Common Historical Myths You Probably Learned in School
When you look back at all the lessons you learned in history class, you typically find that many of the stories provide a fairly G-rated version of history. Unfortunately, the truth is often far less flattering.
Let’s uncover the truth about some of the exaggerated tales, common misconceptions and flat out historical lies you were taught in school. From the totally ridiculous to the pleasantly surprising, many historical events didn't go down exactly the way you think they did.
The Egyptian Pyramids Were Built by Slaves
You probably believe slaves toiled away to build the pyramids for a heartless string of pharaohs. Modern Egyptologists, however, believe it’s incredibly unlikely that the builders of the ancient pyramids included any slaves at all. Archaeological evidence actually suggests they were more likely paid laborers who were highly respected for their work.
Medieval Peasants Had It Worse Than Modern People
You may be under the impression that medieval peasants spent their days working around the clock all year long, but that wasn't exactly the case. In fact, author and scholar Juliet B. Schor recently revealed that the average American today actually works more hours and enjoys less vacation time each year than the average medieval peasant.
Nero Played the Fiddle as Rome Burned to the Ground
Legend says that when Rome burned down in July of 64 AD, the heartless Emperor Nero was so unconcerned that he merely sat and played the fiddle while it happened. This tale can easily be debunked for several reasons.
Einstein Flunked Math as a Kid
Over the years, many a discouraged kid has been told that even Einstein failed math when he was a child. This is completely untrue. In fact, historians believe little Einstein was a child prodigy who studied college-level physics by age 11. It’s safe to say he didn’t fail elementary math.
Columbus Proved the Earth Was Round
Most kids in school were told that Christopher Columbus discovered the Earth was round. In reality, almost everyone already knew the Earth was round and roughly 8,000 miles in diameter before 1492.
Witches Were Burned at the Stake in Salem
You already know things got completely out of hand in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. The citizens of Salem suddenly became irrational and convicted random men and women of witchcraft and sentenced them to death. As the story goes, convicted "witches" met a grisly end by being burned at the stake.
Napoleon Was Super Short
If you have ever heard someone say a temperamental short guy has a "Napoleon complex," it’s based on the assumption that Napoleon Bonaparte felt a fierce need to prove his manhood through military conquest because of his short height. In truth, Napoleon was actually around 5 feet, 7 inches tall, which was the average height for a man of his time.
Pilgrims Wore Black and White Clothes with Large Buckles
As it turns out, the staunch, stereotypical Pilgrim clothing with monochromatic dye and wooden buckles isn’t exactly historically accurate. It’s known from old records that Pilgrims actually wore a wide variety of brightly dyed fabrics in a wide range of colors.
A Cow Kicked a Lantern and Started the Great Chicago Fire
When the Great Chicago Fire consumed the city in 1871, newspapers claimed that it began when Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern while she was milking it. The story never bothered to explain why she didn’t put the fire out or get help if she was sitting right there.
George Washington Confessed to Chopping Down His Dad's Cherry Tree
You were undoubtedly lectured on the tale of young George Washington chopping down his dad's cherry tree. When confronted about it, little George reportedly confessed after announcing, "I cannot tell a lie."
Paul Revere Rode Around Screaming, "The British Are Coming!"
First, Paul Revere was indeed ordered to ride to Lexington to alert Samuel Adams and John Hancock, but he never would have used the phrase "The British are coming!" At the time, the patriots were still British citizens themselves. Additionally, the sentry on guard was annoyed that he was so noisy because the whole operation was supposed to be covert.
The Declaration of Independence Was Signed on the Fourth of July
Although we celebrate independence on July 4, the official timeline is a little more complicated than that. The process actually began on July 1 and July 2, when colonial representatives approved a motion to declare the United States an independent country.
"One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind"
When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, he uttered a phrase that became one of the most famous quotes of all time. Ironically, his original quote is actually misquoted without one tiny keyword. Armstrong actually said, "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Marie Antoinette Said, "Let Them Eat Cake"
As the old story goes, the lavish French monarch Marie Antoinette was told around 1789 that her subjects were starving due to a shortage of bread. In response, she supposedly callously and flippantly said, "Let them eat cake." Although her response is possibly one of the most famous quotes in history, it's unlikely she ever said it at all.
Deep Throat Leaked Information That Brought Down Nixon
The credit for ratting out corrupt President Nixon has largely been given to a shadowy figure known as "Deep Throat." His allure was furthered by the Hollywood movie All the President's Men, in which he supplies reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with secret Watergate intelligence.
"Remember the Alamo!"
Many Americans think the battle at the Alamo was some heroic effort to free Texas from an oppressive Mexican government, but things weren't so simple. Mexico had actually historically allowed Americans to live in the territory tax free.
Galileo First Suggested the Sun Was the Center of the Universe
In history class, Galileo is given a great deal of credit for insisting the sun, rather than the Earth, is at the center of the solar system. In reality, he was far from the first person to come up with the idea.
Shakespeare Was the Original Creator of His Works
Today, William Shakespeare is highly regarded as one of the most talented writers in the history of the English language. Therefore, it seems crazy to think he’s not the actual mastermind behind the famous plots and characters in each of his iconic plays.
Jesus Was Born on December 25
Yes, the world celebrates Christmas on December 25 each year, but history has proven it’s not the actual date that Jesus was born. Additionally, Christ's birthday wasn't celebrated at all until three centuries after his death.
Vikings Wore Horned Helmets
For a very strange reason, Vikings always seem to be stereotypically portrayed in cartoons and other media as huge guys wearing horned wooden helmets. If you've ever watched The History Channel show Vikings, you've probably noticed the marked absence of such bizarre headgear.
Ninjas Always Sneak Around Shrouded in Black
Was the head to toe black uniform really the perpetual uniform of ninjas in feudal Japan? Due to their legendary stealth, ninjas have made it challenging to verify the truth or uncover the lie. A bit of common sense suggests they probably didn’t dress like that all the time.
Henry Ford Invented the Automobile
Although Henry Ford definitely transformed the world of automobiles, he didn't actually invent the first car or even the first assembly line, for that matter. Ford's name is so synonymous with early automobiles because he was the first to produce a car that most middle-class people could actually afford.
Thomas Edison Invented the Light Bulb
Light bulbs had actually been around for years before Thomas Edison ever took it upon himself to make his own version. The problem with pre-Edison bulbs was that they didn't last long enough to be very useful.
The Council of Nicaea Decided Which Books to Include in the Bible
Today, the Christian Bible consists of 66 books Old and New Testament books, but far more books were circulated during the early days of the church. One common misconception is that the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) met to decide which books would make the cut and be included in an official version.
Suicide Rates Shot Up After the 1929 Stock Market Crash
On October 24, 1929 — the infamous "Black Thursday" — rumors began rapidly circulating that a number of stockbrokers were so distraught over the crash that they leapt to their deaths from the windows or roofs of their office skyscrapers. As the rumors continued to spread, the stories grew to include skyrocketing suicide rates in the wake of the financial disaster.
Everything You Know About the First Thanksgiving
Whatever the first Thanksgiving was, it probably wasn't the lovefest between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims that you read about in textbooks. Some historians believe the first "Thanksgiving" actually took place in 1637, when the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed a day of thanks.
Walt Disney Created Mickey Mouse
Although Walt Disney was indeed the voice and one of the creators behind Mickey, he can't take sole credit for drafting everyone's favorite mouse. The truth is Mickey was actually drawn by Walt's favorite animator, Ub Iwerks. It was Iwerks who came up with Mickey's trademark red shorts and gigantic ears.
Ben Franklin Discovered Electricity During His Kite Experiment
We've all heard the story. Ben Franklin rushes out into a thunderstorm to fly a kite with a key attached to the string and discovers electricity. But did he really? By the time Franklin conducted his kite experiment, scientists all over the world already knew about the existence of electricity.
Everybody Wore Cowboy Hats in the Wild West
Westerns are certainly full of people strutting around in cowboy hats, but history would have looked a bit different in person. The now-famous Stetson wasn't even invented until 1865 and didn't really skyrocket to popularity until near the end of the 19th century.
Jesse Owens Was Snubbed by Hitler at the 1936 Olympics
When famous African American athlete Jesse Owens went to the 1936 Olympics in Germany, rumors flew that Hitler had snubbed him because he was black. As Owens later explained, however, the truth was far more disturbing.