It's no secret that history classes in most United States schools leave out quite a bit of information. Not only do they exclude small details about strange conflicts between random countries, but most also leave out incredibly important information about the country's treatment of African Americans and Native Americans, the LGBTQ rights movement and women's rights movement, and the fact that there was a molasses flood — you read that right — in Boston. Sure, the molasses flood might not be of the same importance as the rights movements, but it's shocking and fascinating nonetheless.
You can never learn too much history, so even though this isn’t an exhaustive list of stuff you should know, it will at least get you started. Here are 15 interesting historical facts you didn’t learn in school, but that are totally worth your time. Some are serious omissions related to human rights, while others are silly factoids that might be useful for your next bar trivia night.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong is recorded as saying, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," when he first stepped onto the moon in 1969, but he was probably misquoted.
Armstrong told reporters after the Apollo 11 mission that he actually said, "that's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." That missing "a" would make a lot more sense, because without it, Armstrong is repeating himself and saying "That's one small step for man," as in all of mankind, and then "one giant leap for mankind."
According to Space.com, computer programmer Peter Shann Ford analyzed audio of the transmission from the moon in 2006, and found that there was a pause between "for" and "man," and the radio just may not have transmitted the "a."
The Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896, started after the signing of the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty between Britain and Germany in 1890, according to Historic UK. The treaty pretty much divided up "spheres of influence" (colonization) in East Africa, with Zanzibar going to the U.K. and mainland Tanzania going to Germany.
After Zanzibar was declared a protectorate of the British Empire, Britain installed its own sultan to oversee it: Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini. But he died suddenly in 1896, and Sultan Khalid bin Barghash succeeded him — without consulting Britain, according to Historic UK.
Obviously, Britain wasn't happy, so they asked him to stand down. He wouldn't, and, unfortunately for him, the British had two warships (one, the HMS Thrush, is pictured) already waiting in the harbor.
After a few days and an ultimatum, the new sultan still refused to step down, so the British bombarded his palace. The conflict was over in 38 minutes.
The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 was ta sticky situation with deadly consequences. United States Industrial Alcohol, which used the molasses to make liquor and in ammunitions manufacturing, had stored the molasses in a tank build after World War 1, according to History.com. One of the company's employees reportedly told them that the tank had been leaking and wasn't structurally sound, but they never took action to fix it.
On, Jan. 15, 1919, when it was warmer than usual, the tank burst and unleashed 2.3 million gallons of molasses, which rushed out onto Boston's streets. A 15-foot wall of molasses reportedly crashed down Commercial Street going 35 miles per hour. It was so strong that the Boston Globe wrote that it caused buildings to “cringe up as though they were made of pasteboard,” according to History.com. Overall, 21 people died and 150 were injured.
A 1988 study on a number of manmade disasters found that, "sleep and sleep-related factors appear to be involved in widely disparate types of disasters," according to HuffPost.
Disasters that were in part the result of sleep deprivation include the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant; the Three Mile Island accident, where a nuclear reactor's core overheated; the Challenger explosion; and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Moral of the story: don't skip out on those Zs, especially if you work at, say, a nuclear power plant.
Until 1974, when the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed, banks required single, widowed, or divorced women to bring a man to cosign any credit application they submitted, regardless of how much money they made, according to The Guardian. Even worse: they would discount the value of a woman's income "when considering how much credit to grant, by as much as 50%."
The year after, First Women's Bank, the first commercial bank owned by a woman, opened in New York City. Women's rights activist Betty Friedan (pictured) had an account there, according to The Guardian.
Harriet Tubman is well known as the woman who fled slavery and then helped lead other enslaved people to freedom through the Underground Railroad. But that's not all she did: On June 2, 1863, during the Civil War, she also led the Combahee Ferry Raid under Union Colonel James Montgomery, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. She was the first woman to lead a major military operation in the U.S. During that operation, she and 150 African American Union soldiers rescued more than 700 enslaved people.
During Prohibition in the U.S., federal officials ordered industrial alcohol manufacturers to "denature" their products with chemicals like kerosene, iodine, and chloroform, which not only made the alcohol taste worse than it already did, but it also often made it deadly. Around 1927, the Treasury Department also told manufacturers to add more methyl alcohol to their product, so that it comprised 10 percent of the total products, according to Slate.
Once Prohibition ended in 1933, some estimates accuse the government of being responsible for the deaths of 10,000 people through its alcohol poisoning program.
Iceland's parliament, the Icelandic Alþingi (also written as the Althingi), is the oldest in history. It was first established in 930 AD. Pretty cool, except not everyone agrees that it's the oldest. The Isle of Man, an island in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, also claims that its parliament, The High Court of Tynwald, is the oldest in the world. It is more than 1,000 years old, according to its website, with "an unbroken resistance."
That last part might be why the Isle of Man believes its parliament is the oldest — Iceland's parliament has sort of disbanded and then reformed and taken on different names and functions over the years.
On July 28, 1969, police in New York City raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay club, reportedly because the club was serving liquor without a license. During that time, police often violently raided clubs and bars that they thought provided safe harbor for LGBTQ people, according to History.com.
In the early morning hours of July 28, police beat patrons of Stonewall with their nightsticks and drew their guns, but the patrons fought back. The raid led to a days-long violent uprising and protest, becoming one of the key historic markers for the start of the LGBTQ rights movement. Stonewall is still a club in New York City, though now it's also designated a national monument.
The Emancipation Proclamation wasn't written by Abraham Lincoln with the intention of abolishing slavery. The proclamation freed enslaved people in designated areas in the South, and it was actually written as part of Lincoln's military strategy, according to History.com.
It freed slaves in the South, but it exempted Confederate states already under Union control and border states like Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. The Union and Confederacy had been at war for two years when Lincoln issued the proclamation, so it was meant to bolster support for the Union's cause.
Slavery wasn't completely abolished until the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery, was added to the Bill of Rights. Raquel White writes that "a clause in the amendment, however, says that it is illegal to enslave anyone unless they are a criminal." That amendment has allowed mass incarceration, where inmates work without pay often in inhumane conditions, to persist in the modern day U.S.