There is so much history to learn, there’s no surprise there are obscure facts that many of us have never heard of. On Reddit, there is a specific forum dedicated to revealing surprising facts called r/TodayILearned. Here, people can share amazing facts that they had no idea about until now. Honestly, if you tune into this board, you may learn more browsing than you ever did in history class. But to make it easy and interesting, we’ve compiled some of our favorite facts from this forum and expanded on the history there. So you can rest assured that these history fan fueled facts are obscure and fact checked.
This Person Who Discovered the History of Watching for Soviet Bombers
This person discovered that in the 1950s, the US didn’t really have a hi-tech way to make sure that the Soviets wouldn’t attack from the sky. So they came up with a strange idea. “TIL that in the early 50s, before national radar system and satellites, the US surveyed the skies with Operation Skywatch: a million civilian volunteers in rickety towers with binoculars and a telephone, watching for Soviet bombers.” – Obscure Fact by jackconnery79
It’s pretty impressive that the US could mobilize such an amazing force of volunteers to fuel this initiative. Let’s look at the numbers. 800,000 volunteers comprised the Ground Observer Corps. At its height, in the 1950s, volunteers manned more than 16,000 observation posts and 73 filter centers. Recruited by local civil defense authorities and the Air Force, civilians vowed to watch the sky for potential hostile aircraft intent on attacking their homeland. The volunteers consisted of women and children as well as the typical young man you’d expect for the job. It was dissolved by the late 1950s.
Who knew that this life saving medication came from lilacs?
Metformin is a life saving drug that many diabetics today are prescribed. It can be used to manage blood sugar levels by improving the way your body produces insulin. While something this complex sounds like it could only be engineered in a lab in the recent past, its beginnings started a long, long time ago: “TIL the anti-diabetic medication, metformin, is derived from French lilacs. In medieval times, French lilac was used to treat the symptoms of a condition we now know today as diabetes mellitus.” – Obscure Fact by dilettantedebrah
Metformin was originally developed from natural compounds found in the plant Galega officinalis, known as French lilac or goat’s rue. Its roots (pun intended), go back to 1500 BCE, beginning with ancient Egyptian physicians. Specifically, in medieval times, a prescription of Galega officinalis was said to relieve the intense urination accompanying the disease that came to have the name of diabetes mellitus Synthetic biguanides were developed in the 1920s in Germany, but their use was limited due to side effects.
“TIL Aristotle was Alexander the Great’s private tutor and from his teachings developed a love of science, particularly of medicine and botany. Alexander included botanists and scientists in his army to study the many lands he conquered.” – Obscure fact revealed by SingLikeTinaTurner What we would give to sit in on a lesson from one of the greatest minds in history! It’s amazing that two historical figures come together to make one extraordinary historical fact.
In 343 BCE, Aristotle was summoned by King Philip II of Macedon to tutor his son, Alexander, and held this post for the next seven years, until Alexander ascended to the throne in 336 BCE and began his famous conquests. But it sounds like Alexander took a lot of his lessons with him through life. He even quite literally took an annotated copy of Homer’s works that Aristotle gifted him with on his campaigns later on. But you have to wonder how the tutelage here affected history and how Alexander handled his leadership roles. Aristotle encouraged Alexander to be a leader to Greeks and a despot to barbarians, treating the former as friends and the latter as beasts. That’s some serious world influence.
Davy Crockett got his humble beginnings by running away from a school bully
Born in Tennessee in 1786, Davy Crockett has been an American legend since became a hero and pioneer of the American West. His prolific life and career has been the source of many favorite American stories and folk tales. But this one in particular is one of our favorite facts about Crockett. “TIL when he was 13, Davy Crockett attacked a school bully. Fearful of his father’s punishment, he ran away from home. Over the next two and a half years, he did odd jobs, learned several woodsman skills and traveled around in 3 states. When he finally returned home, his family couldn’t recognize him.” – Obscure fact by suzukigun4life
Davy Crockett did, in fact, run away from home after confronting and taking down a bully at school. He then went on to be one of America’s favorite pioneers of the American West. Crockett grew up in East Tennessee, where he gained a reputation for hunting and storytelling. He was made a colonel in the militia of Lawrence County, Tennessee and was elected to the Tennessee state legislature in 1821. In 1827, he was elected to the U.S. Congress where he vehemently opposed many of the policies of President Andrew Jackson, especially the Indian Removal Act. His life was full of crazy ups and downs. But he met his unfortunate end as the most notable to perish in the Alamo in March of 1836.
This Rag Tag Group of the Oppressed that Launched a Rebellion Against the Confederacy
This amazing bit of American history should be lauded a lot more than it is. The story of a former Confederate soldier turning against them and launching a strike against the group. “TIL after his father and brother were taken out by Confederate Home Guard, Henry Berry Lowrie led a band of American Indian, White, and African-American men in a guerrilla war against the Confederacy and later the upper class. He obtained a Robin Hood like status and vanished without a trace in 1872.” – Obscure Fact by Johnny_Banana18
After being pushed around by the Confederate Home Guard at home in Robeson County, North Carolina, Lowry had enough. He… “did away” with two guards, James P. Barnes on December 21, 1864, and James Brantley “Brant” Harris on January 15, 1865. Unfortunately, his retaliation had consequences. The Home Guard linked the attacks to his family and unjustly and quickly tried, convicted, and terminated his brother and father. This led to him forming a band of oppressed citizens to rebel against them. Henry Berry Lowry had gathered around him other Indian men who had tired of taking the mistreatment of whites. Along with this group, two African Americans and one white “buckskin” Scot joined what became known as the Lowry band. The band robbed rich white landowners, and Henry Berry Lowry became the “Robin Hood” of Robeson County.
This Obscure Sports History Moment that Had a Domino Effect (Part 1)
Two of America’s great athletes in one story? Now this is what we’re talking about. Many people don’t know the inspiration Muhammad Ali had on Mike Tyson. Or that it was a promise of vengeance that ignited Tyson’s rise to the top. “TIL when Muhammad Ali lost to Larry Holmes in 1980, then 14-year old boxing prospect Mike Tyson spoke to Ali on the phone, promising to avenge the loss. He fulfilled the promise seven years later, knocking Holmes out in four rounds. Tyson later called it a highlight of his career.” – Obscure Fact by szekeres81
This heated fight in 1980 would, in fact, be a cataclysmic moment in sports history. There were no knockdowns, but Holmes dominated the fight and was given every round by all three judges. Holmes won through a technical knockout after Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee stopped the fight after the tenth round. In the audience watching these epic icons duke it out was none other than future Heavyweight Champ, Mike Tyson. At 14 years old, Tyson idolized Ali. And when his hero lost the fight, a fire burned in him. The next morning, Tyson’s trainer and long time father figure Cus D’Amato was on the phone with the defeated Ali.
This Obscure Sports History Moment that Had a Domino Effect (Part 2)
14-year-old, Mike Tyson, sat in the car with his trainer, Cus D’Amato, as he spoke to the defeated Muhammad Ali. “Cus had wanted me to beat him so bad. I was offended by how bad he beat up Ali. When we drove home to Catskill [about an hour from Albany], nobody in the car said a word, we were all so upset. The next morning, Cus was on the phone with Muhammad Ali after taking this shellacking from Holmes. He said to Ali, “I have this young black kid who is going to be heavyweight champion someday and I want you to talk to him.”
On October 2, 1980, young Tyson said: “When I grow up, I’ll fight Holmes and I’ll get him back for you.” His confidence proved to be accurate. Seven years later, when Tyson was 21-years-old, he and Larry Holmes went face to face in the ring. Moments before the fight started, Ali came up to Tyson and said, “Remember what you said – get him for me.” Tyson, in fact, did “get him”. In Round 4, Tyson delivered a final right hook that dropped Holmes for the third time in that round with just seven seconds left before the bell. Tyson had emerged victorious from what was dubbed âHeavyweight History’ and his name, if not already etched into the history books as the youngest ever Heavyweight Champion, was there to stay.
This Obscure Study on Orphans that Should Have Never Been Allowed
This one is hard to stomach. “TIL that in 1939 an experiment was conducted at the University of Iowa on orphans in which the purpose was to induce stuttering in otherwise normally speaking children. Dubbed the ‘monster study’, it caused lifelong psychological issues in some of the subjects.” – Obscure Fact by TuffLaw. Boy, this is a sad one. But let’s look at some of the details.
In 1939, Wendell Johnson, a distinguished University of Iowa speech expert, set out to unravel the mystery of stuttering. He decided to do this by trying to induce the disorder in orphans. His hypothesis for the experiment was that stuttering was a learned behavior; parents criticizing their children for the slightest speech imperfections would trigger a study. The experiment? Belittle 11 orphans for the slightest speech mistakes to try and trigger a stutter due to psychological pressure. The experiment was unsuccessful. Yet, still highly unethical and cruel. Since then, the University of Iowa has issued an apology.
The World Wide Web was Created due to Workplace Frustration
Many inventions are made out of searching for better ways to do things, but one of the world’s most important inventions was made because of workplace inefficiency. “TIL Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. He was frustrated with the fact that he had to go and ask his coworkers what data was on their computer so he can add it to his computer which led to him creating an application that became the world wide Web.” – Obscure Fact by somnifacientsawyer
CERN’s website breaks it down best: “Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, invented the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1989, while working at CERN. The web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world.” This is a pretty fancy explanation for simply trying to make sure that you’re not having to do as much work. But as the saying goes: “Work smarter, not harder.”
A Beloved Comic Strip Just Needed Some Words of Encouragement
“TIL when he was in fourth grade, Bill Watterson wrote to Charles Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts”, expressing his desire to become a professional cartoonist. Much to the young boy’s surprise, the cartoonist responded, encouraging Watterson to go on to create ‘Calvin and Hobbes.’ ” – Obscure Fact by unnaturalorder
On November 18, 1985, two little characters walked their way into the hearts of Americans. Calvin and Hobbes became a beloved staple in the newspaper. Bill Watterson drew Calvin and Hobbes for an entire decade. The subject of the comic was six-year-old Calvin and his tiger friend Hobbesânamed after the Protestant reformer John Calvin and the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Watterson called the name choice “an inside joke for poli-sci majors”. This little duo captured hearts, young and old, until their final appearance on Dec 31, 1995. But they still remain a favorite nationwide.
Golf is one of the favorite pastimes for many people worldwide – particularly the affluent. So it would seem strange that this game played amongst politicians and business men would have been banned by a King. “TIL that in 1457 golf was banned in Scotland by king James II, because he felt that young men were playing too much golf instead of practicing archery. It remained banned until 1502, when James IV became a golfer.” – Obscure Fact by jcd1974
The origins of golf, famously, began in Scotland. Golf originated from a game played on the eastern coast of Scotland, in an area close to the royal capital of Edinburgh. While the exact inventor is debated, historians confirm that ball and stick games were recorded in the 13th century. The game of golf officially became a sport when the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith formed the first club in 1744 and set up an annual competition with silverware prizes. But before that, King James II was concerned about young men thwarting their civic duties. Therefore, it was banned in 1457. It was not allowed again until 1502.
Electric Cars Were More Popular than Gasoline Fueled Cars at First
Many people believe that, historically, gasoline has been at the forefront of automobile fuel. However, this isn’t exactly the truth. “TIL that by 1900, electric cars were so popular that New York City had a fleet of electric taxis, and electric cars accounted for a third of all vehicles on the road.” – Obscure Fact by RemoteStretch6. So why are we relying so heavily on fossil fuels if electric cars aren’t a new invention? There are many controversial explanations, but let’s get into a brief history instead of opinion. Instead of pinpointing one inventor, historians agree that it was many different breakthroughs and inventions that contributed to the birth of the electric car.
In the early 1800s, innovators in Hungary, the Netherlands and the United States began toying with the concept of a battery-powered vehicle and created some of the first small-scale electric cars. Here in the U.S., the first successful electric car made its debut around 1890 thanks to William Morrison, a chemist who lived in Des Moines, Iowa. Of course, the top speed being only 14 miles per hour, it was little more than a glorified wagon. In addition to this, there were so many options between steam, gasoline, and other options, that it was hard for the electric car market to truly take off. While the electric car was preferred by many and it even beat the competition in many aspects, the Ford Model T dealt the final blow in 1908. The mass production, affordability, and availability of the new Ford automobile set the trajectory for transportation.
This Obscure Liberian Election was the Most Rigged in History
“TIL that Charles D. B. King holds the record for the most fraudulent election in history. In 1927 he was elected President of Liberia with 234,000 votes in a country that only had 15,000 registered voters at the time.” – Obscure Fact by ThePainCrafter. Many historians agree, that this was, in fact, the most rigged election in history. And the problems didn’t stop there. Following the election, the members of the True Whig Party (Charles D.B. King’s party) government of using slave labor at home and selling slaves to a Spanish colony. The government, of course, denied this and refused to cooperate.
The League of Nations established the “International Commission of Inquiry into the Existence of Slavery and Forced Labor in the Republic of Liberia” to determine the extent of the problem. American President Herbert Hoover briefly suspended relations to press the government into compliance. In 1930, the committee’s report was published, and although it could not substantiate charges of slavery and forced labor, it implicated government officials, including both King and vice president Allen Yancy of profiting from forced labor, which it equated to slavery. There were also suggestions about putting Liberia into trusteeship. Impeachment procedures began shortly after.
Vampires. Some of pop culture’s favorite monsters to depict. Today, vampire movies and shows range from Twilight to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Many people believe that the original idea of vampires feasting on blood came from the vampire bat. But that is not the case. “TIL that the vampires were not inspired by bats. Bloodsucking bats were only discovered in Latin America in the 16th century, while the earliest vampires stories were from 12th century Europe.” – Obscure Fact by Ptcruz
It’s hard to pinpoint the very first mention of vampires in any type of culture or folklore. Many different cultural descriptions of things describing what we would consider vampires can be found throughout the world. In European folklore, often visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the neighbourhoods they inhabited while they were alive. They wore shrouds and were often described as bloated and of ruddy or dark countenance, markedly different from today’s gaunt, pale vampire which dates from the early 19th century.Cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, Manipuri and Romans had tales of demons and spirits which are considered precursors to modern vampires.
A constant blight on humanity is famine. Many great civilizations have been brought to their knees by food shortages. With a growing population, this is a major concern for many. One Soviet botanist wanted a way to fix this issue. “TIL about Nikolai Vavilov, a Soviet botanist whose aim was to end hunger worldwide. He collected seeds of wild crops and deposited them in a seedbank in which to produce new strains of crops. Stalin denounced him and used him as a scapegoat for a famine. He perished in prison from starvation.” – Obscure Fact by Mad_Chemist_ .
Nikolai Vavilov was born and Moscow in 1887 and pursued the study of botany for the majority of his life. Vavilov became interested in plant breeding. Specifically, he began conducting studies into disease resistance problems effecting oats, wheats and barley. Vavilov, the then Head of the Department of Applied Botany, was elected by the new Soviet Union for a mission to travel to the United States to collect seeds of wild crops for cultivation. His goal was to try to breed seeds that would be frost hardy, drought resistant, and tolerant to different blights. In a political campaign, Vavilov’s type of study and genetic breeding in general were denounced by Stalin. He met his end starving in a cold jail cell.
Hilarious and Obscure Doodles from the 13th and 14th Centuries
“TIL drawings of battles between knights and snails appear in the margins of many texts from the 13th and 14th centuries. There is no known explanation for the meaning behind this recurring depiction.” – Obscure Fact by thewolfwasirish. There is no funnier rivalry than an armored knight and an overgrown snail. And thanks to these random texts, they will forever be recorded in history.
While there is very little to know about the reason for such a fierce competition between snail and knight, it might be fun to dive into a few more contextual facts of the era. With such a mysterious air behind the illustrations, it hasn’t kept historians from speculating on the symbolism of these doodles. The British Library says that the scene could represent the Resurrection, or it could be a stand in for the Lombards, “a group vilified in the early middle ages for treasonous behaviour, the sin of usury, and ânon-chivalrous comportment in general.'” The Smithsonian Magazine covered this topic: “Lisa Spangenberg floated another idea. She says that ‘the armored snail fighting the armored knight is a reminder of the inevitability of death,’ a sentiment captured in Psalm 58 of the bible: ‘Like a snail that melteth away into slime, they shall be taken away; like a dead-born child, they shall not see the sun.’ “
Kamikaze pilots are some of the most notorious warriors in history. They were dreaded for their resolve, and due to traditional Japanese ideals, many people believed that these pilots were honored to make the sacrifice for their country. “TIL kamikaze pilots weren’t 100% volunteer. Pilots were asked to put their hand up in a big group if they didn’t want to volunteer. Amid peer pressure, hardly anyone was able to say no to the mission.” – Obscure Fact by Violet Peacock.
The word kamikaze means “divine wind,” a reference to a typhoon that fortuitously dispersed a Mongol invasion fleet threatening Japan from the west in 1281. These pilots would make deliberate and strategic crashes into their enemy – expecting to not survive the hit. Not all Japanese pilots of the era were Kamikaze pilots. It’s estimated that between 3,000 to 4,000 pilots were in this category. But this tactic only had a 10% success rate. For years after, the tactics were referred to as “insanity”. And they played on saying that these pilots were shameful. So many Japanese people grew up being taught that this was a shameful chapter in their history. It is only recently that they are beginning to take back the narrative.
This Obscure Civilization’s Tomb Found in a Backyard
When digging in backyards, people have been known to find some pretty cool stuff. Maybe a bullet from a century past, maybe an old wedding ring? But this person definitely didn’t expect to find a major historical archaeological site in their own backyard. “TIL 38 years ago a man in Perugia, Italy was digging a plot in his backyard for a vegetable garden and discovered an Etruscan tomb dating before Christ.” – Obscure Fact by bomizzle21
Known as Italy’s first great civilization, the Etruscans flourished in central Italy between the 8th and 3rd century BCE. It is actually referred to as Villanovan culture, which can sometimes confuse people. This culture began in the Iron Age. The culture was renowned in antiquity for its rich mineral resources and as a major Mediterranean trading power. They were conquered by Rome and the Roman victors were influenced by many of the Etruscan traditions and culture. Their burial traditions were not too set and varied from family to family. Nonetheless, the discovery of the Etruscan tomb was a very exciting find.
The Romans had a More Confusing Method than Daylight Savings Time
There are few in the US who do not begrudge the dreaded Daylight Savings Time. Springing forward or Falling back an hour leads to many headaches for the modern day person. There has actually been heated debate in recent years about whether or not this is an effective method for our society. But this next fact will probably make us appreciate this tradition a bit more. “TIL the Romans adjusted daily schedules to the sun. They divided daylight into 12 hours regardless of daytime, so that each daylight hour became progressively longer during spring and shorter during fall. The 3rd hour of the day in Rome was 44 min for winter solstice and 75 min for summer solstice.” – Obscure Fact by gabek333
The sundial(of course an effective instrument only when the sun shines) was refined by the Greeks and taken further by the Romans a few centuries later. The Romans also usedwater clocks which they calibrated from a sundial and so they could measure time even when the sun was not shining, at night or on foggy days. An hour was defined as one twelfth of the daytime, or the time elapsed between sunset and sunrise. Since the duration varied with the seasons, this also meant that the length of the hour changed. Winter days being shorter, the hours were correspondingly shorter and vice versa in summer. At Mediterranean latitude, one hour was about 45 minutes at the winter solstice, and 75 minutes at summer solstice.
Hedgehogs have become a unique and popular household pet. They are small, spiny mammals that first evolved about 15 million years ago. There are 17 species in five genera of hedgehogs worldwide: Erinaceus, Paraechinus, Mesechinus, Atelerix and Hemiechinus. They live across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. But what we know as hedgehogs today used to have a very different name. “TIL that Sea Urchins are called Sea Urchins because Hedgehogs used to be called Urchins until about the 15th century. Sea Urchins are Ocean Hedgehogs.” – Obscure Fact by theonewithBacon.
In history, hedgehogs are a commonly occurring animal in manuscripts and bestiaries throughout the Middle Ages. According to this adorable entry in the Bestiary, “hedgehogs feed their young grapes by climbing up the grapevine, dropping the grapes on the ground, and then rolling over the grapes so that they are impaled on the hedgehog’s spikes. The hedgehog then carries the grapes on its spikes back to the den where the young eats the fruit.” The oldest word for hedgehog that we can trace in historical sources is the Anglo-Saxon word “igl,” which is a Germanic word. This word for “hedgehog” still lives on in other Germanic languages, e.g. Swedish where a hedgehog is called “igelkott.” But throughout most of the Middle Ages, hedgehogs in English were called “urchins.”
The Time Leap Years Caused a Major Headache for Caesar
Much like the Daylight Savings headache, Leap Years are something that people continue to question until this day. And it turns out, they weren’t created with the world in mind, only Ancient Roman Culture and Holidays. “TIL Leap year was introduced in 46 BC, but around 10 BC, it was found that the priests in charge of computing the calendar had been adding leap years every three years instead of the four decreed by Caesar. As a result of this error, no more leap years were added until 8 AD.” – Obscure Fact by milchrizza
Julius Caesar was behind the origin of leap year in 45 BCE. The early Romans had a 355-day calendar and to keep festivals occurring around the same season each year, a 22- or 23-day month was created every second year. Julius Caesar decided to simplify things and added days to different months of the year to create the 365-day calendar; the actual calculations were made by Caesar’s astronomer, Sosigenes. Every fourth year following the 28th day of Februarius (February 29) one day was to be added, making every fourth year a leap year.
Ancient Russians’ Obscure Method of Using Frogs to Preserve Milk
Ah, milk. Some people love it, some people hate it, but milk – in one form or another – is a life sustaining substance. Ancient cultures that used milk have often run into the dilemma of how to preserve this precious liquid. Before refrigerators, there weren’t methods readily available to extend the shelf life of this fine dairy product. Whether you love milk or hate it, we can all agree that this next fact would make you not want to drink this milk. “TIL that before the advent of refrigerators, Russians would put frogs in milk to keep it from going bad.” – Obscure Fact by oontkima.
Before we all get carried away saying this is crazy and doesn’t work, let’s take a look at some science here. Ancient Russians used a frog known as the Russian Brown Frog. Turns out, this particular frog has pretty impressive characteristics. Amphibians secrete antimicrobial substances called peptides through their skin. This gives the frog a natural defense against bacteria and microorganisms so that they might thrive in their moist environments. One study identified that the skin of the Russian Brown frog has 21 substances with antibiotic and other potential medical activity. So it turns out, this crazy method is actually pretty smart since the secretions of a frog can have both antibiotic and anti fungal properties.
Ancient Egypt’s polytheistic culture is a historical wonder and joy to study. With over 2,000 deities identified, it’s no wonder that Egyptologists have a plethora of study material. And a lot of it is still shrouded in mystery. But out of the 2,000 deities, only two humans from history were ever made deities after their life ended. “TIL that Imhotep was an Egyptian architect, physician, and advisor to four pharaohs. He lived around 2667-2600 B.C. Imhotep practiced early medicine nearly 2200 years before Hippocrates and designed Djoser’s step pyramid at saqqara. He is the only Egyptian besides Amenhotep to ever be fully deified.” – Obscure Fact by Squaragus_Asparagus
Imhotep was an extremely impressive figure in history. He is credited with inventing the method of stone-dressed building and using of columns in architecture and is considered to be the first architect in history known by name. Imhotep was practicing medicine and writing on the subject 2,200 years before Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, was born. He is generally considered the author of the Edwin Smith Papyrus, an Egyptian medical text, which contains almost 100 anatomical terms and describes 48 injuries and their treatment. He was portrayed in modern pop culture in the 1999 and 2001 The Mummy franchise. But the character portrayed in these movies was named Imhotep, but had no historical standing on who he was as a person. He was not evil, nor did he possess magical powers. He only possess amazing talents in his fields of study.
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