A Prank Led to America's First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts

Khalid Elhassan - December 13, 2019

Did you know that the first American woman to ever become mayor was elected as a result of a sexist prank that backfired on the pranksters? Or that the first time America suffered an aerial attack, it came at the hands of a drunk pilot? Or that the bomber that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan cost more than the program that led to the creation of America’s nukes? If you did, congratulations: you’re probably a walking encyclopedia of historic trivia. However, if you are like most Americans, those are just a few of many fascinating but little known facts about the country’s history. Following are forty things about such lesser known aspects of America’s past.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Susanna Madora Salter in 1887. Wikimedia

40. Nominating a Woman to Office as a Sexist Prank

In 1887, a cabal of men opposed to women’s participation in politics nominated a woman for the office of mayor of Argonia, Kansas. However, they were the opposite of fans of women’s empowerment: their aim was to secure an overwhelming defeat for the female candidate that would humiliate women, and discourage them from voting or running for office. In a nutshell, the whole thing was a sexist prank, along the lines of “nyuk, nyuk – a woman mayor. Ain’t that absurd?” type deals, for chauvinists to chortle over.

As seen below, rather than lose, the female candidate, Susanna Madora Salter (1860 – 1961), ended up winning the election convincingly. That made her the first woman ever elected as mayor in American history. Putting even more egg on the pranksters’ face, she went on to capably fulfill the duties of her mayoral office.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Nineteenth century suffragettes. Marie Claire

39. The Genesis of a Prank

It was not until ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 that America’s women were guaranteed the right to vote. However, in the preceding decades, numerous states had given women the franchise, in whole in or in part. One such was Kansas, where the protracted struggle for women’s voting right won its earliest partial victory in 1887, when women won the right to vote in municipal elections.

For many opponents of women’s suffrage, that heralded the world going to hell in a hand basket. Some such specimens in the town of Argonia set out to demonstrate their contempt for the concept of women in politics with what they saw as relatively harmless prank. They would place a woman’s name on the mayoral ballot, she would of course lose, and everybody would get a laugh at the absurdity of females floundering about in the manly world of politics.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Susanna Salter and her husband. Pintrest

38. America’s First Female Mayor

Susanna M. Salter was born in 1860 into an Ohio Quaker family, which moved to Kansas when she was twelve. At age twenty, she attended the predecessor of today’s Kansas State University, but was forced to quit mere weeks before graduation, due to ill health. While pursuing her higher education, she met her future husband, and after getting married in 1880, the couple moved to Argonia and started a family, with Susanna eventually giving birth to nine children.

In Argonia, Susanna became active in her local Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) – an anti alcohol organization advocating Prohibition. When women got the right to vote in Kansas municipal elections in 1887, the WCTU made enforcement of the state’s Prohibition law its main issue, and backed a slate of like-minded (male) candidates. However, their efforts to get women to exercise their newly won voting rights displeased some men.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Susanna Salter’s home in Argonia, Kansas. Art Davis

37. The Prank Candidate Slate

A group of about twenty men from Argonia were upset by both women’s involvement in politics, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s pro Prohibition stance. So they decided to kill two birds with one stone: get a good laugh, and discourage women from political participation. There was no legal requirement to secure candidates’ consent before placing their names on ballots. So just before Argonia’s 1887 municipal elections, they prepared a slate of candidates comprised of WCTU members, with Susana Salter heading the slate as mayor.

They figured that no man would vote for a woman, Salter would lose, the WCTU would be humiliated, and having learned their lesson, women would grow discouraged and refrain from voting or getting involved in politics in the future. Things did not work out the way the pranksters figured they would.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Susanna Salter in 1956. Tavistock Books

36. The Prank Backfires

When the polls opened on the morning of April 4th, 1887, Susana M. Salter was unaware that she was on the ballot. She first found out when a local Republican Party delegation went to her house, to ask if she was actually running for mayor. She had not been – until then. Asked if she would serve as mayor if actually elected, Salter said “yes”. The Republicans backed her, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union abandoned its candidate, and voted as a block for Salter.

She won over 60% of the vote, and America got its first female mayor. Her term was relatively uneventful, but her election became global news. Domestic and foreign press frequently reported on Argonia’s town meetings, women’s suffrage took a step forward, and instead of humiliating female voters, Argonia’s chauvinist pranksters were the ones who ended up humiliated. As to Salter, she eventually resettled in Oklahoma, where she lived to the ripe old age of 101, before passing away in 1961.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Beer was quite important for the Mayflower’s voyagers. Slug Signorino

35. The Pilgrims Settled in Massachusetts Because They Ran Out of Beer

Running out of beer can put a damper on festivities and harsh up partygoers’ buzz. It is a bummer, but seldom does the lack of beer produce results as far reaching as occurred in the summer of 1620, when the Pilgrims ended up settling in Massachusetts because they were running low on beer. Nowadays, that might seem like a trifling reason for making such a momentous decision, but beer was a serious matter for the Pilgrims back then.

It began on August 5th, 1620, when the Mayflower departed Plymouth, England, for a journey across the Atlantic to the newly established Virginia Colony. In other words, when they set out, the Pilgrims’ destination had not been Massachusetts, but a point significantly further south. The vagaries of weather, the hardships of crossing an ocean in a seventeenth century sailing ship, coupled with low levels of beer, led them to change their minds about where to settle.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Pilgrims leaving the Netherlands. Scholastic

34. Take Me to Old Virginny

The Pilgrims famously crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the Mayflower, and ended up landing and settling in Plymouth, about forty miles south of modern Boston, at roughly 42° latitude N. However, their intended destination when they left England was hundreds of miles from Plymouth down the eastern seaboard in the Virginia Colony, roughly 40° latitude N.

The Pilgrims’ journey was beset by many delays. They had planned to sail from England in July of 1620. However, most of the people making the voyage where then living in Leiden, in the Netherlands. So the plan was for a sister ship, the Speedwell, to sail from England to the Netherlands, pick up the passengers, return to Southampton, join the Mayflower, and then the two ships would sail together in convoy to Virginia.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Pilgrims boarding the Mayflower. Encyclopedia Britannica

33. Setback After Setback

The Mayflower and the Speedwell sailed from England to the New World on August 5th, 1620. However, the Mayflower’s sister ship proved unfortunately named, being neither speedy nor well. The Speedwell began leaking, so the Pilgrims docked in Dartmouth for repairs. They set out again on August 21st, but after a few days at sea, the Speedwell began leaking again.

The voyage’s leaders came to the conclusion that the Speedwell was simply not up to the task of crossing the Atlantic, and decided to leave her in England, continuing on across the ocean to the New World in the Mayflower. So after transferring supplies from the Speedwell, the Mayflower finally set out on September 6th — over a month behind schedule. It would prove to be an arduous voyage.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
The Mayflower encountered plenty of rough seas en route to the New World. Encyclopedia Britannica

32. A Treacherous Crossing

Sailing the Atlantic proved to be treacherous. The Mayflower’s voyage proceeded smoothly at first, but then the ship was beset by foul weather and fouler storms during the second half of the trip. 66 days after departing England – a voyage they had hoped would take a month – they finally spotted land at today’s Cape Cod, on November 9th, 1620.

That was about 250 farther north than their original aiming point, and all else being equal, they would have simply sailed down the coast until they reached their intended settlement site. However, all else was not equal, and the Pilgrims faced a serious problem: they were out of beer. Back then, drinking water aboard ship was liable to go bad, especially on long voyages. Sea voyagers, such as the Mayflower’s Pilgrims, relied on beer as a drinking source that would not spoil. So running out of the brewed stuff was a big deal.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
The Mayflower’s intended vs actual routes. Scholastic

31. The Manhattan Pilgrims?

The Pilgrims’ initial destination had been a Virginia Colony island teeming with wildlife and natural resources, fronted by a huge and navigable natural harbor, and bordered by a navigable river that led deep into the interior. Back then, the Virginia Colony’s borders were not the same as those of today’s Virginia. In 1620, the Virginia Colony’s northern boundary was about 225 miles farther north than Virginia’s current border, and the island where the voyagers intended to establish their colony is today called Manhattan.

Instead, the lack of beer led the Pilgrims to explore the coastline of Cape Cod and the nearby mainland region, until they finally decided upon a site. On Christmas Day, December 25th, 1620, the Pilgrims founded Plymouth Plantation as their new colony, and importantly, the site where they would brew up a fresh batch of beer.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. PBS

30. America’s Most Highly Decorated Soldier is Unknown

The Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of American military personnel who died in the country’s wars without their remains having been identified. A little known fact is that the ranks of the Unknown include America’s most decorated soldier, ever.

The question “who is the most decorated soldier in the history of the United States?” might elicit responses such as Audie Murphy or Daniel J. Daly, both having won the Congressional Medal of Honor – Daly twice – in addition to numerous other medals. However, neither Murphy nor Daly nor any other American is as highly decorated the Unknown Soldier of the First World War.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. NPR

29. The Military Honors and Awards of WWI’s Unknown Soldier

Not only is America’s World War I Unknown Soldier a posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, he has also been awarded the Victoria Cross, The Legion of Honor, the Croix de Guerre, as well as the highest service awards of numerous other nations.

Each of his Unknown comrades who have joined him over the years, in the aftermath of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam, has also been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, presented by the US President presiding at his funeral.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Pintrest

28. The Constant Vigil

Since 1937, The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded continuously, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. First, by troops of the 3rd Cavalry, and since 1948, by soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard”, among whose ranks service as Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns is considered one of the highest honors.

The Tomb of the Unknown’s sentinels do not wear rank insignia while posted on guard, in order to avoid the possibility of outranking any of the Unknowns, whatever their rank might have been in life. Only the Relief Commander and the Assistant Relief Commanders wear rank insignia, but only when presiding at the changing of the guard. When they themselves are posted on guard duty, they don a separate uniform without rank insignia.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Pancho Villa on horseback. Encyclopedia Britannica

27. The First US-Mexico Border Fence

Tensions were high along the US-Mexico border in 1918. Two years earlier, Pancho Villa had raided Columbus, New Mexico, triggering an American incursion into Mexico that had lasted into 1917. America’s joining WWI in 1917 did not help calm things down: with war declared against Germany, American authorities now feared attacks from Mexicans instigated by German agents. Against that tense backdrop, American military intelligence reported in August of 1918 the presence of suspicious and heavily armed Mexicans in the border town of Nogales.

There were also reports of white men, presumably Germans, instructing Mexicans on military tactics. Simultaneously, an anonymous letter was received from somebody claiming to have been an officer in Villa’s forces, warning of German influences in and around Nogales. All of that would culminate in a border battle, whose most lasting outcome was the erection of the first border fence separating America from Mexico.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Ambos Nogales in 1918, with Mexican Nogales on the left, and American Nogales on the right. Wikimedia

26. The Borderless Border Town

Until 1918, a newcomer to the border town of Nogales, divided between an American part in Arizona and a Mexican part in Sonora, would have seen little to distinguish where America ended and Mexico began. The two towns were known as Ambos Nogales, Spanish for “Both Nogaleses”. Officially, a wide and open boulevard named International Street separated the US from Mexico. In practice, few paid attention, and historically, the border had been open and unrestricted, with no impediments to crossing from one Nogales to the other.

That changed in 1918, when crossing into Nogales, Arizona, was restricted to inspection points, and US soldiers were posted on International Street. In the preceding months, two Mexicans were killed while attempting to cross International Street, including a deaf mute who was unable to hear American border guards’ orders to halt. That built up a store of resentment against US border agents by their Mexican counterparts, and things finally came to a head in late August of 1918.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
American and Mexican soldiers patrolling their respective sides of International Street in Nogales. Wikimedia

25. Fighting Erupts

Trouble began on August 27th, 1918, when a Mexican carpenter returning to Mexican Nogales was ordered to halt in the middle of International Street by an American Customs official, who wanted to inspect a parcel he was carrying. Only a few feet away, Mexican border agents directed him to ignore the American command, and continue into Mexico. As he hesitated between the competing groups of border agents shouting contradictory instructions, an American soldier raised his rifle to encourage the carpenter to return to the US side.

Amidst the confusion, a shot was fired, and the carpenter dropped to the ground. Thinking the carpenter had been shot, a Mexican Customs official drew his pistol and shot an American soldier in the face. A US Customs official then drew out a revolver, and shot two of his Mexican counterparts dead. In the meantime, the carpenter, who was unhurt, got up and sprinted to safety down a side street.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
The US-Mexico border at Nogales in the 21st century. Military Wiki

24. The Battle of Ambos Nogales

As gunfire erupted in Nogales, Mexican citizens rushed home to grab their firearms, and returned to help the Mexican border agents. Before long, Both Nogaleses were engulfed in a running firefight. As the fighting intensified, troopers from the 10th US Cavalry Regiment, stationed in Fort Huachuca, were called in. They were followed by a detachment from the 35th Infantry Regiment, whose members set up a machine gun and opened fire on Mexican positions.

In an attempt to quell the violence, the mayor of Mexican Nogales tied a white handkerchief to a stick and ran down the street, waving it to try and get the combatants to cease fire. He was shot dead. Finally, around 7:45 PM, fighting stopped when the Mexicans waved a large white flag over their Customs building. After peace was restored, American and Mexican authorities agreed to divide the two Nogaleses with a chain link fence – the first border wall between the two countries.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Mexican pilots in the 1920s. Pintrest

23. The Drunk Irishman Who Bombed America

Tensions eased along the US-Mexican border after the Battle of Ambos Nogales, in no small part because the Mexican Revolution, whose spillover risks kept Mexico’s northern neighbor jittery, had ended. Then things worsened again in 1929, when a Mexican rebellion led to fighting between competing factions just across the border from the US. Things escalated, spilled over, and by the time the dust settled down, America had experienced its first aerial bombing.

America has been attacked from the air a few times, with Pearl Harbor and 9/11 being the best known instances. However, America suffered its first aerial bombing in 1929, at the town of Naco, Arizona. Fighting in Mexico spilled over across the border, and a possibly drunk mercenary pilot, an Irishman named Patrick Murphy, was hired to bomb Mexican forces. He ended up bombing an American town instead.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Mexican federales, or government soldiers, during the Battle of Naco. Wikimedia

22. The Spectator Sport Combat

Insurgents in northern Mexico rose up against their government in the late 1920s, in the Escobar Rebellion. During the fighting, Mexican government forces, or federales, entrenched in the Mexican border town of Naco, in the state of Sonora. Their positions lay directly across the border from the American town of Naco, Arizona. Americans in Arizona’s Naco and the surrounding region viewed the conflict in Mexican Naco as a spectator event.

Sightseers arrived from miles around, competing with each other for dibs on the best spots from which to view the fighting in Mexico. Many even crossed into Mexican Naco for a better look. It did not seem foolhardy at the time, particularly as combatants from both sides, fearful of US military intervention, were careful not to fire across the border or unnecessarily endanger the gringos. Still, the occasional stray bullet whizzed by, which only added to the spectators’ thrill and excitement.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
The type of suitcase bomb dropped by Patrick Murphy and other pilots during the fighting around Naco. Wikimedia

21. Background to a Farce

American spectators thought the combat in Mexican Naco was exciting, but in April of 1929, things got too exciting. That was when the Mexican rebels hired a mercenary barnstormer pilot, an Irishman named Patrick Murphy, to drop homemade bombs on federales trenches. On April 2nd, 1929, Murphy dropped a pair of bombs near federales positions, but they turned out to be duds. Another attempt finally produced a strike on a Mexican customs house.

Shrapnel peppered crowds of American spectators gathered in nearby salons and clubs in Mexican Naco, causing them to rush back to the American side of the border. It has widely been rumored that Murphy was flying while drunk, which explains why, soon thereafter, he dropped a bomb on American Naco.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
A car destroyed by Patrick Murphy’s drunk bombing of Naco, Arizona. Wikimedia

20. The Drunk Bombing of America

After the inauspicious bombings in early April, 1929, mercenary pilot Patrick Murphy flew further raids against Mexican government forces. He frequently missed the Mexican trenches, and bombed Naco, Arizona. His bombs on the American side of the border blew up a general store, destroyed a car parked in a garage, shattered numerous windows, damaged a US Post Office, and inflicted some injuries, none of them life threatening.

Murphy’s drunk bombing reign of terror finally ended on April 6th, 1929, when a lucky shot from a federales rifle struck his plane’s engine. Trailing white smoke, Murphy crash landed, then sprinted to the rebel lines, and from there crossed into America. He was arrested by US soldiers and taken to a Nogales jail, but was never charged. US Army detachments, plus a fighter squadron, were sent to Naco, but by the time they got there the rebels had already been defeated, and the fighting was over.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
A B-29 Super Fortress, compared to a B-17 Flying Fortress. Quora

19. The WWII Bomber That Cost More Than the Atomic Bomb

The Boeing B-29 Super Fortress is best known as the plane the dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A leap ahead in aircraft and bomber development, it featured innovations such as a pressurized cabin, and machine gun turrets that could be fired by remote control.

Not only was the B-29 the most technologically advanced and revolutionary bomber of WWII, it was also the most expensive military project of the conflict. Bar none. The price tag for the Super Fortress was actually higher than that of the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
A B-29 Super Fortress. Wikimedia

18. The Super Fortress’ Shaky Start

B-29 prototypes first flew in 1942, and the plane was introduced to service in May, 1944. Super Fortresses initially bombed Japan from bases in China, but getting the most out of the revolutionary bomber’s potential proved difficult at first. Shaky logistics, with all fuel, supplies, and bombs needing to be flown from India over the Himalayas, coupled with the airbases’ vulnerability to Japanese attack, rendered a sustained bombing campaign from China impractical.

The Mariana Islands, located about 1500 miles south of Tokyo and thus within B-29 range, were a better option: they could be supplied limitlessly by ship, and were beyond Japanese reach. Once they were captured and the necessary airbases and facilities built, B-29s were rebased there and began bombing Japan in October, 1944, from the Mariana islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
B-29s bombing Japan. Political Forum

17. Changing the B-29’s Bombing Doctrine

The Super Fortress had been designed for high altitude bombing, but that type of bombing did not work over Japanese skies. Unlike Europe, Japan is situated beneath a fast moving jet stream that made bombing from high altitudes difficult and often impossible. As a result, B-29s were ordered to fly lower, and bomb from medium altitudes to improve accuracy.

When general Curtis LeMay took command of the 20th Air Force, he introduced additional new tactics: realizing that Japanese air power by 1945 was negligible, B-29s were stripped of defensive weapons that had become superfluous, in order to maximize bombload. The bombload was changed from the high explosives suitable for European cities of brick and concrete buildings, to incendiaries which would prove more effective against Japanese cities whose buildings were mostly wooden. And the B-29s were ordered to bomb from low altitudes.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
B-29s dropping incendiaries over Japan. Wikimedia

16. Bombing Japan Into Submission

B-29 aircrews were appalled at Curtis LeMay’s directives to bomb at lower altitudes, and to do so without defensive weapons, fearing that they would get slaughtered. However, LeMay’s tactics worked, resulting in the incineration of Japanese cities and the devastation of Japan, without a corresponding devastation of B-29 squadrons.

Japan was reeling from the months of mounting destruction inflicted by Super Fortresses by the time the B-29s Enola Gay and Bock’s Car delivered the atomic coup de grace. B-29s continued in American service for years after WWII, seeing action again during the Korean War, before they were retired in 1960. A reverse engineered Soviet copy, the Tu-4, flew for the Red Air Force until the mid 1960s.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
M4 Sherman variants. Etsy

15. The Underappreciated Sherman

When the subject of the best tanks of WWII comes up, the conversation often focuses on German panzers such as the Tiger or Panther tanks, or the Soviet T-34. However, a strong case could be made that the best all around tank of WWII was the criminally underappreciated and excessively maligned American M4 Sherman medium tank.

The Sherman was America’s main tank of the war, and the most widely used tank of the Western Allies. Shermans were easy and cheap to produce, mechanically reliable, easy to maintain, durable, and available in great numbers: about 50,000 were built during the war. They had a large turret and roomy interior, a good gun traverse rate and excellent stabilization system, and routinely managed to get off the first shot in tank-vs-tank confrontations.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
M4 Shermans. Real Clear Defense

14. The War’s Safest Tank?

M4s were relatively safe by WWII tank standards. On average, Sherman crews suffered only one death for every Sherman destroyed, a low fatality rate by the standards of the era’s tank warfare. A Sherman might be lost, but most of its crew lived to fight another day, helped by a plethora of large escape hatches.

A US First Army study of losses suffered by its 456 available Shermans from June to November of 1944 revealed 129 killed and 280 wounded, for a Sherman crew loss ratio during six months of intense combat of only 0.3% killed, and 0.6% wounded. On the downside, early Shermans were notorious for brewing up when hit because of inadequate fire prevention measures in ammunition storage – a problem that was remedied in later models.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Sherman cutaway. Wikimedia

13. Shermans Often Outclassed German Panzers

When the M4 entered service in 1942, it outclassed German panzers, being more heavily armored and better armed. For example, the standard gun of the Panzer III was 37mm, whose shells the Sherman shrugged off. When Panzer IIIs were upgunned to 50mm, they still had to get very close to inflict damage on their American counterpart. In the meantime, the Sherman’s 75mm gun could kill every Panzer fielded by the Germans until the arrival of the Tiger.

Shermans got an unfair rap for being poor tanks, mainly because they had trouble with the heavier Tigers and Panthers that were introduced later in the war. However, Tigers and Panthers represented only a fraction of German tanks, and fighting other tanks represented only a fraction of the Shermans’ workload – a fraction the Shermans had never been intended to perform. In the grand scheme of things, Shermans seldom faced Tigers: throughout the entire war, only 1300 Tigers were built, a figure lower than the Sherman’s typical monthly production figures.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
M4 Shermans landing on Normandy Beach. World War Photos

12. Shermans Were Never Intended to Duel With German Tanks

When the M4 Sherman was designed, American combined arms doctrine held that tanks were not intended to fight other tanks – that was the task of tank destroyers armed with high velocity guns. Shermans with bigger guns, such as the Firefly Sherman equipped with a 17 pounder, matched or exceeded the Tigers’ and Panthers’ firepower, but most Shermans kept their standard 75mm general purpose gun with its effective high explosive shell.

That was because the Shermans’ primary mission was to support infantry to achieve breakthroughs, then race through the breach and wreak havoc in the enemy’s rear. The Sherman, mechanically reliable and armed with a 75mm that fired a highly effective high explosive round, was excellent in the role for which it was designed.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Sherman on the road. National WW2 Museum

11. Shermans Performed Superbly in the Role For Which They Were Designed

Shermans shone during the breakout from Normandy in 1944, and the ensuing rapid sweep through France and Belgium that only came to a halt at Germany’s border for lack of fuel. It was the kind of performance that only an armored force equipped with mechanically reliable and easily maintained Shermans could have pulled off.

Other countries’ armored forces would have been forced to halt because their tanks had broken down, long before they advanced as far as the Shermans had gone, before they were forced to halt – not because the American tanks broke down, but because they ran out of fuel.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
A 76mm equipped Sherman ‘Easy Eight’. Wikimedia

10. As Part of a Combined Arms Team, the Shermans Wiped the Floor With the Panzers

If it ever came down to fighting one on one, M4 Shermans were outclassed by German Tigers and Panthers. However, Shermans did not have to face the bigger German tanks one on one. American tanks prevailed against German armor because they were part of a combined arms system that operated more smoothly than that of any other combatant, and that could bring more accurate and sustained firepower against its targets than anybody else could hope to match.

German Panzers had to worry about more than just American tanks – and nearly 50,000 Shermans were manufactured, vs only 1300 Tigers and 6000 Panthers. German tank crews also had to worry about American infantry who were usually not that far away from the Shermans. They also had to worry about American tank destroyers, that were usually nearby. Their list of worries also encompassed American artillery, and tactical bombers that frequently circled the battlefield in taxi ranks, either of which was only a radio call away from any American tank platoon commander who found himself in trouble.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Robert E. Lee’s home, Arlington House, during the Civil War. Smithsonian Magazine

9. Arlington National Cemetery Sits Atop Land Confiscated From Robert E. Lee

Arlington National Cemetery, situated on rolling hills overlooking Washington, DC, is well known as the United States’ most prestigious burial grounds. Less known is that it was established during the Civil War on an estate confiscated from the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. To ensure that Lee could never return to his house, Union soldiers were buried in his wife’s rose garden, and the estate was designated a military cemetery.

After the war, Lee sued, and the fight over his beloved home went on for decades, continuing on after his death. Lee’s family eventually got some compensation, but the property remained a national cemetery. Since then, Arlington National Cemetery has become America’s premier military burial ground. It is the final resting of over 300,000 veterans, from the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan and Iraq, their family members, as well as civilians whose service to the country in non military fields rendered them eligible for burial in its hallowed grounds.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Benedict Arnold. History

8. America’s Greatest Traitor Was Also the American Revolution’s Best Fighting General

Benedict Arnold (1741 – 1801), the American Revolutionary War general, is the United States’ most infamous traitor, and one whose name has become an epithet, synonymous with treason and betrayal. However, before his name became mud, Arnold had been a leading patriot in the fight against the British. He was perhaps the most capable combat leader on the rebels’ side, before a combination of resentments over slights, coupled with financial distress, led him to sell out to the enemy.

Before turning traitor, Arnold had provided valuable service to the American side, and played a leading role early in the war in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. He then led an expedition through extremely rough terrain in an attempt to capture Quebec. The expedition failed in its ultimate aim, but Arnold exhibited remarkable leadership in getting his men to the outskirts of Quebec.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Benedict Arnold. Biography

7. Resentment at Lack of Recognition Started Arnold on the Road to Treason

In 1776, an enterprising Benedict Arnold constructed a fleet from scratch at Lake Champlain, which he used to defeat a vastly superior British fleet. While lionized as a hero by the public, his successes, rash courage, and driving style aroused the jealousy and resentment of other officers. So they backbit and schemed against Arnold.

When Congress created five new major generals in 1777, Arnold was stung when he was bypassed in favor of some of his juniors. It took George Washington’s personal pleas and entreaties to keep him from handing in his resignation. Soon thereafter, he repelled a British attack in Connecticut, and was finally promoted to major general, but Arnold’s seniority was not restored – another slight that ate at him. He tried to resign again, but was again talked into sticking around.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Peggy Shippen. National Endowment for the Humanities

6. The Turn to Treason

In 1777, Benedict Arnold performed brilliantly in thwarting the British advance into upstate New York. He was instrumental in bringing about its defeat, which culminated in the British surrender at Saratoga, where Arnold fought courageously and was severely injured.

Crippled by his wounds, Arnold was put in charge of Philadelphia, where he took to socializing with loyalist families, as well as extravagant living, which he financed with questionable dealings that led to scandal. He also married a much younger woman, Peggy Shippen, who combined loyalist sympathies with spendthrift habits that soon put Arnold deep in debt. Between resentments and financial difficulties, he secretly approached the British to offer his services.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
A French map of West Point in 1780. Wikimedia

5. Unmasking and Flight

Benedict Arnold was placed in charge of American fortifications at West Point on the Hudson River, upstream from British-occupied New York City and barring the enemy from sailing upriver. He plotted to sell plans of the fortifications to the enemy, and contrived to deliver them into British hands, for £20,000. However, Arnold’s British contact, Major John Andre, was captured, along with incriminating documents. Arnold managed to flee to the British in the nick of time, to evade arrest.

He was made a brigadier general in the British army and led soldiers against the American side. However, the British never fully warmed to him, and after the war he was unable to secure a regular commission. He pursued a variety of ventures, including privateering and land speculation in Canada, before finally settling in London, where he died in 1801.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Jack Daniel. Pintrest

4. Jack Daniel’s Weird Death

Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel (circa 1849 – 1911) was a distiller and businessman best known for founding the Jack Daniel’s whiskey distillery in Tennessee. His namesake brand went on to become the top selling American whiskey in the US and the world – a top ranking it holds to this day. Less known is the fact that Jack Daniels was killed by his own safe.

Born in Lynchburg, Tennessee, Daniel worked in his childhood for a preacher, grocer, and moonshine distiller. The boy did not exhibit much enthusiasm for grocery or the gospel, but when his boss showed him how to operate his whiskey still, or ordered a slave to show him, young Daniel took to it like a fish to water. He exhibited a precocious talent that led him to get his own distillery license, reportedly while still a teenager. Jack Daniel’s whiskey gained in popularity, and in 1897 the brand gained its distinctive appearance when he began using square shaped bottles.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
The safe that killed Jack Daniel. Business Insider

3. Killed by a Safe

The Jack Daniel’s brand reputation was greatly enhanced after it won the gold medal for finest whiskey at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair. That led to a surge of popularity nationwide, even as Daniel’s reputation suffered locally because of the growing temperance movement. Then he was killed by his office safe, whose combination he constantly had trouble remembering, and so relied on a trusted assistant to open it for him.

One day in October, 1911, Daniel went to work early, arriving at the office before his assistant. He tried to open the safe but was unable to do so on his own. In frustration, he kicked it, injuring his toe in the process. The toe became infected, the infection spread, and on October 10th, 1911, Jack Daniel died of blood poisoning. The safe went on to gain legendary status, featuring prominently in tours of the facilities, and even getting sent out on public tours of its own.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Benito Mussolini. BBC

2. A Crackdown on Crime in Italy Helped Cement Organized Crime in America

Prohibition laid the groundwork for and produced a business boom for American organized crime. Just as that was getting started, Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy. No Italian government before or since had managed to crush the Sicilian mafia and the Camorra. Mussolini crushed them.

The Sicilian mafia and Camorra throve in Italy’s corrupt political culture, working the system and mastering its intricacies, subverting politicians, police, and judges by bribes or threats, until organized crime became a state within the state. The fascists did not share power or tolerate challenges, and Mussolini was neither concerned with nor constrained by legalities in dealing with mafiosi. He simply bypassed the criminal justice system and sent in the army and Black Shirts to round up the Sicilian Mafia and Camorra en masse, killing any who resisted.

A Prank Led to America’s First Nominated Female to Office, and Other Lesser Known American History Facts
Italian mafiosi rounded up by the fascists. Okruchy Historii

1. Chased Out of Italy, Mafiosi Flocked to America

For over a century, Italian mafiosi had intimidated civilians, strutting as scary tough guys. The fascists showed them that soldiers were scarier and tougher. Fortunately for the American mafia, Mussolini’s crackdown in Italy forced many Italian Mafiosi to flee the Old Country. The push factor at home coincided with a pull factor in the US, where Italian crime families were experiencing an unprecedented business boom, thanks to Prohibition.

So the mafiosi fleeing Italy swelled the ranks of mafiosi in America just when their services were most needed. It was not until WWII and the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy that the Camorra and Sicilian mafia were reborn, when the US Army made use of their remnants to help administer the occupation. It was war, and its exigencies called for using whatever was at hand to help win and save American lives. Considering what Mussolini and the fascists had done to them, the mafiosi were certainly committed anti-fascists.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Ad Week, September 19th, 2016 – The Mythical Safe That Cost Jack Daniel’s Founder His Life

Argus Leader, November 17th, 2016 – Beer Played an Important Part in Pilgrim Life

Arlington National Cemetery – Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Birdsall, Steve – Saga of the Superfortress: The Dramatic Story of the B-29 and the 20th Air Force (1980)

Business Insider, December 13th, 2013 – This is the Safe That Killed Whiskey Distiller Jack Daniel

Business Insider, November 21st, 2018 – The Pilgrims Landed on Plymouth Rock For More Beer

Daily Beast – How A Sexist Prank Elected America’s First Female Mayor

Flexner, James Thomas – The Traitor and the Spy: Benedict Arnold and John Andre (1953)

Kansaspedia – Women’s Suffrage

Martin, James Kirby – Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered (1997)

Smithsonian Magazine, November, 2009 – How Arlington National Cemetery Came to Be

Straight Dope – Did The Pilgrims Land on Plymouth Rock Because They Ran Out of Beer?

Tank Encyclopedia – Medium Tank M4 Sherman

Vintage News – The First Female Mayor in the US Was Nominated as a Prank, She Won Over 60 Percent of the Vote

Wikipedia – Battle of Ambos Nogales

Wikipedia – Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Arlington)

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