is that among sculptors there is an unwritten tradition regarding the placement of the horses’ hoofs on the plinths. If one hoof is raised, the rider’s death was due to wounds sustained in battle. If two hooves are raised, the rider died on the battlefield. If all four hooves are on the plinth, the rider died of natural causes. Naturally, as a horse cannot stand on one leg, three hooves in the air is not an option, even to a modernist.
Due to their elliptical orbits, the dwarf planet Pluto is actually not the furthest planet from the Sun; it is Neptune. And it will remain that way until the year 2113.
Everyone knows the presidential retreat in the mountains of Maryland is called Camp David. It was so named by Dwight Eisenhower to commemorate the birth of his first grandson, David (who ended up marrying Richard Nixon’s eldest daughter Julie) in 1953. Prior to that it was known as Shangri-La, the Tibetan mountain top settlement in James Hilton’s popular 1923 fantasy novel Lost Horizon.
It is a commonly held belief that the baby mascot on jars of Gerber baby foods is the infant Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957). The origin of this misconception is due to the fact that the artistic rendering upon which the baby’s face is based was by his mother, artist Maude Bogart. She was paid $15 for the sketch. It was automatically presumed she used her infant son as a model but she never confirmed that she did.