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.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
In a world of uncertainty and impending chaos, sometimes the Facts of Life are all we have left to hold on to.
- Elephants sneeze through their mouths, not their trunks.
- The first customer of the Federal Witness Protection Program was none other than notorious gangster Al Capone.
- The word darling is a variant of the Arabic darjeeling, a term of endearment that literally means, "the foreskin of a camel."
- FRED AND GINGER: Produced in the strict Hayes Code era, Singing in the Rain was the first Hollywood musical with no dance numbers. Hence the name!
- What do they call Venetian blinds in Venice? They call them "Persian blinds."
- HORSE SENSE: Racehorse jockeys are the only athletes allowed to bet against themselves.
- Rhode Island has the largest population per capita of any state on the Eastern Seaboard.
- EVERY WONDER WHAT R&B STANDS FOR? Have you ever seen popular singer Aaron Neville of the Neville Brothers and wondered what that big thing on his face was? It's a goiter.
Posted by Jon Black and Britt Bergman at 8:49 PM
Friday, February 16, 2007
Would you allow your daughter to date successful musician Chaim Witz? What about rocker Gene Simmons?
Would you buy real estate from Domingo Tancredo Suarez? How about Donald Trump?
Would you vote for Hillary Clinton, or maybe throw your support behind Hillary Rodham Clinton?
What if I told you that these were the same people?
Celebrities often change their real names for PR and legal reasons. Don’t try looking up Sting in the United Kingdom phone book, but you just might find a listing for Gordon Sumner. And what about Bjork? What kind of name is that? The kind of name you take if your REAL name is Bjork Gudmundsdottir.
Our crack research department here at Very Little Known Facts has tracked down the real names of many of our most famous, celebrated celebrities. Don’t be shocked to learn that your favorite actor, actress, celebrity is NOT WHO YOU THOUGHT THEY WERE or ARE.
FALSE NAME - REAL NAME
Elton John - Reggie Dwight
Prince - Rogers Nelson, aka Roger Nelson
Eminem - Slim Shady
Madonna - Louise Cicciolina
Charlie Sheen - Carlos Irwin Estevez
Bono - Paul Hewson
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - Cassius Clay
Alan Alda - Alphonse d'Abruzzo
Boy George - Georgios Panaylotou
John Cleese - John Cheese
John Wayne - Marion Morrison
Jay Z - John Zelig
Bob Dylan - Thomas Dylan
Cary Grant - Archibald Leach
Cher - Cherilyn Sarkisian
Snoop Dogg - Cordazar Calvin Broadus
F. Scott Fitzgerald - Hector Elizondo
Bruce Willis - Barry Willis Frankenheimer
Stevie Wonder - Steveland Judkins
Nicolas Cage - Nicolas Scorsese
Ralph Lauren - Ralph Lipschitz
Morris the cat - Buttercup the cat
Anna Nicole Smith - Vickie Lynn Hogan
Alice Cooper - William Bailey
John Cougar Mellencamp - Bluff Coogan
Michael Jordan - Mike Jordan
John Travolta - Vladimir Illyich Travolta
Paris Hilton - Marissa Stumph
Gloria Estefan - Gloria Fajardo
Lee Marvin - Marvin Lee
50 Cent - Victor Augustus Cent
Englebert Humperdinck - George Dorsey
Talia Shire - Talia Scorsese
Tupac Shakur - Lesane Parish Crooks
John Wayne Gacy - Marion Morrison Gacy
Lisa Bonet - Lisa Boney
Rip Torn - Jeffrey (Rip) Torn
Zsa Zsa Gabor - Eva Gabor
Whoopi Goldberg - Natalie Goldberg
Julia Louis Dreyfuss - Angmar Carabiner
Vanilla Ice - Robert (Rip) Van Winkle
Tom Cruise - Thomas Cruise Mapother IV
Marilyn Monroe - Norma Rae
Sinbad - David Adkins
Holland Oates - Daryl Hall and John Oates
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
This week we celebrate Black History Month here at Very Little Known Facts. This truly is the time when we look back at the important contributions that African-Americans have made, continue to make, and will undoubtably continually persist in making throughout the future.
Black history is, of course, an integral part of American history--just because there is a separate month to celebrate it does not mean that it is not equal to other histories. Where would we as a nation be without black culture, black literature, black music, and (ethnically) black humor? But what many people don't know is the contributions black inventors made by contributing their inventions to the world of inventions that exist. Read on and join our celebration because--and this is no longer a Very Little Known Fact--February is Black History month.
- RING FOR SERVICE: The late 19th century was an exciting and innovative time in America. Great social and technological upheavals were afoot; new, never-before-dreamt-of possibilities seemed to spring up everywhere across the newly re-united nation. Miriam Benjamin, a young schoolteacher from Washington, D.C., thought of a novel way to call for service at the touch of a button—literally. She applied for a patent for an invention she called the Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels, envisioning it as a way to summons such amenities as room service without leaving the comfort of a fireside seat. Later incarnations of her innovation would be used in the House of Representatives and as call buttons on airplanes. On July 7, 1888, Miriam became only the second black woman to receive a patent from the United States government.
- HAVE A SEAT: Nathaniel Alexander Re-invented the folding chair.
- WHO WAS JENNY? Railroads were dangerous back in the day. Andrew Jackson Beard, a black man and former slave named for a slave-owning president, was working as a yardy when an over-zealous driver crushed his leg between two railroad cars. The leg eventually had to be amputated. Attempting to create something positive out of his disability, Andrew worked hard to invent a new, safer way to join or “couple” railroad cars together. His invention, the Jenny Coupler, revolutionized the railcar coupling industry and saved many lives and limbs. He received a U.S. patent for the Jenny Coupler in 1897.
- Sarah Boone re-invented the ironing board.
- WHAT’S COOKING? CHEMISTRY! Lloyd Augustus Hall was an African-American chemist who made many groundbreaking contributions to the food chemistry industry. He invented the method of encasing of sodium nitrate and nitrite in crystals for preservation purposes. He pioneered the use of such popular ingredients as lecithin, propyl gallate, and ascorbyl palmite, as well as various protein hydrolysats. Hall even sterilized spices with ethylenoxide gas, an insecticide.
- William J. Ballow invented a combined hat rack and table in 1898.
- Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1908 to 1915. He was vilified, persecuted, and at one point arrested for his two marriages to Caucasian women. Eventually he fled the country. Jack Johnson also patented a wrench on April 18, 1922.
- JUST IN TIME FOR VALENTINE’S DAY: John Lee Love re-invented the pencil sharpener. He dubbed it the "Love Sharpener."
- Lonnie Johnson worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Strategic Air Command, the Air Force, and NASA. He earned several degrees in nuclear physics and rocket science. He worked on the Galileo Mission to Jupiter, the Stealth Bomber, and invented the Super Soaker® squirt gun.
- GET PHYSICAL: Kevin Woolfolk patented "The Hamster Workout Wheel,” a device that records your pet rodent’s exercise.