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.
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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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.