Those who are not particularly intrigued by history might feel like it is all about some dusty old figures and dates, and let’s face it, the history classes in school were mostly something of a snoozefest. However, there is so much about our past that is amusing. In fact, some historical events, customs, and actions are so unbelievable that they almost seem fake! Here are 10 such historical facts that you might think aren’t true but they actually are.
1. Ancient Romans used urine to whiten their teeth and wash their clothes.
Modern humans find bodily waste rather icky. We have all been taught to wash our hands every time we make a trip to the washroom. For the most part, it makes sense to us for sanitary reasons, which is why this particular custom will come as a shock to most of us.
Ancient Romans were very economical about the use of waste products, and they used human and animal urine in their daily lives, particularly to whiten their teeth and to wash their clothes!
As it turns out, when you leave urine out for too long, it decomposes into ammonia, which is an excellent cleaning product that is capable of removing stains easily. The Roman poet Catullus himself has attested to the fact that people of his time used both human and animal urine as a mouthwash to whiten their teeth.
Urine was also used to wash clothes. Ancient Romans had a place called a “fullery,” where their togas were cleaned using urine. In the first stage of cleaning, large vats of urine were used to soak the togas.
Then, men would jump up and down on the togas, an action that is similar to today’s washing machine agitators. The second stage involved adding ash or dirt into the mix. The combination helped dissolve grease and make the togas clean and bright like new. (1, 2)
2. One hundred and one years ago, a massive storage tank filled with molasses burst open in Boston, causing a sticky flood that killed 21 people and injured 150. The Great Molasses Flood spread at about 35 mph.
Death by molasses – as crazy as that sounds, it has happened!
On January 15, 1919, a large storage tank, weighing approximately 13,000 tons and filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses, burst open in Boston. The thick liquid poured out onto the streets like the wave of a tsunami and spread at a rate of 35 miles per hour. The sticky mess trapped horses and crushed buildings, and it killed 21 people and injured 150 others.
The disaster took place at the Purity Distilling Company facility, where molasses is fermented to produce ethanol, which is the active ingredient in various alcoholic beverages and also a key component in munitions. The company used to store molasses in massive tanks that were about 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter.
On the day of the disaster, the temperature had risen above 40 °F and was climbing rapidly. Just the day before, a fresh load of molasses was delivered, and it was warmed to reduce viscosity, which was necessary for transfer. Experts think that the thermal expansion of the existing cold molasses inside caused the tank to burst open.
Some witnesses in the area reported that they heard a roar and felt the ground shake as the tank burst open. Others claimed that they heard a tremendous crashing sound with deep growling, and as the rivets shot out of the tank.
It sounded like someone had fired a machine gun. When cleanup crews arrived, they reported that “everything that a Bostonian touched was sticky.” The smell of molasses lingered on in the area for decades. (1, 2)
3. The Great Whiskey Fire of Dublin, which took place in 1875, killed 13 people, but none of them perished as a result of smoke inhalation or burns. All victims died of alcohol poisoning after they drank the whiskey that flowed through the streets.
On June 18, 1875, a fire broke out in Malone’s Malthouse and storage unit in the Liberties area of Dublin City. Over 5,000 barrels of whiskey were stored there. Though it is uncertain what caused the fire, it is believed that it started sometime between 4:45 p.m. and 8 p.m., when the alarms were raised. The fire inside the storehouse heated the whiskey barrels to a point where they burst and caused the fire to spread and get worse.
The whiskey covered all the surfaces like petrol, causing the fire to spread at an alarming rate. By 10 p.m., a six-inch-deep flood of whiskey had spread 400 meters down Mill Street and reached as far as Coombe. When nearby livestock pens caught fire, pigs started squealing and the sound alerted the residents. The fire devoured everything it came in contact with, and it is still one of the most destructive infernos that Dublin has ever seen.
Eventually, the fire brigade managed to extinguish the flames by covering the streets with copious amounts of sand and animal poop. The fire caused $7.4 million worth of damage in whiskey alone. The incident that lasted a single night killed 13 people. Surprisingly, none of the victims perished as a result of smoke inhalation or flames.
It turns out, when the area was being evacuated, crowds gathered around the edges of the fiery river of booze and attempted to collect free drinks in boots and hats. Some managed to drink so much that they died of alcohol poisoning. (1, 2)
4. During the Cold War, the CIA planned to drop XL condoms labeled “medium” onto the Soviets to make them think that the Americans were anatomically superior, and hence, more powerful.
The Central Intelligence Agency has somewhat of a sketchy reputation for its part in various covert operations, lethal conspiracies, and bizarre psychological experiments. While many of their shenanigans are well-known by now, some are much less popular. For example, did you know that condoms were once considered a weapon? As ludicrous as it sounds, it is actually true.
Psychological warfare played a critical role during the Cold War. In the 1950s, when U.S.-Soviet relations plummeted to a new low, much emphasis was put on intensifying various forms of psychological warfare, which would pierce the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe into two separate areas.
One of these methods had been tried and tested during World War II against the Nazis, and it involved sending agents to the borders of the Soviet Union’s “satellite” nations in order to release balloons. The balloons would be carried eastward by the winds, and once they reached a height of 30,000 to 40,000 feet, they would explode and shower propaganda materials. such as leaflets, denouncing the communist leaders and anticommunist newspapers onto the captive populations below.
It was even proposed that the balloons would carry and scatter the U.S. manufactured, extra-large condoms labeled “medium” to show the Soviets that the Americans were far more superior anatomically. However, this particular idea of bringing down Soviet morale by advertising the sexual prowess of American men was abandoned at the planning stage. (1, 2)
5. In 1989, Pepsi became the 6th largest military in the world when the Soviets agreed to trade a part of their naval fleet in exchange for Pepsi drinks.
It is not uncommon for large companies to diversify from their core products. For example, a beverage company might venture into the airline industry or vice versa. However, Pepsi once took this diversification to a whole new level.
During the Cold War, Pepsi Cola became a key brand in the Soviets. It started in 1959 when president Dwight Eisenhower tried to show the Russians the perks of becoming a capitalist nation instead of a communist one. The United States arranged the “American National Exhibition” in Russia’s capital to show the best products that America has to offer. Vice President Richard Nixon was also at the exhibit.
However, instead of pacifying the tension between the two nations, the exhibit caused things to get worse when a bitter argument about communism versus capitalism ensued. It was then that Nixon offered Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, a bottle of Pepsi. Khrushchev took a sip of the cold beverage and was immediately impressed. Although the Soviets were far from abandoning their communist ideals, the exhibit started what can be called the Pepsi invasion of the Soviet Union.
Then in the 70s, when the other Soviet leaders learned about Pepsi’s fizzling sensation and explosive flavor, they became rather desperate to strike a deal with the company to bring the cola into their country. However, back then, the world did not recognize Soviet money as a legal tender, which meant that the Soviets had to find a way to barter with Pepsi, and they did!
The Soviets agreed to give away their vodka in exchange for bottles of Pepsi, and although Russian vodka was far superior, it was not nearly enough for the quantity of Pepsi that the Soviets wanted. Finally, in 1989, a deal was struck between the two parties, and the Soviets agreed to exchange a part of their naval fleet for Pepsi drinks.
The Russians gave 17 submarines, one destroyer, one cruiser, and one frigate for three billion dollars’ worth of Pepsi. That’s how Pepsi became the sixth largest military in the world. The deal was so legendary that Pepsi’s head once joked to a U.S. National Security adviser, “We’re disarming the Soviets faster than you are!” (1, 2)