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10 Interesting but Lesser-Known Events from History

Lesser-Known Events From History

Millions of historical events have contributed to creating the world we know today. Our school textbooks just provide us information on some of the grandest historical events but leave out the lesser-known stories. So, we decided to bring to you some lesser-known historical events. From the purchase of Alaska by the United States to the project of creating spy cats, we bring to you some of the most interesting but lesser-known events from history around the world.

1. In 1867, Russia sold the territory of Alaska to the U.S. for $7.2 million. A mere 50 years later, the Americans had earned that amount back 100 times over.

US purchases Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million
With this check, the United States completed the purchase of almost 600,000 square miles of land from the Russian Government with $7.2 million. Image Credit: Edouard de Stoeckl and William H. Seward via Wikipedia

The United States acquired Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867. The Russian Empire was eager to sell off Alaska as the place lacked natural resources and was uninhabitable. Moreover, they feared that the UK might seize Alaska in case war broke out between the two. As a result of the purchase, the United States added 586,412 square miles of new territory.

There were mixed reactions from both the nations on the purchase. It was not quite clear why the United States wanted to purchase Alaska and whether the deal would be profitable. One of the American newspapers asked, “Why does America need this ‘ice box’ and 50,000 wild Eskimos who drink fish oil for breakfast?” Even the Congress disapproved of the purchase. But the deal was finalized at $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre ($4.74/km2).

It was in 1896 that the Klondike Gold Rush took place and Alaska came to be seen as a valuable addition to the United States. The gold rush brought in hundreds of millions of dollars. The seal fishery was another attraction that brought considerable revenue to the US. There have been reports suggesting that the revenue that came from the seal fisheries was in excess of the price paid for acquiring Alaska. So, in no more than 50 years, the United States was able to profit from its purchase. (source)

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2. Inspired by Jules Verne’s Around The World in 80 Days, Nellie Bly was the first to attempt traveling around the world in 1889. She completed her journey in only 72 days and even met Jules Verne himself.

Around the World in Eighty Days/ Nellie Bly
Cover of the French first edition of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Published on January 30, 1873/ Nellie Bly who traveled around the world in 72 days. Image Credit: Jules Verne via Wikipedia, H. J. Myers via Wikipedia

Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days is a classic that took us around the world with Phileas Fogg. An American journalist, Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, or better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, was the first to attempt to travel the world in 80 days. In 1888, Bly suggested to her editor that she take a trip across the world to prove Jules Verne’s calculations. A year later, on November 14, 1889, she embarked upon the 40,070-kilometer journey and boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line.

At the same time, the New York newspaper Cosmopolitan sponsored its own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, to beat both Bly’s and the fictional Phileas Fogg’s time. During the course of her journey, Bly traveled through England, France (where she met Jules Verne in person), Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Colombo (Ceylon), the Straits Settlements of Penang and Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. As she was traveling via steamships and rails, she had to suffer occasional setbacks due to bad weather and arrived at San Fransisco two days behind her schedule. But she was able to make up for the delay as her employer, Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World, chartered a private train for her. She reached New Jersey on January 25, 1890. It only took her around 72 days to get back to New York, thus completing her travel around the world in just 72 days. She beat Phileas Fogg’s record and became the first person to travel around the world. The other reporter arrived four days later. (source)

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3. Switzerland attacked its neighboring country, Liechtenstein, three times and by mistake every time.

Swiss–Liechtensteiner border
Swiss–Liechtensteiner border. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

Switzerland holds a strange record in attacking its neighbor, Liechtenstein. Apparently, Switzerland has attacked Liechtenstein three times in 30 years, surprisingly by mistake each time!

Liechtenstein is a small country only 62 square miles in area. The country has a population of 37,000 people. But in spite of its small size, Liechtenstein is one of the richest countries in the world with one of the lowest unemployment rates. Another thing about Liechtenstein is that it does not have an army of its own. It disbanded its army in 1868 and is one of the 22 countries today without an armed force.

The first time Switzerland attacked Liechtenstein was on December 5, 1985. The Swiss Army was organizing a training exercise that involved launching missiles.  Unknowingly, the Swiss Army launched the missiles into the heavily forested Liechtenstein causing a massive forest fire. The Liechtenstein government was very angry and Switzerland had to pay a heavy sum for the environmental damage.

The second attack took place on October 13, 1992. The Swiss Army received orders to set up an observation post in Treisenberg. They followed the orders and marched to Treisenberg. What they didn’t realize was that Treisenberg lies within the territory of Liechtenstein. They marched into Treisenberg with rifles and only later realized that they were in Liechtenstein.

The last attack was on March 1, 2007. A group of Swiss Army infantry soldiers was in training when the weather took a bad turn. There was heavy rainfall and the soldiers were not carrying any GPS or compass. Eventually, they ended up in Liechtenstein! Switzerland apologized to the Liechtenstein government for the intrusion, yet again. (source)

4. In the first Olympics of 1904, the men’s marathon first place finisher completed the race in a car and was disqualified. The second-place finisher was carried to the finish line by his trainers, and the fourth finisher took a detour to eat during the race.

Frederick Lorz and Andarín Carvajal
Frederick Lorz, who finished first with the help of a car and Andarín Carvajal who ran the marathon wearing street clothes and even took a nap in between. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

The men’s marathon in the 1904 Olympic Games might have been one of the strangest races in history. It was more of a comedy show than a serious event. Only a few of the runners in the marathon had previous experience. The other participants were “oddities.” There were 10 Greeks who had never run a marathon, two belonged to the Tsuana tribe of South Africa and arrived barefoot to the race, and one was a Cuban mailman who wore street clothing to the race.

That was not all. The first to complete the race was American runner Fred Lorz. Apparently, Lorz had dropped out of the race after nine miles and then hitch-hiked in a car. When the car broke down at the 19th mile, he jogged to the finish line. He was banned from the competition for life.

Tom Hicks
Tom Hicks, Marathon Olympic Champion and his supporters at the marathon. St. Louis Olympic Games, 1904. Image Credit: Wikipedia

The second to arrive, and the champion, was Thomas Hicks. Ten miles from the finish line, he almost gave up but his trainers urged him to continue. He was given several doses of strychnine, a common rat poison, to help get him to the end of the race. When he reached the stadium, his trainers and supporters who carried him to the finish line! Even though he got the gold medal that time, he never ran professionally again.

Andarín Carvajal, a Cuban postman, ran the race in street clothes. He had not eaten in 40 hours and took a detour into an apple orchard during the race. He ate some rotten apples that gave him stomach cramps. Despite falling ill, he managed to finish in the fourth place! (source)

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5. The world’s first completely covered underwater diving suit was invented as far back as 1715 and consisted of an airtight oak barrel. The suit was used mainly for salvage operations of shipwrecks. 

John Lethbridge barrel
Replica of the John Lethbridge barrel (1715), intermediate between diving bell and standard diving dress. Cité de la Mer, a maritime museum in Cherbourg, France. Image Credit: Ji-It via Wikipedia

John Lethbridge was the inventor of the first underwater diving suit. Lethbridge came up with this idea while working as a salvager for the East India Company. His design consisted of an airtight, oak barrel.  The barrel was six feet in length and the diver had to lay flat on his stomach once the barrel was put into the waters with the help of a rope. It had two airtight holes on the sides for the hands and a hole with glass in the front for the diver’s window. During trials, Lethbridge demonstrated that the suit enabled divers to stay 12 fathoms underwater for at least 30 minutes at one go.

Once the diver comes out of the water after 30 minutes, fresh air was pumped into the suit through a vent using bellows. The used air was let out through another vent at the same time.

The suit was used mostly to retrieve material from wrecks. During Lethbridge’s first salvage operation using his invention, he recovered 25 chests of silver and 65 cannons! (source)

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