18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For

Larry Holzwarth - October 15, 2018

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.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
The contributions of the Lincoln Administration to the land colleges and universities in the United States are all but forgotten. Wikimedia

Here are some examples of historical personages remembered for the wrong thing, or who should be remembered for something else as well.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Henry VIII of England in a portrait painted before he became almost a caricature of the debauched hedonistic king. Wikimedia

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.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Jimmy Carter’s official presidential portrait. He never used the word malaise for which he is remembered in a 1979 speech. White House

2. Jimmy Carter and his malaise speech

Jimmy Carter is remembered as a generally ineffective and hapless president whose term in office was marked by economic uncertainty, international humiliation, military unpreparedness, and a lack of direction. Carter is remembered for addressing these and other issues in a televised speech during his term in which he blamed the problems besetting the country and his presidency not on a lack of leadership, but on the malaise affecting the American people. Carter delivered the speech on July 15, 1979, during a crippling energy crisis, with some Americans having to wait for hours to purchase gasoline, and then being limited in the amount they were allowed to buy. Carter prepared the speech in response to his advisers informing him that their polling data indicated that the country as a whole was facing a “crisis of confidence.”

Carter’s speech became known as the “malaise speech” in which the president stated that there was a malaise upon America, and it was viewed as being an unwelcome shift of blame for the country’s problems to the American people. In fact Carter never used the word “malaise” in his speech, stating instead that “a fundamental threat” to American democracy was a “crisis of confidence”. Carter’s legacy as an ineffective leader during his presidency largely stemmed from the “malaise speech” after it was spun by political operatives of both parties (Democratic supporters of Ted Kennedy used it to denigrate Carter’s administration), but it was generally well-received by the public at the time it was delivered. Carter is still remembered for claiming that there was a malaise upon America, though he did not.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
William Kidd (in red) welcomes guests aboard his ship in New York Harbor before embarking on the voyage which would label him a pirate. Wikimedia

3. William Kidd is remembered as a pirate who left buried treasure around the globe

William Kidd was born in the mid-seventeenth century and during the latter part of the century served on privateer ships in the Caribbean, rising to the rank of captain of a privateer, likely by election by the crew. By 1691 Kidd was living in New York, married to a woman twice widowed who possessed one of the largest fortunes in the colony. In 1695 he was commissioned by the governor of the northern British colonies in North America, Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont, to attack pirate ships and French ships in the Caribbean and in other waters. Presented with a Letter of Marque, which established him as a privateer in the service of the British, Kidd outfitted his ship, Adventure Galley, in England, sailing for New York in 1696.

Kidd opted to concentrate on pirates operating in the Indian Ocean off Madagascar, attacking the ships of the East India Company. When he failed to surrender thirty seamen to a Royal Navy vessel early in the voyage he was declared a pirate by the ship’s captain. Other accusations of piracy were leveled by deserters from Kidd’s ship and sailors which he had punished. When Kidd learned he was wanted as a pirate he went to the Caribbean, sold what plunder he had acquired during his less than profitable voyage, and sailed to New York. From there he was tricked by Bellomont with promises of a pardon into coming to Boston. Arrested there, he was sent to London for trial, where the investors who had funded his voyage took revenge for the lack of profits, and Kidd was hanged for piracy. Remembered today as one of the most notorious of pirates, there is in fact little evidence to indicate he was a pirate at all.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
FDR purchases the certificate which enrolled him as a founder of the March of Dimes in 1938. Library of Congress

4. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the battle against polio

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is remembered as the first and only person to be elected President of the United States four times, the founder of the New Deal, and the leader of the free world in the battle against the Axis during World War II. He also led the government in the repeal of Prohibition, helped create the United Nations, and established the Securities and Exchange Commission, Social Security, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, protecting the savings of American citizens from loss. He was beloved by many and reviled by many. He deservedly is remembered for these and many other things, all of which he accomplished as president from the confines of a wheelchair, having been stricken by paralytic illness in 1921. It was believed to be polio at the time, though diagnosis of his symptoms since his death attributed his paralysis to Guillain – Barre syndrome.

But it was polio which he believed he had, and he deserves to be remembered not only for his own long battle with his paralysis, but also what he did to help others. In 1938 Roosevelt created a non-profit organization dedicated to combating polio by improving the health of children and expectant mothers, which he called the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Both Sabin and Salk received funding from the organization during their research into the vaccines they developed which brought polio under control. During a fund raising campaign in 1938, singer Eddie Cantor labeled the program the March of Dimes. In 1946, the American dime was redesigned to feature Roosevelt’s image, partly in homage for his founding of the March of Dimes and its battle against polio.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Drawings which supported Abraham Lincoln’s patent application for a device which floated vessels over shoals and other obstructions. US Patent Office

5. Abraham Lincoln was an inventor before he became president

In his youth Abraham Lincoln made several trips on flatboats and steamboats on the rivers of the mid-west and south as a hired hand. He later acquired additional experience with the problems of navigating America’s rivers as a passenger while working as a lawyer. Boats often were delayed when they encountered shoals or milldams due to low water conditions. When a boat Lincoln was traveling on grounded in shoal water, which required a great deal of hard labor to free, the 23 year old Lincoln began to consider the means of elevating boats over the shoals. With no engineering background to speak of, Lincoln considered the idea of inflatable flotation, using fabric waterproof bags to lift the boat’s hull out of the water, or at least high enough to clear the obstruction.

With the help of a Springfield, Illinois artisan, Lincoln designed and built a working model of his vision, and wrote a description of the design and its use. During his first term in Congress he retained a patent attorney, had drawings of his invention prepared, and was awarded a patent for his design, which he called “Buoying Vessels over Shoals. The patent was awarded on May 22, 1849, though Lincoln never took any steps to enter production with the device and it was never put into use. Later engineers have expressed doubt that it was a practical solution. Nonetheless, Lincoln remains the only person to date to both hold a patent and serve as President of the United States. The model was placed in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
William Bligh, in the uniform of a Vice Admiral, in 1814. Wikimedia

6. William Bligh should be remembered for his seamanship

When William Bligh returned to England following his loss of His Majesty’s Armed Vessel (HMAV) Bounty it was to a hero’s welcome. The mutineers were reviled in England, Bligh was exonerated of wrongdoing in a court martial and again dispatched to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees, the original mission of Bounty, and convey them to the sugar plantations in Jamaica. Upon his return from the second, successful voyage he found that it was then he who was reviled; a successful smear campaign by the wealthy families of Fletcher Christian and Peter Heywood had painted Bligh as an insufferable tyrant and megalomaniac. Later in his career, during the Rum Rebellion in Australia, Bligh was again the subject of a mutiny, though again he was not at fault. For the rest of history Bligh has been portrayed as the epitome of cruelty and tyranny.

It is an unfair portrayal. The log of the Bounty reveals that Bligh punished sparingly and was solicitous of his crew’s welfare and health. Nothing proves his true character more than the successful voyage of the launch following Bligh’s ejection from Bounty. After one of his party was killed by the natives of Tofua, Bligh piloted the 23 foot launch, severely overcrowded with 18 men aboard, with minimal provisions (roughly one week’s supplies on half rations) on a 3,618 nautical mile voyage (over 4,000 statute miles) in 47 days without the loss of a man. He did so without charts or an accurate timekeeper, creating new charts of the islands and coasts they passed with astonishing accuracy. After reaching Timor several of the party succumbed to the unhealthy climate of the region and Bligh himself was sickened, though he recovered. He should be remembered for achieving one of the greatest feats in the history of the sea, rather than being one of its greatest villains.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Neville Chamberlain flourishes a paper describing the Munich Agreement, the nadir of his policy of appeasement for Hitler and German ambition. Wikimedia

7. Neville Chamberlain is remembered for appeasement of Hitler

During the years prior to the invasion of Poland in 1939, Adolf Hitler gradually achieved several steps which corrected, as Hitler saw it, the draconian terms of the Versailles Treaty. In hindsight, one would think there were several opportunities for the British government to step in and stop Hitler’s expansion of the German Reich. The reality of the times was Great Britain was still struggling with the effects of the Great Depression, and it was militarily unprepared to engage the Germans on its own. Its ally, France, demonstrated little political resolve, and there was little opposition when the Germans occupied the Saarland in 1935. Britain needed time to prepare for what appeared would be armed conflict with Germany, in the late 1930s only its navy was ready for war. The radar installations which saved the British during the Battle of Britain were still under construction.

Chamberlain tried to buy time through negotiation, and without a more belligerent France at his side he had to consider Hitler’s demands as to how they affected Britain alone. Chamberlain also attempted to strengthen British ties with Italy, going so far as to establish a private communication with Mussolini, in the hope that improved relations with the British Empire would weaken Italian links with Germany. There is no doubt that Chamberlain’s primary goal was the avoidance of another war on the European continent, but the political and international realities of the time dictated his policies of appeasement (a word he himself used). When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Chamberlain informed Parliament that all blame for the war was Hitler’s, and pushed for Great Britain to honor its commitments to the Poles.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Paul Revere was in his late seventies when Gilbert Stuart painted this portrait of him on Boston. By that time, his midnight ride was all but forgotten. Wikimedia

8. Paul Revere accomplished much more than his midnight ride

Paul Revere was immortalized in the poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, though the event was barely considered important during his lifetime, and he was far from the only rider warning of the British movements on the night of April 18, 1775. His ride, which is shrouded in myth, is all of his life remembered by most Americans. That’s too bad, because Revere was an innovative craftsman and businessman, and his contributions to American industry were beneficial to his country for decades after his death. Revere was an innovator following the Revolutionary War, hiring skilled workers for his expanding ironworks, paying them according to skill level and number of hours of work completed, rather than relying on the traditional method of apprenticeship.

In 1801 Revere expanded his business into the rolling of copper sheets, one of the first Americans to enter the business successfully. He found steady customers for copper bolts and other fasteners, and the shipyards of Boston and its environs used his copper sheets to sheath the hulls of ships, including USS Constitution. In 1802 his copper sheets lined the dome of the Massachusetts State House. His business, which before the Revolutionary War had consisted of a small silversmith shop, grew into the Revere Copper and Brass Corporation. In 1939, the company introduced Revere Ware cookware, linking today’s popular copper clad pots and pans, as well as other cookware, directly to the Boston patriot who had once sent the famous signal, “one if by land, two if by sea”.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Lawyer Francis Scott Key was an attorney of considerable reputation in the early days of the republic, including arguing cases successfully before the Supreme Court. Wikimedia

9. Francis Scott Key did more than write the Star Spangled Banner

Francis Scott Key is known in the United States for having written a poem during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry and Baltimore in 1814, which was later set to the tune of an old English drinking song, and which eventually became the United States’ National Anthem. Key was a lawyer of considerable renown when he boarded HMS Tonnant to dine with British admirals Cochrane and Cockburn, as well as General Robert Ross, to negotiate a prisoner exchange. The three British officers had supervised the burning of Washington DC three weeks earlier. Because Key had seen the strength of the British forces bearing down upon Baltimore he was detained aboard, and thus was present to observe the failed British attack and compose the verses for which he is famous.

Key was a lawyer of considerable reputation and importance, representing the arguments of presidents before the Supreme Court, including during the conspiracy trial of Aaron Burr. Key was also a prominent opponent of slavery (though he owned slaves himself, a living example of America’s dilemma over the issue), and was a founding member of the American Colonization Society, which raised funds for the colonization of Africa by freed slaves and other free blacks. Key manumitted his slaves in the 1830s, and represented slaves arguing for their freedom in court. It was also Francis Scott Key who prosecuted the man who was the first to attempt to assassinate an American president, Richard Lawrence, whose pistols misfired when he tried to shoot Andrew Jackson. Francis Scott Key should be remembered for many things besides the song which became the National Anthem in 1931.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Lieutenant Robert E. Lee made a name for himself as a talented and innovative member of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Wikimedia

10. Robert E. Lee helped make St. Louis a major shipping center

Robert E. Lee is chiefly remembered for his service to the Confederacy, his surrender which ended the American Civil War, and as the symbol of nobility of the mythical Lost Cause. His military service remains controversial; to some he was a traitor to his country whose actions caused the deaths of thousands, while to others he was a hero of state’s rights and freedom. He is a figure whose lifetime is shrouded by myths and falsehoods. To some he was one of the greatest generals in American history, to others his military mistakes, such as at Gettysburg, led to the defeat of the South. But there is no question he is remembered primarily for his actions during the Civil War, and ultimately for his surrender to Ulysses Grant in 1865.

Before the Civil War, Lee made a contribution to the growth of the United States which served to strengthen the nation by making the upper Midwest, with its fertile acreage, a viable agricultural area. In order to successfully grow crops profitably there has to be a method of moving them to markets, and for the upper Midwest that means was the Mississippi River, which had the disturbing habit of becoming too shallow for transit, often during the dry period which coincided with harvest season. As a member of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Lee solved the problem by damming a portion of the river north of St. Louis, diverting the river flow to the west side of the river. The increased flow scoured the bottom of the river on the St. Louis side, deepening it, and making the river passable through the port year round. It was possibly his greatest contribution to the success of the United States.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Andrew Carnegie gave away more than 90% of his fortune before he died, with his will distributing the rest to charities. Library of Congress

12. Andrew Carnegie built one of history’s great fortunes from scratch

Andrew Carnegie began his professional career working as a bobbin boy in a mill, performing the mundane task of replacing spent spools of thread. He worked as a telegraph messenger boy, became a telegraph operator, made investments in railroads and telegraph companies, and eventually became a magnate in the manufacturing of iron and steel. The Carnegie Steel Company became one of America’s largest, and by 1889 America led the world in steel production. In 1901 J. Pierpont Morgan purchased several steel companies, including Carnegie’s, and created U. S. Steel, the first billion dollar company (in terms of capitalization) in the United States. The deal made Andrew Carnegie, at the age of 66, one of the richest men in the world.

Carnegie’s story, a true Horatio Alger tale of rags to riches, would be enough, but an equally impressive part of the steel magnate’s story deserves to be remembered. For the rest of his life Carnegie gave his money away. Besides donations to foundations and endowments to schools, Carnegie built libraries across the United States and the United Kingdom, many of which remain in operation in the twenty-first century, and provided the funds for books as well. He wrote an article entitled Wealth (The Gospel of Wealth when reprinted in the UK) in which he argued that the first obligation is the creation of wealth through industry, and the second obligation is its redistribution to causes which improve society. Carnegie followed his own advice. By the time of his death he had given away more than 90% of the fortune he accumulated during his business career. His will redistributed what remained to charitable causes.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
James “Jimmy” Stewart flew 20 combat missions in the B-24 Liberator over France and Germany, often leading his group. US Army Air Force

13. James Stewart was an American war hero and later Air Force Reserve General

When the United States entered the Second World War several celebrities, including Hollywood actors and actresses, baseball players, football players, and others, joined the armed forces. Some were turned away due to age or health issues and supported the war by selling war bonds or joining USO tours. Others served in combat, such as baseball’s Ted Williams (who interrupted his baseball career a second time during the Korean War). Jimmy Stewart was one of the most popular actors in the United States, and at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor already had more than 400 hours of flying time. He enlisted as a private, was promoted to corporal during training, and received a commission as a second lieutenant in January 1942.

Stewart balked at being used in stateside missions for publicity, and for the filming of recruiting films, requesting assignment overseas. He got his wish when he was assigned to the 455th Bomb Group, which went to RAF Tibenham near Norfolk, England. Stewart flew 20 combat missions over France and Germany, in a Consolidated B-24 Liberator, often in command of the sortie. He flew several other missions as an uncredited observer or pathfinder. He received numerous awards for his combat service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross (twice), the Air Medal (with three Oak clusters), and the French Croix de Guerre. He remained in the Army Air Force Reserve and the US Air Force Reserve following the war, eventually rising to the rank of brigadier general, qualified to fly the B-52. Had he never been an actor he would be remembered for his services to the United States Air Force.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Napoleon at the Battle of Borodino. Napoleon captured the Russian capital, but its burning left his troops without shelter, forcing his withdrawal at the onset of winter. Wikimedia

14. Napoleon achieved his strategic goals in Russia

Napoleon is often excoriated for making the mistake of invading Russia in winter, which brought about the destruction of his army and eventually the demise of the French Empire. This is both overly simplistic and untrue. Napoleon’s military goals for the Russian campaign were the defeat of the Russian army in battle followed by the capture of Moscow, which though not the political capital of the Tsar (which was St. Petersburg), was nonetheless the spiritual capital of the Russian people. Napoleon began his invasion in June, 1812, defeated the Russian army in several minor and one major engagement, and entered Moscow in September, 1812, setting up his quarters in the Kremlin. In ordinary nineteenth century warfare, Napoleon could reasonably expect the Tsar to sue for peace. Alexander was inclined to do so, but his generals dissuaded him.

Instead, the Russians burned Moscow, destroying more than 75% of the city. Without food or shelter, Napoleon had no choice but to withdraw. He intended to return by a route to the south of his invasion march, where supplies had not been exhausted by the ravages of the two armies in the summer. When the Russians blocked him with strong defensive positions, he was forced by the time pressures concerning the onset of winter to follow the same route he had previously used. All armies of the day lived primarily on what they could forage and there was little to be had by either of the contending armies. Winter and starvation ravaged the French, but they did the pursuing Russians as well, who suffered more than 400,000 dead and wounded. It was the destruction of Moscow which defeated Napoleon, forcing him to face the Russian winter.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Amelia Earhart’s feminist views were unusual for her day, including having her husband, G,P. Putnam, sign a pre-nuptial agreement. Library of Congress

15. Amelia Earhart was a pioneering feminist in the 1960s vein

Amelia Earhart is remembered as a pioneering aviatrix, who captured the hearts of people around the globe with her achievements in the air. She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo, though her flight was considerably shorter than Charles Lindbergh’s of five years earlier. Lindbergh had flown from Long Island to Paris, Earhart’s flight was from Newfoundland to Ireland. Already a celebrity when she made the flight, the achievement cemented her international fame. In 1935 Earhart became the first aviator of either sex to fly from Hawaii (Honolulu) to California. She wrote both books and articles about her experiences in the air and on other topics, including the one for which she would be known were it not for her flights, feminism.

When Earhart vanished on her around the world flight in 1937 she triggered a search which, though interrupted by World War II, continues to the present day. The mystery of what happened to her has overshadowed her advocacy for feminist issues. When she married George Putnam, of the publishing family, she insisted, in writing, on an open marriage and equal responsibilities for husband and wife. She retained her own name following the marriage, an unusual circumstance for the day, rather than becoming Amelia Earhart Putnam. Earhart considered her marriage to Putnam as a “partnership” with both partners holding the same rights as well as the same obligations. Had Earhart completed her flight or been rescued following her disappearance in the Pacific she would likely be remembered today as much for her feminist views as for her flying achievements.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, is credited with inventing the eponymous food, though combinations of bread and meat were eaten for centuries earlier. Wikimedia

16. John Montagu served three terms as First Lord of the Admiralty

In 1729, when he was but ten years old, John Montagu inherited the title of Earl of Sandwich upon the death of his grandfather. Throughout a long and distinguished military and political career, Montagu served in several governments, always with distinction. He was First Lord of the Admiralty, placing him in charge of the Royal Navy, in three different eras, under three different governments, and was responsible for its reconstruction and improvements in the mid-eighteenth century. When James Cook discovered the Hawaiian Islands he named them the Sandwich Islands in Montagu’s honor. It was Montagu who pressed for the coppering of hulls of British ships, which allowed the vessels to remain at sea longer and attain higher speeds, less impeded by the marine life which grew on the wooden hulls.

He would be widely remembered for his naval innovations and other services (including running the British Navy during the American Revolutionary War) except that legend has it that he was the inventor of the sandwich, with meat served between two slices of bread. It is highly unlikely that he was the first to so consume a meal in this fashion, but he did so frequently at his club while gambling, prompting other members to tell a waiter, “I’ll have what Sandwich is having”, or some similar remark. Other versions have him consuming the eponymous meal while working at his desk in the Admiralty. John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, is thus remembered for inventing the sandwich, of which thousands of variations have evolved since his days in his club. The fact that meat and bread were consumed in similar fashion for centuries before Sandwich is usually ignored. He certainly gave the comestible its English name.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Cary Grant, seen here in The Philadelphia Story (1940) helped British Intelligence keep track of Axis sympathizers in Hollywood during World War II. Wikimedia

17. Cary Grant is remembered as the epitome of male style and grace

In the 1930s and 1940s Cary Grant was one of the most famous of the leading men in Hollywood films, equally comfortable in comedic and dramatic roles. Born in England, and named Archibald Leach, Grant was an acrobat and vaudeville performer in England and America before achieving success in Hollywood in the 1930s. During the war years he remained in the film business, appeared in USO shows and tours, and made the types of propaganda films which Hollywood churned out during the war to promote morale at home. Late in his career he was approached about playing the British spy popularized in the series of novels by Ian Fleming, James Bond, but he turned down the role. It may have been too close to the truth.

During the Second World War, British Intelligence set up a network of spies and agents in the United States, reporting on the activities of Americans and others in the United States which were supportive of the German-American Bund, members of the Nazi and Communists parties in America, and those who were sympathizers. Several suspected Nazi sympathizers were in Hollywood, including Errol Flynn, who had once been introduced to Adolf Hitler. Grant reported back to handlers in New York on what he observed regarding pro-Nazi and other activity in the Hollywood community, which was duly transferred to London. The surreptitious British activity continued even after the United States entered the war. It was never formally admitted to by Churchill, though there was evidence he shared some of the information with FDR.

18 Historical Figures Who Should Be Remembered for Greater Things Than History Credits Them For
Admiral Chester Nimitz at his desk as Chief of Naval Operations in 1947. US Navy

18. Chester Nimitz and the United States Pacific Fleet in World War II

Chester Nimitz was the Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) from shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when its commander was Husband Kimmel, until after the surrender of Japan. He oversaw the Central Pacific island campaigns, as well as the great naval victories at Midway, the Marianas, and in the sea lanes around the Philippines. A submariner himself, he was also responsible, through his deputies, for the American submarine campaign against the Japanese Navy and merchant marine. Nimitz was one of the architects of the victory in the Pacific War, and deservedly holds the reputation of being one of the United States’ greatest naval leaders in history. But it was nearly not so, had Nimitz accepted the command of the Pacific Fleet when it was first offered he would have shared the blame for Pearl Harbor.

In the summer of 1941 it was decided to keep the fleet in Hawaii, rather than returning it to its West Coast anchorages at San Pedro and San Diego. The fleet commander, Admiral James Richardson, complained about leaving the fleet in the forward position in Hawaii and was fired. Nimitz was offered the job by President Roosevelt and turned it down, later telling his son that he wanted to be away from the use of the fleet as a political pawn in the negotiations with Japan, in the event of a catastrophic event. Husband Kimmel was given the job instead. After the surprise Japanese attack and the devastation of the fleet, Kimmel was used as a scapegoat for the disaster, and relieved. Had Nimitz been on the job at the time of the attack he too would likely have been sacrificed for the political disaster, and today remembered altogether differently.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Henry VIII and his navy. How did Henry VIII build England’s first naval battleships?” Royal Museums Greenwich. Online

“Examining Carter’s ‘Malaise Speech,’ 30 Years Later”. Kevin Mattson, Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio. July 12, 2009. Online

“The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd”. Richard Zacks. 2003

“The President’s Birthday Message”. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Disability History Museum. January 30, 1938. Online

“Abraham Lincoln Is the Only President Ever to have a Patent”. Owen Edwards, Smithsonian Magazine. October, 2006

“William Bligh’s Narrative of the Mutiny on the Bounty”. Lt. William Bligh. 1790

“The Big Question: Was Neville Chamberlain really the failure portrayed by history?” Michael McCarthy, The Independent. August 20, 2009

“Paul Revere Biography”. The Paul Revere House. Online

“Francis Scott Key, The Reluctant Patriot”. Norman Gelb, Smithsonian Magazine. September, 2004

“R. E. Lee: A Biography”. Douglas Southall Freeman, 1934

“Was Carnegie Right About Philanthropy?” Russ Juskalian, The New Yorker. February 9, 2014

“Jimmy Stewart’s Air Force”. Rebecca Grant, Air Force Magazine. January, 2015

“How Russia Really Won – Russia’s war against Napoleon”. Dominic Lieven. 2010

“Amelia Earhart: Pilot and feminist”. Laura Edwins, The Christian Science Monitor. July 24, 2012

“The Insatiable Earl: A Life of John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich”. Nicholas A. M. Rodger. 1994

“Errol Flynn: The Untold Story”. Charles Higham. 1980

“The Strategic Leadership of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz”. Captain James A. Knortz, USN, United States Army War College Strategy Research Project. 2012. Online