History Facts and Trivia

27 Shocking and Amazing Trivia Facts from the 20th Century

Trivia answer sheets
Trivia answer sheets. Connie Ma/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

"OMG" Dates Back to 1917

While texting is relatively new, some of the abbreviations we use for it are much older than we might think. For instance, the abbreviation "OMG" for "Oh My God!" dates back to as early as 1917. The earliest reference found is in a letter dated September 9, 1917, from Lord John Arbuthnot Fisher to Winston Churchill.

In the last line of Lord Fisher's short letter about newspaper headlines that were upsetting him, Lord Fisher wrote: "I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis -- O.M.G.

(Oh! My God!) -- Shower it on the Admiralty!!"

John Steinbeck and Pigasus

Author John Steinbeck, best known for his epic novel The Grapes of Wrath, used to often add a symbol next to his name when signing things. This symbol was a pig with wings, whom Steinbeck called "Pigasus." The flying pig was a reminder that although earthbound, it was good to aspire to something higher. Sometimes Steinbeck would add in Latin, "Ad Astra Per Alia Porci" ("to the stars on the wings of a pig").

Practice Suicide Runs

On November 18, 1978, Jim Jones, leader of the Peoples Temple cult, ordered all his followers living in his Jonestown compound to drink poisoned grape-flavored punch in order to commit mass suicide. On that day, 912 people (including 276 children) died in what has become known as the Jonestown Massacre. How could one person convince over 900 others to commit suicide?

Well, Jim Jones had been planning to carry out this "revolutionary act" of mass suicide for quite some time.

To ensure full compliance, Jones had staged practice runs, called "White Nights," in which he would order everyone to drink what he told them was poisoned punch. After everyone had stood around for about 45 minutes or so, he would then tell them that this had been a loyalty test.

The Dots in Pac-Man

When the Pac-Man video game was released in 1980, it quickly became an international sensation.

As kids and adults alike moved the pie-shaped Pac-Man character around the screen, they tried to eat up lots of dots without themselves getting eaten by ghosts. But how many dots were they trying to eat? It turns out that each level of Pac-Man had the exact same number of dots -- 240.

Lincoln Logs Created by Frank Lloyd Wright's Son

Lincoln Logs is a classic children's toy that has been played by millions of children for decades. The toy usually comes in a box or cylinder and includes both brown "logs" and green slats for roofs, which children use to build their own frontier house or fort. Despite playing with Lincoln Logs for hours and hours as a child, you might not know that they were created by John Lloyd Wright, the son of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and were first sold by Red Square Toy Company in 1918.

It would be easy to assume that Wright got the idea for Lincoln Logs by visiting an old log cabin, but that is not the case. Wright was in Japan helping his father build the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo when the idea for interlocking pieces struck him.

It would also be easy to assume that the name "Lincoln Logs" refers to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's log cabin, but that too is not the case.

The name "Lincoln" actually refers to the discarded original middle name of John's father, Frank Lloyd Wright (he was born Frank Lincoln Wright).

"Lenin" Was a Pseudonym

Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilich Lenin, also commonly called V.I. Lenin or just plain Lenin, was actually not born with that name. Lenin was born as Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov and didn't begin using the pseudonym of Lenin until the age of 31.

Up until that age, Lenin, still known as Ulyanov, had used his birth name for both his legal and illegal activities. However, having just returned from a three-year exile in Siberia, Ulyanov found it useful to begin writing under a different name in 1901 in order to continue his revolutionary work.

Brad Pitt and the Iceman

What do Brad Pitt and the Iceman have in common? Tattoos. Although the 5,300-year-old mummified remains of the Iceman, known as Otzi, was found with over 50 tattoos on his body, most of them were simple lines.

Brad Pitt, on the other hand, had an outline of the Iceman's body tattooed onto his left forearm in 2007.

Juan Peron's Hands

While serving his third, non-consecutive term as President of Argentina, Juan Peron died on July 1, 1974, at age 78. His rule had been controversial, with many adoring him and others reviling him. After his death, his body was injected with formaldehyde and interred at La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires. In 1987, grave robbers opened up Peron's coffin, cut off his hands and stole them, along with his sword and cap. The robbers then sent a ransom letter asking for $8 million to return the hands. Once the desecration was discovered, Peron's body was sealed behind a bulletproof plate and 12 heavy-duty locks. On October 17, 2006, Peron's body was moved to a mausoleum at Peron's country home in San Vicente, just outside of Buenos Aires. The grave robbers have never been found.

Catch-18

Joseph Heller's famous novel, Catch-22, was first published in 1961. Set in World War II, the book is a comic satirical novel about bureaucracy. The phrase "Catch 22" in the novel is used to denote the vicious circle of military bureaucracy. The term "Catch 22" has made it into mainstream usage to mean any two choices that are mutually dependent (for example, which came first: the chicken or the egg?).

However, the term we now know as "Catch 22" was almost "Catch 18" for Heller had originally chosen Catch-18 as the title of the book. Unfortunately for Heller, Leon Uris published his Mila 18 novel just before Heller's book was to be published.

Heller's publisher didn't think it would be good to have two books out at the same time with "18" in the title. Attempting to come up with another name, Heller and his publisher considered Catch-11, Catch-17, and Catch-14 before deciding on the title we all know, Catch-22.

Insulin Discovered in 1922

Medical researcher Frederick Banting and research assistant Charles Best studied the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas of dogs at the University of Toronto. Banting believed that he could find a cure for the "sugar disease" (diabetes) in the pancreas. In 1921, they isolated insulin and successfully tested in on diabetic dogs, lowering the dogs' blood sugar level. Researcher John Macleod and chemist James Collip then began to help prepare insulin for human use. On January 11, 1922, Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old boy who was dying of diabetes, was given the first human experimental dose of insulin. The insulin saved his life. In 1923, Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work on discovering insulin. What was once a death sentence, people now diagnosed with diabetes can live long lives thanks to the work of these men.

Why Is Roosevelt on the Dime?

In 1921, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was stricken with a bout of polio that left him partially paralyzed, there were no organizations to lend support. Although Roosevelt had the money for the very best treatments for himself, he realized that there were thousands of others who did not. Also, at the time, there was no known cure for polio.

In 1938, President Roosevelt helped establish the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (which later became known as the March of Dimes). This foundation was created to help care for polio patients and to help fund research to find a cure. Funding from the March of Dimes helped Jonas Salk discover a vaccine for polio.

Soon after President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death in 1945, the public started sending letters to the United States Treasury Department requesting that Roosevelt's portrait be placed on a coin. The dime seemed the most appropriate coin because of Roosevelt's ties to the March of Dimes. The new dime was released to the public on Roosevelt's birthday, January 30, 1946.

The Nickname "Tin Lizzie"

Priced so that the average American could afford it, Henry Ford sold his Model T from 1908 until 1927. Many also may know the Model T by its nickname, the "Tin Lizzie." But how did the Model T get its nickname?

In the early 1900s, car dealers would try to create publicity for their new automobiles by hosting car races. In 1922, a championship race was held in Pikes Peak, Colorado. Entered as one of the contestants was Noel Bullock and his Model T, named "Old Liz." Since Old Liz looked the worse for wear (it was unpainted and lacked a hood), many spectators compared Old Liz to a tin can. By the start of the race, the car had the new nickname of "Tin Lizzie." To everyone's surprise, Tin Lizzie won the race.

Having beaten even the most expensive other cars available at the time, Tin Lizzie proved both the durability and speed of the Model T. The surprise win of Tin Lizzie was reported in newspapers across the country, leading to the use of the nickname "Tin Lizzie" for all Model T cars.

Hoover Flags

When the U.S. stock market crashed in 1929, President Herbert Hoover attempted to stop the U.S. economy from spiraling into what has become known as the Great Depression. Although President Hoover took action, most people agree that it just wasn't enough. Upset at Hoover, people began to give items that represented the economic crisis negative nicknames. For instance, shanty towns became known as "Hoovervilles." "Hoover blankets" were newspapers that homeless people used to protect themselves from the cold. "Hoover flags" were pants pockets that had been turned inside out, symbolizing a lack of money. "Hoover wagons" were old cars pulled by horses since their owners could no longer pay for gas.

The First Dot Com

Half a century ago, no one in the world would have had a personal computer of their own and most would not even have been able to describe a computer to you. Now, in the 21st century, we live in a world filled with dot-somethings. We have .com extensions on website addresses for companies and .edu extensions for schools. We have URL extensions for nearly every country (such as .ls for Lesotho) and newer extensions such as .nom for personal websites and .travel for travel-related websites.

Surrounded by dot extensions, have you ever stopped to wonder what website was the very first to be a dot-com?

That honor was claimed on March 15, 1985, when Symbolics.com registered their domain name.

Gerald Ford's Real Name

Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States, was known for most of his life as Gerald "Jerry" Ford. However, Ford was not born with this name. Gerald Ford was born in 1913 as Leslie King Jr., named after his father. Unfortunately, his biological father was abusive and so his mother divorced Leslie King Sr. shortly after Ford's birth. Two years later, Ford's mother met and married Gerald Ford Sr. and Ford's family began to call him Gerald Ford Jr. rather than Leslie King Jr. Although from about age two Ford was known as Gerald Ford Jr., the name change was not made official until December 3, 1935, when Ford was 22 years old.

Tug-of-War

Personally, I haven't played the game of tug-of-war since I was in elementary school. Five students holding one end of a long rope and another five holding the other end. I'd like to proudly say that my team won, but I have distant memories of being dragged over the muddy center line. Today, tug-of-war is a game that most adults relegate to those still in their youth, but did you know that tug-of-war used to be an official Olympic Games event?

Since tug-of-war has been a game played by adults for centuries, it became an official event at the second modern Olympic Games in 1900.

However, it's time as an official Olympic event was short-lived and it was last played at the Olympics at the 1920 Games. Tug-of-war was not the only event to be added and then later removed from the Olympic Games; golf, lacrosse, rugby, and polo also shared its fate.

Slinky's Name

Most toys are just fads that last for a few years and then go out of style. However, the Slinky toy has been a favorite since it first hit shelves in 1945. The advertising jingle ("It's Slinky, it's Slinky, for fun it's a wonderful toy. It's fun for a girl and a boy.") still resonates among young and old alike. But how did this simple and yet incredibly fun toy get its beginning? It all started one day in 1943 when engineer Richard James dropped a tension spring on the ground and saw how it moved. Thinking he might be on to something a bit more fun and universal than a tension spring, he took the spring home to his wife, Betty, and the two of them tried to come up with a name for this potential toy. After searching and searching, Betty found the word "slinky" in the dictionary which meant sinuous and stealthy. And since then, stairs have never been left alone.

The First Star on the Walk of Fame

Designed by artist Oliver Weismuller, the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California consists of 2,500 stars embedded into the sidewalks along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. Stars honored on the Walk of Fame must have made professional accomplishments in one of five categories: motion pictures, television, recording, live theater, or radio. (Under the name on each honoree, an icon depicts the category for which the star was awarded.)

On February 9, 1960, the very first star was awarded to actress Joanne Woodward. Within a year and half, over 1,500 of the stars were filled with names. Currently, over 2,300 of the stars have been awarded and two new stars are awarded each month.

Elvis Had a Twin

Most people consider Elvis exceptional, unique, and one-of-a-kind. Yet, Elvis had a twin brother (Jesse Garon) who died at birth. What would the world have been like with both Elvis and his twin? Would Jesse have been anything like his brother? We are left only to wonder.

Hoffa's Middle Name

Jimmy Hoffa, president of the Teamsters a labor union from 1957 until 1971, is best known in popular culture for his mysterious disappearance and presumed death in 1975. It's ironic, perhaps, that Hoffa's middle name was Riddle.

WWII and M&M's

After Forrest Mars, Sr. witnessed soldiers eating bite-sized chocolates covered in a sugar coating during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, he brought the idea back to the United States and started manufacturing his own version, called M&M's. In 1941, M&M's were included in U.S. soldiers' rations during World War II because they "melt in your mouth, not in your hands" (the tagline didn't actually appear until 1954). Good in nearly any environment, including hot summers, M&M's became very popular. The little candies were sold in tubes until 1948, when the packaging changed to the brown bag that we still see today. The imprint of an "M" on the candies first occurred in 1950.

President Ford Pardoned Lee

On August 5, 1975, President Gerald Ford pardoned General Robert E. Lee and restored his full rights of citizenship. After the American Civil War, General Lee believed that it was everyone's duty to work together to reestablish peace and harmony between the North and South. Lee wanted to set the example and petitioned then-President Andrew Johnson to reinstate his citizenship. Because of a clerical error, Lee's Oath of Allegiance (part of the citizenship requirement) was lost, so his application did not go through before his death. In 1970, Lee's Oath of Allegiance was found among other papers in the National Archives. When President Ford signed the bill that restored Lee's citizenship in 1975, Ford stated, "General Lee's character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride."

Barbie's Full Name

The Barbie doll, which first appeared on the world-stage in 1959, was invented by Ruth Handler (co-founder of Mattel) after she realized that her daughter liked to play with paper dolls that resembled grown-ups. Handler suggested making a three-dimensional doll that looked like an adult rather than a child. The doll was named after Handler's daughter, Barbara, and is still produced by Mattel. The doll's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.

The First Barcode

The first item sold after being scanned with a UPC barcode was a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Gum. The sale occured at 8:01 a.m. on June 26, 1974 at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The gum is now on display at the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington D.C.

Strange Pick

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, dictator for nearly a quarter century and infamous for his use of police terror and the frequent mass murders of his own people, was Time's " Man of the Year" in 1939 and 1942.

The Tiny Tub

U.S. President William Howard Taft, who weighed over 300 pounds, often got stuck in the White House's bathtub. To remedy this problem, Taft ordered a new one. The new bathtub was large enough to hold four grown men!

Einstein Designed a Refrigerator

Twenty-one years after writing his theory of relativity, Albert Einstein invented a refrigerator that operated on alcohol gas. The refrigerator was patented in 1926 but never went into production because new technology made it unnecessary. Einstein invented the refrigerator because he read about a family that was poisoned by a sulphur dioxide-emitting refrigerator.

A Renamed Russian City

Did you know that in 1914, at the beginning of World War I, Russia renamed its capital city St. Petersburg to Petrograd because they thought the name sounded too German? This same city changed name again only ten years later when it was renamed Leningrad after the Russian Revolution. In 1991, the city regained its original name of St. Petersburg.