Friday, February 23, 2007
Over half of Americans believe they know nearly three-quarters of what there is to know about American history simply because they are Americans. But nearly 30% of that half is wrong! That’s right, 6 out of 10 Americans display a woeful grasp of the history of their own, admittedly great nation.
In the interest of furthering the accumulated knowledge and lore of American history and beyond, we present to you the Very Little Known History of Americans in America.
Thirteen Original Colonies, One Outstanding Colonial
Have you ever wondered who invented the kite, eyeglasses, the Post Office and the almanac? Here’s a hint—it wasn’t Thomas Edison.
If the American Colonies had had celebrities back in the days before colonies had such things, it’s a good bet that Benjamin Franklin would have had that celebrated standing--had he wanted it. How many people before or since have matched his performance? Few indeed. Very few indeed. He was a Renaissance man before the Renaissance.
Ben Franklin composed his own epitaph when he was 22 years old. In it he recounted a life of devoted service to God, community, and country. He highlighted his ambassadorship to France, signing the Declaration of Independence, and inventing the wood stove and the postal stamp. He omitted his vice-presidency and the many mestizo children he fathered with a black slave. Of course, this was all the more amazing since none of it had even happened yet!
The Revolutionary War: Not Just for Boys Any More
Many women served the cause of liberty and Americanism during the Revolutionary War of 1812. Best known was Mary Rutherford Hayes, nicknamed "Molly Pitcher." During the Battle of Monmouth she took over a cannon after her husband was wounded and continued to “pitch” cannonballs at the advancing British. After the battle she was arrested by the victorious British forces and charged with “barbarically and against the Order of Nature violently attacking and savaging many Officers and Men of His Majesty’s Armed Forces.” The redcoats gave her a new nickname—“Molly Hatchet”—and wrote a bawdy song about her exploits. A sanitized version of the song later became the popular ditty “Yankee Doodle.”
Many African-Americans also contributed to American history in many diverse ways.
Edgar Allen Poe: The First Goth
The first American to write a novel or poem that anyone still bothers to read nowadays was Edgar Allen Poe. His classic sonnet The Raven and his eerie stories The Tattle-Tale Heart, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Monkey's Paw have become iconic pieces of Halloween literature.
Edgar Allen Poe never achieved success in his own lifetime. He worked a number of jobs to get by including toll collector, hospital orderly, and Secretary of War for the state of Maryland. He died at the tragic age of 82 from bad shellfish. His influence is still felt today, however, through the contributions of his namesake, vaunted NBA All-Star Allen Iverson.
World War I: Lucky Lindy and Unlucky Amelia
America’s unilateral victory over the old European powers in the War to End All Wars ushered in a golden age of aviation, something that the three Wright brothers could have only dreamt of as they made their first flight from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina back to their bicycle shop in Ohio.
Foremost amongst these pioneers of the wild blue-sky yonder were Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. A friendly arch-rivalry quickly developed between these two flypersons. Lindbergh became the first man to fly through the St. Louis arch, first to fly across the county in a plane without a windshield, and the first to fly solo across the Atlantic. Amelia was the first woman to fly an airplane without a male co-pilot or “chaperone.” Her attempt to become the first pilot (male or female) to circumnavigate the globe (i.e. the Earth) met with dismal failure as her flight vanished off radar near the island of Bermuda. Some say her disappearance was related to organizing the first pilot's union. Other say it was revenge for her hypothetical role in the kidnapping of Lindbergh's baby son Lindy. In any case, the mystery of her doomed flight was never investigated by any government agency including the FAA, or Federal Aviation Administration, which did not yet exist.
Aunt Miltie in the Age of Television
Although men acting in drag was a staple of the Shakespearean theater, Milton Berle was the first man to play a transvestite on television. His courage made future characters such as Corporal Klinger, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and Rosanne Barr possible. On Sunday evenings, people would rush home from church to hear his popular catchphrases, “Holy Baloney!” and “I coulda had a V-8!”
Rumors abounded concerning Milton’s massive “endowment.” Of course he did nothing to discourage this scuttlebutt about his alleged manhood since it boosted his ratings enormously. So, you might ask, how big was Milton Berle’s penis? According to autopsy records, Milton Berle’s penis was 5.3 inches long. (Back then, that was a lot!)
In summation, where would America be today without the contributions of so many valuable Americans? The answer is: no one knows. But if there's one thing we all can agree on, surely it's that the history of America is the greatest nation on Earth. As Yakov Smirnoff, heir to the Smirnoff vodka family fortune, famously said, "What a country!"
Think about it.