Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Myths and Misconceptions about History

Here are some common misconceptions and errors about various tidbits of history.

  • "The Star-Spangled Banner" is not about the Revolutionary War.  It's about the War of 1812, and more specifically, it is about the 1814 siege of Fort McHenry in Baltimore.  It did not become the National Anthem of the United States until 1931.
  • The Wright brothers did not invent the first airplane.  The first airplane was built by Samuel Pierpont Langley in 1896.  Langley's airplane was unmanned though.  What the Wright brothers are actually famous for is the first manned flight.
  • Witches were not burned at the stake in Salem.  They were hanged.  One man was pressed to death under heavy stones.
  • Cinderella did not wear glass slippers.  At least not in older versions of the story.  In older French versions of the story, she wore pantoufles en vair (slippers made of white squirrel fur).  But when French writer Charles Perault retold the story, he said Cinderella wore pantoufles en verre (slippers made of glass).  Apparently Perault confused the two similar sounding words.  On a similar note, in L. Frank Baum's book the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wore silver slippers.  Hollywood Screenwriter Noel Langley changed Dorothy's shoes to ruby slippers for the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.
  • Cain, Abel, and Seth were not Adam's only children.  Genesis 5:4 states that Adam had other sons and daughters (presumably with Eve, though it doesn't explicitly state they were all with Eve).  It doesn't say how many children he had in all, but given that he lived 930 years, he had plenty of time to have a lot of children.
  • In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, the monster is not called Frankenstein. Frankenstein is Victor Frankenstein, a student of natural psychology who created the monster.  In the novel, the monster was named Adam.
  • The Battle of Bunker Hill did not take place at Bunker Hill.  Bunker Hill was the objective.  The battle actually took place at Breed's Hill.  
  • The Battle of Waterloo did not actually take place at Waterloo.  The battle took place in a valley south of Waterloo, between the villages of Plancenoit and Mont St. Jean.  After winning the battle, Lord Wellington went to Waterloo to write home about the news.
  • Christopher Columbus was not the first person to claim the world was round.  He wasn't even trying to prove the earth was round; people already knew that.  What Columbus was trying to do was convince people that the world wasn't all that wide and that it would be quicker to get to the Indies by sailing west instead of down around Africa and then east.  Pythagoras proposed that the earth was round in the 6th century BC.  Aristotle proved it was round by pointing out the spherical shadow the earth casts on the moon.  Eratosthenes and Hipparchus, ancient Greek astronomers and mathematicians, both attempted to calculate the circumference of the earth and produced nearly accurate results.  During the middle ages, Roger Bacon, an English philosopher and Franciscan Friar, wrote that the curvature of the earth explained why we can see farther from higher elevations.  Additionally, people had been sailing the seas throughout recorded history, so obviously they were not afraid of 'falling off the edge'.  Depictions of a spherical globe appear in ancient and medieval artworks, so it's not really known when it became common knowledge that the earth was round, but by Columbus' day, it was already pretty much taken for granted.
  • Charles Lindbergh was not the first person to fly an airplane nonstop across the Atlantic.  He was the first person to fly an airplane solo across the Atlantic.
  • Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line.  Ransom E. Olds developed the assembly line concept in 1902 for his Olds Motor Vehicle Company.  In Olds' assembly line, parts were wheeled from one workman to another.  Henry Ford improved on Olds' idea by installing a conveyor belt system.  Ford didn't come up with the assembly line concept on his own either; it was the joint effort of several of his top engineers.
  • The American declaration of independence did not occur on July 4th.  The Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain on July 2nd.  The document known as the Declaration of Independence was not signed until July 4th though.  And not all of the signers signed the Declaration of Independence on the same day.  Only John Hancock and Charles Thomson signed it on July 4th.  So it seems the document announcing independence has overshadowed the act of declaring it.

You may or may not have heard a claim that George Washington was not the first President of the United States, but the ninth President.  This claim has been presented as a common misconception about history, but this claim is actually a bit of a  misconception itself.  People who present this claim say that Washington was the 9th President of the United States because there had been eight Presidents before him under the Articles of Confederation.  George Washington was the first President of the United States after adopting the Constitution.  But prior to adopting the Constitution, the nation known as the United States of America didn't exist.  The Articles of Confederation merely created a confederation of independent states (similar to the European Union today).  John Hanson, the first President under the Articles of Confederation, held the title "president of the United States in Congress Assembled."  So the claim that George Washington is the 9th President of the United States is based in truth but isn't entirely true.


  1. Those are great! My friends and I go to Sedona once a year in the fall and we all go to the crazy psychic shops (I say this as a psychic--I would never do what they do), but we get an aura photo and a reading. The woman said to me, "you were a witch in Salem. They burned you." I remember looking her in the eye and saying, "didn't they hang the witches?" Oops! Hee hee

  2. lol...I wonder how many times she had used that line before.

  3. I have a lot of information about Adam and Eve and all the kids they had and the names of all the tribes. That is what happens when you are the real deal- people hand you this documentation that is not published, from sources you would not believed and I have them.