What Happened in the 1800s? History, Events, Technology – 40 Facts

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1Nikola Tesla

In 1898, Nikola Tesla tricked an entire crowd into believing that they could control a toy boat by shouting commands at it. He had in fact invented radio control and was piloting the boat himself.


2. The baseball hand signals, such as safe and out, were invented by a 19th century deaf player named William “Dummy” Hoy so he could comprehend what was going on in his games.


3. The 19th-century serial killer H.H. Holmes opened a hotel in the United States which he had designed and built specifically with murder in mind. It included soundproofed bedrooms, trap doors, walls lined with blowtorches and two incinerators.


4. The first person to cycle around the globe was Thomas Stevens. He did it on a penny-farthing (high wheeled bicycle) between 1884 and 1886, packing only socks, a spare shirt, a revolver and a raincoat that doubled as a tent and bedroll.


5. Lobsters were so plentiful in the 1800s that Massachusetts servants demanded a clause in their contracts to prevent being fed it more than 3 times a week.


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6Treadmills

Treadmills were used as a form of punishment to torture prisoners in the 1800's. The treadmills operated by the prisoners powered grain mills (hence the name treadmill) and pump water. Prisoners were often forced to spend up to six hours a day on the wheel, which was the equivalent of climbing about 5,000 to 14,000 feet.


7. Downtown Seattle actually sits on top of the original city from the 1800s. It was rebuilt on top of approximately 20-foot high walled tunnels following a great fire, in order to prevent floods from high tide and sewage. You can go underground to see the original city remnants.


8. The concept of using a card for purchases was described in 1887 by Edward Bellamy in his utopian novel 'Looking Backward'. Bellamy used the term credit card 11 times in this novel, although this referred to a card for spending a citizen's dividend from the government, rather than borrowing.


9. The hunting of bison to near-extinction in the 1800s was not to gain food, but to restrict the American Indians' dominant food supply. Herds of bison were shot from trains and left to rot where they died.


10. In the late 19th century there was a dog named Bob, who would hitch rides all over the South Australian railway system. He had no owner but was widely known to railway men of the day. When he died, he was eulogized around the world and was lauded as “the king of outcasts.”


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11Ioannis Kapodistrias

The 19th-century governor of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, introduced the potatoes to Greece. Initially, he tried giving potato seeds to skeptical farmers for free who were reluctant to use them. When this failed, he piled the potatoes in public under guard, convincing people of their value. The public proceeded to steal all the potatoes and planted them.


12. William Wrigley Jr. sold soaps in 1891, offering baking powder as an incentive to buyers. The baking powder proved to be more popular, so he started selling it, offering gum as an incentive. But the gum proved to be even more popular, so he started selling them. In 1893, the Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum debuted.


13. People's teeth used to randomly explode in the 1800s due to bad fillings. Before the advent of mercury amalgam, a wide variety of metals were used to fill cavities. Using two different metals could create an electrochemical cell, effectively turning the whole mouth into a low-volt battery.


14. Giovacchino Antonio Rossini in 1800 wrote a weird song that consisted of nothing but two people meowing at each other. It's called "Duetto buffo di due gatti" which translates to "Humorous duet for two cats."


15. In the mid-1800’s millions of American children learned in school that one taste of alcohol could lead to blindness, madness or death. They also learned about spontaneous combustion, that just one drink of alcohol could cause their bodies to go up in flames.


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16Wong Chin Foo

Wong Chin Foo was a 19th century Chinese-American civil rights activist. He launched New York City's first Chinese newspaper and was active in politics. Wong once challenged Denis Kearney, an anti-Chinese demagogue, to a duel. He offered Kearney "his choice of chopsticks, Irish potatoes or Krupp guns."


17. In 1804, a London carpenter named Thomas Millwood dressed in white was mistaken for a ghost by an angry mob and shot in the face.


18. At midnight on the December 30th, 1899, a passenger streamer ship named SS Warrimoo positioned itself at the intersection of the dateline and equator, such that the bow and stern occupied different seasons, hemispheres, days, years, and centuries. For the ship, December 31st never occurred.


19. In 1806, an Englishwoman named Mary Bateman convinced hundreds of people that her chicken would predict the world’s imminent end. “Christ is Coming” read the eggs that the hen laid. Bateman sold protective wards to people for a shilling apiece, but her con was exposed after a local doctor caught her shoving a handwritten egg back up into her poor hen. Bateman went on to practice medicine, and was executed for poisoning several of her patients.


20. In 1808, a gentlemen's duel took place at 2,000 feet in a pair of hot air balloons. Each man used a blunderbuss to attempt to destroy each other's balloon.


21Theodore Edward Hook

In 1810, to win a bet that he could turn any place into the most talked-about address in London, Theodore Hook sent thousands of letters from 54 Berners St., requesting deliveries, visitors, and assistance. Within a day, thousands had been drawn to the street, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.


22. The US Patent Office building was the only major government building to survive the British burning of Washington DC during the War of 1812. Superintendent Dr. William Thorton persuaded the British that they'd be destroying the shared intellectual record of mankind if the patents were burned.


23. Stephen Girard was one of the wealthiest men in American history. He personally saved the U.S. government from financial collapse during the War of 1812.


24. 1816 was called "The Year Without a Summer" after the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Crop failure forced Joseph Smith to leave Vermont, and his journeys resulted in “The Book of Mormon.” The dreary rain in Switzerland drove Mary Shelley to stay indoors, where she wrote “Frankenstein.”


25. The word ‘Freelance’ comes from the 1820 novel ‘Ivanhoe’. It meant a mercenary knight with no allegiance who offered his services in exchange for money.

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