Football players in a huddle look at camera on the ground in vintage photo.

50 historical facts that will warp your sense of time

Written by:
March 27, 2019
General Photographic Agency // Getty Images

50 historical facts that will warp your sense of time

In most schools, history is generally taught by geographical region or theme. For example, an ancient history class is usually broken down into the histories of different areas (Greece, Rome, Egypt, Eastern Asia, etc.), and art history is taught totally separate from political history. While this sort of system may make it easier for students to retain information, it also results in most people having a pretty warped sense of history.

Because schools make little attempt to connect the information relayed in various history classes, the majority of people don't have a linear understanding of the subject. We may know an impressive amount of details about two particular events while not realizing that they actually happened about the same time. Most graduates tend to have a hard time knitting together world history, and fully grasping how much of it was taking place simultaneously.

Thanks to the way history classes are structured, we also fail to realize that most of history happened much more recently than one would think. For example, Cleopatra lived closer to the first moon landing than she did to the building of the Great Pyramids and Mississippi only ratified slavery in 2013.

To that end, Stacker has rounded up 50 historical facts that will warp your sense of time and understanding of history. From the death of the last living slave and the opening of a popular American vacation destination to the sale of the first McDonald's hamburger and one of the world's greatest tragedies, the events on this list are sure to blow your mind. Even history buffs may learn a thing or two.

You may also like: Test your 20th-century history knowledge

The last guillotine and 'Star Wars'

The last execution by guillotine in France happened after the premiere of "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope." Adopted by Louis XIV as a humane method of execution, the guillotine remained in use for nearly two centuries, dropping for the last time on Sept. 10, 1977, nearly four months after the first "Star Wars" film hit theaters.

Oxford University and the Aztec Empire

One of the most renowned universities in the world, England's Oxford University has existed (in some form) since 1096. In 1231, the masters were officially recognized as a "universitas." The Atzec Empire, which is commonly thought of as the oldest empire in the world, wasn't established until 1430—nearly 200 years after Oxford officially became a university.

Fascist Spain and Microsoft

From October 1936 up until Francisco Franco's death in November 1975, Spain was ruled by a fascist dictator (other notable fascist dictators include Mussolini and Hitler). On the other side of the pond, in May 1975, Microsoft was founded by Americans Bill Gates and Paul Allen. The contrast between the development of these two countries at this point in time is stark to say the least.

The fax machine and the Oregon Trail

The first major wagon train of nearly 1,000 pioneers left Elm Grove, Mo., and set out to follow the Oregon Trail in search of a new future on May 22, 1843. Five days later, on May 27, 1843, Alexander Bain filed his patent for the fax machine. It's crazy to think that newly arrived pioneers could have sent a fax to their east coast family to let them know they'd arrived safely.

'Starry Night' and Nintendo

One probably wouldn't associate video games and 19th-century oil painting with the same moment in history, but they'd be wrong. Vincent van Gogh painted his masterpiece "The Starry Night" in 1889 while staying at a mental asylum, the same year that Nintendo formed as a corporation (although, Nintendo's first product was actually playing cards, not PlayStations).

Kublai Khan and New Zealand

New Zealand was one of the last places on earth to be settled. Thanks to radiocarbon dating, archeologists have been able to determine that Polynesian explorers first arrived around 1250 A.D. At the same time, Kublai Khan, one of history's greatest conquerors and the ruler of the Mongol Empire, assumed leadership of his homeland.

The abolition of slavery and the iPod

In 2001, Steve Jobs changed the world when he launched the first version of the iPod. With room to hold 1,000–2,000 songs and a battery life of 10 hours, the first-generation iPod now sits in history museums. Five years later, when the sixth-generation iPod was launched, slavery was abolished in Mauritania, the last country on earth where it was still legal. And while technically the practice is criminalized here, Mauritania is still widely regarded as the slavery's last stronghold.

Former slaves and World War II

World War II officially began in 1938, although America staved off any involvement until 1941. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and slavery officially became illegal with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. It stands to reason, then, there would have been many former slaves alive at the time of WWII—those who had been slaves as children would have been in their late 70s or early 80s by the time America became involved in the war.

Disneyworld and Sylvester Magee

On October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World opened in Orlando, Fla. to massive fanfare. Fifteen days later, Sylvester Magee, widely acknowledged as the last living former slave in America, died in Columbia, Miss.

Woolly mammoths and the Egyptian pyramids

The pyramids of Giza remain one of the world's biggest mysteries—how, exactly, were they constructed without modern machinery? Built between 2550 and 2490 B.C., the pyramids were completed during a massive flurry of construction. They were also built when pre-historic woolly mammoths were still walking the earth. The last Ice Age creature died in 1650 B.C., 900 years after the pyramids were complete.

Chinese guns and the Battle of Crecy

We tend to think of weapons development as fairly linear, but history shows that is anything but the case. The earliest known bronze gun, that employed gunpowder, was from the early Yuan dynasty and dates back to 1332. Meanwhile, the French versus English Battle of Crecy, which ended in 1346, was revolutionary for its use of the crossbow (a brand-new weapon at the time).

Samuel J. Seymour's secret

On April 14, 1865, when Samuel J. Seymour was 5 years old, his parents took him to a production of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C.—the same night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. In 1956, Seymour recounted the experience on the CBS game show "I've Got a Secret." 

Discovery of vitamins and the sailing of the Titanic

In 1912 Casimir Funk had a major scientific achievement. He discovered vitamins; the same year the Titanic set sail from Southampton, England. All in all, 1912 was a great year for medicine, but a bad year for transatlantic voyages.

Death by firing squad and 'Toy Story 3'

In 2004, Utah, the last state to do so, changed their death sentence laws, outlawing death by firing squad. Ronnie Lee Gardner, however, had been sentenced to death prior to the law change and still had death by firing squad as an option for his execution. He chose this route and was killed on June 18, 2010, the exact same day "Toy Story 3" premiered in theaters.

British Colonization of America and Shakespeare

Widely regarded as the greatest English-language writer of all time, William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, in Stratford-upon-Avon. Which means that the poet and playwright was still alive when England began colonizing America (Jamestown was established in 1607).

Fall of the Roman Empire and the discovery of America

The Eastern Roman Empire (aka the Byzantine Empire) fell in 1453. Forty years later, in 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in America. Meaning that plenty of people who thought of themselves as Romans (one of the oldest civilizations in the world) heard of the discovery of a new continent.

Pablo Picasso and 'Dark Side of the Moon'

One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso died in 1973. This is the same year Pink Floyd released their iconic album "Dark Side of the Moon," making 1973 a major year for art of all kinds.

First McDonald's and Auschwitz-Birkenau

On May 15, 1940, brothers Dick and Maurice McDonald opened a small hamburger stand in San Bernardino, Calif., called McDonald's Bar-B-Q. Within a month, on June 14, 1940, the first group of prisoners, 728 Poles, were transported by German soldiers to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Country of Italy and the development of Coca-Cola

In 1861 the various states on the Italian Penninsula unified themselves, and Italy officially became a country. Five years later, in 1886, Atlanta pharmacist Dr. John S. Pemberton concocted Coca-Cola and sold the syrup to his neighborhood pharmacy. 

First, sixth, and 16th presidents

John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States, holding the office from 1825 to 1829. On Feb. 23, 1848, Adams suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the floor of the House of Representatives and died in the presence of fellow congressman Abraham Lincoln. Aside from knowing future President Lincoln, Adams had also known the first president of the United States, George Washington, making him the only president to know both men.

Mozart and American independence

In the 1770s, as America was gearing up to establish their independence, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was at the height of his career. From 1773–1777, Mozart was employed in the Salzburg Court and in 1781 he began working freelance in Vienna. Meanwhile, Americans were signing the Declaration of Independence and fighting a revolutionary war.

Completed Human Genome and the Sentinelese tribe

In 2006, the Human Genome Project published the sequence of Chromosome 1: the last and largest piece of the human genetic code. This huge announcement for science and technology came at the same time as the news that the Sentinelese tribe (considered one of the last uncontacted tribes in the world) had killed two Indian fishermen who ventured too close to their island, of which outsiders are banned from approaching.

Calculus at Oxford

One would imagine that all of the great universities would have calculus among their course offerings, but for the first several centuries of Oxford's existence, they didn't offer the complex math. The reason?  Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz hadn't developed it yet. They both came up with their ideas in the 1660s and 1670s, but didn't publish papers on their ideas until the 1680s.

Ottoman Empire and the Chicago Cubs

Before their third pennant win in 2016, the Chicago Cubs hadn't won a world series since 1908. The Ottoman Empire, which had been established in 1299, didn't fall until 1918 and was still thriving as the baseball team slumped into their legendary drought.

Socrates and Confucius

Two of the world's greatest thinkers, we tend to lump Socrates and Confucius into one moment in time. In reality, the Chinese philosopher died in 479 B.C., 10 years before the great Greek mind was born in 469 B.C.

Spanish flu and WWI

One of the most deadly conflicts the world has ever seen, an estimated 37 million people lost their lives due to WWI. At the same time, the worst flu pandemic in recent history, the Spanish flu, broke out in 1918. The flu took an estimated 50 million lives worldwide—more than the war.

The Model T and the first plane crash victim

On Sept. 17, 1908, Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge, a passenger in a plane flown by Orville Wright, died in an airplane crash, the first person to do so. He lost his life the same year Ford Motor Company introduced their Model T (Oct. 1, 1908).

George Custer and the Brooklyn Bridge

In the summer of 1869, work officially began on the Brooklyn Bridge to connect the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan. At the same time, Gen. George Custer was busy waging war with Native Americans out West. Custer took part in his first expedition against the Sioux and Cheyenne in 1867 and continued to fight similar battles until the infamous Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 (seven years before the bridge opened).

Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr.

Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. are heroes and icons who spent their lives fighting for human dignity and compassion. They're widely regarded with the same awe and reverence, and they were both born in 1929.

The Wall Street Journal and the Eiffel Tower

In 1889 the first issue of the Wall Street Journal was published, with much of its space dedicated to the movement of the market. The same year the official inauguration ceremony for the Eiffel Tower (then the tallest tower in the world) was held and attended by dozens of famous personalities.

'Dr. Who' and JFK's assassination

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. The next night, Nov. 23, 1963, the first episode of "Dr. Who" aired. The episode had to be repeated the following week as media coverage surrounding JFK's death largely overshadowed the 25-minute episode titled "An Unearthly Child."

Fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11

Most adults alive today remember both the fall of the Berlin Wall and the terrorist attacks on 9/11. But what most don't realize is that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks are now closer to the fall of the Berlin Wall (which happened in November 1989) than to the present day. Twelve years lie between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the terrorist attacks while it's been over 17 years since the terrorist attacks.

Harvard and King Louis XIV

The oldest institution of higher education in America, Harvard University was founded in 1636 and named after its first benefactor, John Harvard. Two years later, in 1638, Louis XIV, the Sun King, was born. He went on to become king at 4 years old and is most notable for his construction of the Palace of Versailles in France. 

Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman

Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman are both prominent figures in the civil rights movement. While we tend to think of them existing at two completely different points in history (Harriet Tubman was a slave, after all) the reality is that the two women did overlap. Rosa Parks was born on Feb. 4, 1913, and Harriet Tubman died on March 10, 1913. So while it wasn't long, and the two women most likely never came into contact, they were both alive at the same time.

First airplane and the first atomic bomb

On Dec. 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully completed four flights at Kitty Hawk, earning them the designation of having invented the first airplane. Just over 40 years later, on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was tested in New Mexico. Orville Wright was still alive. 

'The Wizard of Oz' and the Nazi invasion of Poland

"The Wizard of Oz" starring Judy Garland premiered on Aug. 25, 1939. A month later, as many Americans were heading to the theater for a relaxing evening, the Nazis were invading Poland.

Leonardo da Vinci and Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos

Constantine XI Palaiologos was the last of the Eastern Roman and Byzantine emperors. He died in May 1453, the day Constantinople fell to Islamic invaders. Meanwhile, Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci was just celebrating his first birthday (he was born April 15, 1452).

Daytona 500 and Hawaii

It may be one of the biggest sports events of the year today, but back in 1959 the Daytona 500 was just getting its start. Lee Petty won the race that inaugural year, which was also Hawaii's inagural year as a state.

Death of Albert Woodson

Albert Woodson served for the Union army during the Civil War. He passed away in 1956 at the old age of 106. The Civil War was an early piece of America's history (1861–1856), and it's humbling to remember that our "early history" was actually fairly recent—as of 2012, the government was still paying out Civil War veteran's pensions.

Civil War and the first football game

The Civil War officially ended in the spring of 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrendered the last Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House. Four years later, in November 1869, Rutgers and New Jersey (aka Princeton) played the first American football game. Rutgers won 6-4.

Russian serfdom and the London Underground

In Russia, serfdom, which essentially made peasants slaves to their landlords, had existed since 1649. The tsar didn't abolish it until 200 years later, in 1861. Two years later, the London Underground opened with a train running between Paddington and Farringdon Street.

Machu Picchu and the Sistine Chapel

Carbon dating places the construction of Machu Picchu around 1450 A.D., just 23 years before construction started on the Sistine Chapel in 1473. 

Frank Sinatra and the last episode of 'Seinfeld'

One of the most popular musicians of the 1940s and '50s, Frank Sinatra captures the voice and style of an older generation. Sinatra died on May 14, 1998, the same day the "Seinfeld" finale aired.

Women's voting rights and Apollo 14

In 1971 Swiss women were finally granted the right to vote on a federal level. The same year Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell landed on the moon after the launch of Apollo 14.

Taming of the West and the Victorian era

The Victorian era took place in England from 1819–1901 (the entire length of the reign of Queen Victoria). At the same time, American's were busy taming the wild West (1865–1895).

Death of Charlie Chaplin and 'Annie Hall'

Movies, as we know them today, wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for Charlie Chaplin. An early pioneer of the film industry, who set many of the standards and practices we still adhere to today, Charlie Chaplin died in 1977. It just so happened that one of the most recognized movies in Hollywood history, "Annie Hall," premiered the same year.

Mahatma Gandhi and Adolf Hitler

One an icon of peace, the other an icon of terror and hate, Mahatma Gandhi and Adolf Hitler lived at the same time. Hitler died in 1945; Gandhi was assassinated three short years later in 1948. At one point, Gandhi even wrote Hitler a letter imploring him to rethink the war.

Thomas Edison and the Empire State Building

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb (among many other things), died in 1931; the same year the Empire State Building, which employs thousands of lightbulbs, was completed. President Herbert Hoover pressed a button in Washington D.C. that lit up the tower lights to officially open the building.

First photograph and the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

The first photograph, a blurry, muted picture of the view from an upstairs window at photographer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's Burgundy estate was taken in 1826. This is the same year the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, passed away—five hours before the second president, John Adams, also died.

Laws of motion and the Salem Witch Trials

In 1686, Sir Isaac Newton changed physics forever when he published his three laws of motion. Five years later, the Salem Witch Trials began in America in 1692. It may strikes one as odd how something so scientific and so superstitious could be happening at about the same time.

Trending Now