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Article: 10 False History Facts Everyone Knows
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History is full of false facts. Time to set the record straight.
Napoleon was abnormally short. What does everybody say about a short man who’s always picking a fight? “Napoleon Complex.” OK, so the French commander Napoleon Bonaparte might have been a bit on the pugnacious side, but his height? About 5’6” or 5’7” -- totally average for Frenchmen of the time! The misconception seems to come from a bad unit conversion between French and English measures – another case for why we should all go metric.
Ben Franklin discovered electricity flying a kite. Almost everything you’ve heard about this story is wrong. People already knew about electricity, even if they didn’t understand it very well. What Franklin was supposedly investigating was the electrical nature of lightning, but here’s the problem: We’re not even sure whether Franklin actually performed the experiment, or if he did, what the true details were. Our main account comes from his friend Joseph Priestly, recounted 15 years later. But Franklin did actually invent the lightning rod.
Columbus was trying to prove the Earth was round. Wrong, wrong, wrong. By the time Columbus set sail in 1492, almost every educated person knew the Earth was round. In fact, the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth with amazing accuracy 2200 years ago. So what was Columbus’ gambit? Based on bad information about that very circumference, Columbus thought he could quickly reach trading sites in India by sailing West, rather than sailing East around the southern tip of Africa. He was spectacularly wrong. Even after his journey, he still thought he had visited Asia.
Einstein flunked math when he was in school. This is serious nonsense. Albert Einstein didn’t flourish in every subject, and he even failed the entrance exam to Zurich Polytechnic School in Switzerland on his first try. But Einstein was always good at math. He even tried to clear up the matter himself, once saying: "I never failed in mathematics. Before I was 15 I had mastered differential and integral calculus." But this myth lives on.
Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet. This one goes straight down the tubes. Now for those who can’t bear to lose this mirthful factoid, it’s almost true: Crapper was a big name in the 18th-century poop removal biz, and did manufacture a popular brand of “water closet.” But the true honor goes to the English poet Sir John Harington, who rigged up a flush toilet for Queen Elizabeth in the late 1500s. Oh my.
What’s your favorite misconception to correct? Let us know in the comments and subscribe! And learn more by reading 10 False History Facts Everybody Knows at HowStuffWorks!
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