Rightly or for the wrong reasons, there are hundreds of people in history who are remembered for one thing when they should really be noted for another. Thomas Edison is remembered as the inventor of the light bulb, for example, which he wasn’t, but rather should be remembered as the inventor of a practical lighting system. His own patent was for an improved electric light bulb. His system of electrical distribution was rapidly proved inefficient compared to the competition. His greatest contributions came in the area of recording, of sound and video, though he is less remembered in those areas today.
Eli Whitney is remembered for inventing the cotton gin when he is remembered at all, but it was his contributions to the manufacturing process known as the assembly line which was his greatest contribution to the advancement of industry. Abraham Lincoln is remembered for saving the Union and freeing the slaves. His greatest contribution to posterity may well have been the creation of land-grant universities through an act of Congress his administration supported and helped push through the legislative process. Over one hundred American state colleges and universities owe their existence to the act, passed during the Civil War, and adapted and modified to include the Southern states following reconstruction.
Here are some examples of historical personages remembered for the wrong thing, or who should be remembered for something else as well.
1. Henry VIII is remembered for beheading several wives
King Henry VIII is best known for collecting several wives and discarding them like gnawed beef bones once he was finished with them. He became the image of the hedonist, primarily concerned with his own comforts, obese, overly fond of wine and beer, with a court created to ensure that his majesty’s every whim was catered to immediately as it was expressed. The English Reformation and the establishment of the British monarch as head of the Church of England were initiated by Henry being denied an annulment of his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII came to be almost a caricature of the tyrannical monarch enjoying a life of luxury while his people and his nation bore the burdens he inflicted upon them.
In many ways the image is unfair. Although Henry clearly descended into obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle from the virile and athletic figure he had been in his youth, he also had a clear vision of England’s future. It was Henry who expanded the Royal Navy, setting it upon the path from which it would become the ruler of the seas following the defeat of the Spanish Armada during the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I, in 1588. Henry recognized that as an island nation England was dependent upon trade, and it was the Royal Navy which protected that trade for nearly four centuries following his death. As the father of the Royal Navy, Henry VIII created the basis for what became the British Empire, the largest which the world has ever seen.