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Top 10 Crazy Things You Didn't Learn in History Class

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script written by Tiphaine Delahaye

Human history sure can be wild. From medicinal heroin, to mercury-laden hats, to art-based Olympics, you definitely never heard about these things in school. WatchMojo counts down ten crazy things you never learned in history class.

If you want to have a say in our upcoming list topics, be sure to check out our Interactive Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Transcript
Script written by Tiphaine Delahaye

Top 10 Crazy Things You Didn’t Learn In History Class


It seems like many school systems have left out a few important lessons from the past. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 things you didn’t learn in history class.

For this list, we’re looking at remarkable moments and facts from the past that are seriously under-represented in the history books. Though you may be familiar with some of these lessons, if they made the list, they’re far from common knowledge, and you likely didn’t learn them in school.

#10: A Treatment for Female Hysteria

In the 16th century, doctors found that orgasms were a great way to treat hysteria in women. Of course, they didn’t call them “orgasms”; they were dubbed “paroxysms,” because it was believed women couldn’t experience sexual feelings. Horseback riding or “intimate massage” sessions administered by doctors was recommended. The 19th century saw the invention of the first vibrator, which was a huge relief to doctors, who’d started developing chronic tendinitis from the repeated wrist movements. You see, women weren’t allowed to relieve themselves, since hysteria was perceived as an illness that could only be treated by science. Hmmm, while this is certainly a stimulating fact, we understand why it wasn’t addressed in history class!

#9: Dividing Your Sleep in Two

According to several historians, our ancestors had very different sleeping patterns than us. In the Middle Ages, people used to divide their sleep into two phases. They would sleep for roughly 4 hours, then would wake up to do different activities: go see neighbors, pray, read, make love, etc. Then, they would go back to bed for another 4 hours or so of rest. However, we should specify that they used to go to bed rather early by our standards. Without any electricity, the potential activities were pretty limited after dusk!

#8: Mad Hatters

Did you know that hat makers back in the day used to make their felt hats using mercury? And unfortunately, in the 19th century, the significant health hazards associated with being exposed to this substance were unknown. Breathing in the mercury vapors regularly, hat makers suffered from hallucinations and excessive anxiety, and often exhibited unpredictable behavior. In some cases, they even experienced slurred speech. These poor artisans were then classified as lunatics. Now we understand the behavior of the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s wonderfully weird story might’ve been strange, but the hatter wasn’t actually that far from reality.

#7: Art Competitions in the Olympics

Between 1912 and 1948, the Olympics were not an exclusively sports-based competition. They also recognized the highest levels of skill in the following categories: painting, sculpting, architecture, literature and music. The only condition was that these pieces of art be somehow associated with sports. Just like athletes, medals were awarded to the winning artists. The founder of the project, Pierre de Coubertin, thought the mind and body should go hand in hand. While he’s not necessarily wrong, nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a painter showing off his gold medal alongside Usain Bolt!

#6: Sparta’s Money

The ancient Greek city-state of Sparta was well-known for its strong emphasis on physical strength and warrior culture. What few are aware of however, is the relationship this society had with money. They strongly discouraged the cultivation of wealth, to the point where silver, gold and other such precious metals were actually banned. The official currency was iron, and these bars were so heavy that it was a real burden to move even small amounts. For any would-be time-travelling tourists out there who love shopping, the city of Sparta might not be the destination for you.

#5: Great Fire of London

In 1666, a devastating fire effectively burned London to the ground. An estimated 13,200 houses, 87 churches, as well as the iconic St-Paul’s Cathedral were wiped off the map. What we don’t hear about however, is the very low death toll. Though an exact figure is hard to pin down, it’s been estimated that fewer than 10 people died during the fires, which is a good thing! But it’s still pretty astonishing that a fire of that magnitude, lasting more than 3 days, only killed a small number of people. For further perspective, consider the fact it left 7 Londoners out of 8 homeless.

#4: Heroin Was Used to Treat Coughs

In the 19th century, chemist Heinrich Dreser was looking for a substitute to codeine, which is pharmacologically similar to morphine. His experiments led him to create heroin, which ended up being stronger than morphine and was ultimately used as a morphine substitute and as a cough suppressant. Dreser tested his miracle drug on animals, his colleagues, and himself. Produced and distributed by Bayer, it became a massive success. At the turn of the century however, the addictive qualities of heroin revealed themselves to such a degree that it could only be sold for medical purposes; by 1924, it was banned completely. Can you imagine taking heroin for a cough? The field of medicine has come a long way.

#3: Spy Kittens

The adorably-named “Acoustic Kitty” was a project created by the CIA to spy on Russians in the 1960s. During the Cold War, Americans had the brilliant idea to use house cats to collect information on the Kremlin. These professional spies implanted a microphone in the cat’s ear and a small radio transmitter in the skull in order to record conversations without raising suspicion. More than $20 million went into the eccentric experiment. After several attempts, the CIA ultimately deemed the project a bust, and redirected their efforts. Poor kitties! All that for nothing.

#2: Dancing Plague of 1518

In 1518, hundreds of residents in Strasbourg were affected by a strange illness. For about a month, these people were taken over by a sudden urge to dance. Many of them died from heart attacks or exhaustion as a result of this uncontrollable compulsion. Though this epidemic eventually subsided, a cause or explanation was never uncovered. Some doctors at the time believed those people were afflicted by “hot blood”. Modern day historians, on the other hand, believe the behavior to be caused by ergot; an hallucinogenic fungus found in wheat grains like rye, which resembles LSD!

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Leif Erikson: The Actual 1st Explorer to Reach the Americas
The 1st European to discover North America was not Christopher Columbus, but Leif Erikson, a Norse Explorer who arrived in c. 1000

- Anglo-Zanzibar War: The Shortest War in History
This 1896 military conflict between the Zanzibar Sultanate & the UK lasted 38-45 minutes, with British canons neutralizing the enemies in record time

#1: Post-Mortem Photography

Be warned: our top pick is quite morbid. In the 19th century, it was relatively common practice to hire a photographer to shoot photos of the dead. This helped families mourn and gave them a souvenir with which to remember their loved ones. The photographers placed the deceased in a way that gave the impression they were still alive, and perhaps sleeping. Children were often shot with a toy, others were sitting and surrounded by their family members. Though it’s undeniably hard to say goodbye, this process sounds a lot more painful and unnerving than anything else these days.
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