Facts From the Past That Will Make You Rethink History

By: Lauren Wurth | Last updated: Oct 12, 2023

History is important. Perhaps we shouldn’t spend all our time lingering in the past, but Santayana once famously said, “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” So these historical facts are worth remembering, not because we’re afraid to repeat them, but because they represent some of history’s most astounding coincidences.

These facts will fascinate you, make you rethink everything you thought you knew about history, and make you doubt your concept of historical time frames.

A Shared Commonality: Queen Elizabeth II and Marilyn Monroe

It’s undeniable that American-born actress Marilyn Monroe was one of the most beautiful and memorable faces in Hollywood history. Queen Elizabeth must adhere to strict standards in all aspects of her life as a member of the British royal family. Who would have thought that these two famous women, so obviously unalike, could have a shared bond?


Source: Pinterest

Above, you can see the two together during the October 1956 London premiere of the film The Battle of the River Plate. Though it’s hard to tell from this shot, the pair are the same age, both born in 1926. Who knew?!


In 1908 The Cubs Won The World Series, and the Ottoman Empire Still Ruled

When the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, it was an unforgettable moment in sports history. The last time the team won was when the Ottoman Empire was still in existence. So this triumph was way overdue.


Soource: kubik.org

Before 2016, the Cubs hadn’t won a World Series since 1908. The Ottoman Empire was still in power at that time. It wasn’t until years later that the Ottoman Empire dissolved, and the territory it once ruled became the modern-day nation of Turkey.

Van Gogh Painted “The Starry Night” the Year the Eiffel Tower was Inaugurated

Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” is perhaps his most famous artwork and is widely considered a masterpiece of Western art. While the Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable man-made landmarks in the world. Believe it or not, the tower was erected the same year Van Gogh painted “The Starry Night.”


Source: brightside.me

The tower’s original purpose was to serve as a gateway to the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, but it has since become an iconic landmark. It was indeed a year that produced many great works!

Astonishing Truth About the 10th President of The United States

The tenth President of the United States, John Tyler, has the unique distinction of being the first Vice President to assume the office of President upon the passing of his incumbent. But that’s not the only unique thing about him. You might not be prepared for this one!


Source: www.smithsonianmag.com

Incredibly, Tyler still has a grandchild alive today. Let’s break down the timeline of this staggering fact. Tyler was born in 1790 and had a son (Lyon) in 1853 at the age of 63. Lyon, in turn, also had a son later in life at age 71 in 1924 (Harrison). He had another son four years later at 75, but John Tyler’s last living grandchild is Harrison since his younger brother recently passed in 2020.

Do Steve Irwin and Charles Darwin Have Mutual Friends?

Harriet, the tortoise, lived 175 years, passing in 2006. She spent the last part of her life at Steve Irwin’s zoo. Reportedly originally brought back from the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin in 1835, Harriet had a long and illustrious history.

Source: wtffunfact.com

Darwin allegedly brought Harriet on his global survey and voyage, presumably bringing her to England. When a retired sea captain transported her to Australia, the country would become her permanent home. Some, however, dispute Harriett’s story, claiming that Darwin never visited the island from which she came.


Wooly Mammoths and The Egyptian Pyramids

Now, this one is truly mind-boggling! It’s a fact that mammoths were still on Earth when the Egyptian pyramids were constructed. So while they weren’t residing there, they did share the same general historical period as the ancient Egyptians.

Source: fionadeal.files.wordpress.com

Scientists have proved that wooly mammoths existed up to around 1650 BCE, while the Pyramid of Djoser and the other Egyptian Great Pyramids were built between 2630 and 2611 BCE. These enormous beasts roamed the Russian countryside during this period, enjoying themselves in the northern latitudes.


Oxford University Predates the Aztec Empire

History tells us the Aztec Empire dominated the Valley of Mexico from 1428 to 1521. The Aztecs have had an enduring legacy because of their impressive mythology, customs, and architecture.

Source: unbelievable-facts.com

But did you know Oxford University has been around for far longer? Evidence suggests that classes were held at the university as early as 1096, although the institution’s formal foundation year is unknown. As far as we know, it is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.


Star Wars was Released the Year the Guillotine Sentence Ended

On May 25th, 1977, the first Star Wars film was released. It was a game-changer in the field of science fiction. Everybody felt renewed optimism for the genre of space adventure films. At the same time, the French consciously decided to embrace modernity. How, you ask?

Johann Jaritz, LucasFilm

They officially ended the use of the guillotine. Hamida Djandoubi was the last person to face the guillotine in 1977. Yet another example of how two drastically different historical developments intersected. 


Harvard University Predates Calculus

There was a time when Harvard University did not offer Calculus for the sole reason that it had not been invented yet. It was only in the 17th century that modem Calculus was created by Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz – though some elements of it had been seen in the Middle East, India, China, and Ancient Greece.

Wikimedia Commons,Owen

Harvard was named after John Harvard, its first clergyman benefactor. Established in the year 1636, it is America’s oldest higher learning institution. In its early years, the school did not include Calculus in its curriculum because it simply didn’t exist yet!


George Washington Never Knew Dinosaurs Existed

George Washington passed away on the 14th of December, 1799, at the age of 67. He was America’s first president and was known as “Father of The Nation.” Washington was also a farmer, soldier, and statesman. Like his compatriots, however, he had no idea that dinosaurs ever existed.

Gilbert Stuart, The Museum of Natural History

Dinosaurs were only officially brought to the public’s attention in 1824 by William Buckland, a British naturalist. He named the first dinosaur “Megalosaurus,” or the great lizard. Though it sounds imposing, a Megalosaurus is only a quarter of the size of a T-rex. 


The Birth Year of Anne Frank And Martin Luther King Jr.

These well-known historical personalities were actually born in the same year. Anne Frank became a household name when The Diary of Anne Frank was published years after her death. She was a 14-year-old Jewish girl who died in a German concentration camp in the 1940s.


Meanwhile, Martin Luther King Jr. was an activist and American Baptist minister who was a civil rights movement leader from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. Both of these famous historical figures were born in 1929.


The Oldest Bristlecone Pine Coexisted With The Last Wooly Mammoth

There is currently a living thing on this planet that was alive when one of the earth’s last wooly mammoths became extinct. The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine in White Mountains, California, is 5,067 years old and counting.


Believed to be the world’s oldest tree, it was around when the mammoth population in Wrangel Island went extinct 4,000 years ago. Back then, the island was a comfortable sanctuary for these wooly beasts until climatic changes, and other factors (including human hunters) wiped them out.


The Secret Service Started Months After Abraham Lincoln’s Last Days

April 15, 1865, was the date Abraham Lincoln took his last breath. On that mournful evening, an important piece of legislation was sitting on his work desk, waiting for his approval and signature. It’s hard to believe just how relevant this document was to the events that befell him that night.

Moses Parker Rice; Pete Marovich/Getty Images

The measure was intended to create the United States Secret Service – an agency responsible for the protection of American political leaders. Could Lincoln have been protected from this incident if the Secret Service had been created before he stepped foot in Ford’s Theatre? 


Swiss Women Won The Right To Vote When A Buggy Landed On The Moon

Switzerland is known for being a progressive country. However, it only allowed women to vote in 1971. This was 65 years late compared to the first European country to do so – Finland.

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS; NASA

Switzerland was so late in giving women the right to vote that NASA was already driving a buggy on the moon when it happened. Fortunately, the Swiss kept up with the times and compensated for their lateness. Indeed, they now rank 11th in the world for women’s rights and shrinking the gender gap. The Swiss are well ahead of America, which is ranked 45th. 


The First Fax Machine Existed When The First Wagon Reached The Oregon Trail 

The first fax machine was invented in 1843 and was named the “Electric Printing Telegraph.” Its inventor was a Scottish man named Alexander Bain. In the same year that a patent for it was filed, approximately a thousand people traveled west to reach Oregon.


The journey became known as the Oregon Trail. It marked the start of Westward expansion across the country and was the beginning of the “Great Migration.” It’s incredible that wagon travel and fax machines were concurrent technology!


Mother Teresa Passed Away Days After Princess Diana’s Fatal Accident

Princess Diana and Mother Teresa passed away in the same year: 1997. Their last days were less than a week apart. While Diana was killed in a car crash on August 31, while avoiding the paparazzi in Paris, Mother Teresa passed away on September 5.

Anwar Hussein

Described as a “living saint,” Mother Teresa’s health had been in decline prior to her final days. The Indian government gave her a state funeral in honor of her service, especially the efforts she made for the poor.


Auschwitz Prisoners Arrived Days After McDonald's Was Launched

While one part of the earth was going through a historical tragedy, another part was about to experience the birth of “happy meals.” The first McDonald’s fast-food restaurant was opened on May 5, 1940. However, five days later, an infamous concentration camp opened its gates to its first prisoners.


On May 20, the first prisoners of Auschwitz began to arrive at this horrific destination. The global conflict in Europe ended five years later, but only after 6 million Jews lost their lives. Meanwhile, at last count, McDonald’s had served somewhere in the vicinity of 99 billion meals.


While The Battle Of Little Bighorn Was Being Fought, The Brooklyn Bridge Was Being Built

As the Indian tribes of the Northern Cheyenne, Lakota, and Arapaho were in conflict against the United States Army during the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, the first suspension bridge made of steel wire was being built in Brooklyn.

Seifert Gugler & Co.,Mrfrison

The defeat of the American forces was later described as the Great Sioux War of 1876. Meanwhile, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge proved significant. It continues to offer a path for pedestrians, vehicles, and cyclists to travel between Manhattan and Brooklyn. 


The Release Of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" Coincided With Pablo Picasso’s Passing

Pablo Picasso was one of the 20th century’s most revered and influential artists. He co-founded the Cubist movement and is also known as the co-inventor of collage. His famous creations include Guernica and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. He lived a long life that lasted until 1973.

Tony Vaccaro, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The year of his passing was the same year Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” was released. One of the progressive albums made, it sold more than 40 million copies and is regarded as one of the greatest albums ever created.


The Last Known Civil War Widow Passed Away The Same Year Obama Won

Maudie Hopkins was 19 years old in 1934 when she married Civil War veteran William M. Cantrell. At that time, Cantrell was already 86. Hopkins’ reason for getting married was poverty – her wedding day came only a few years after the Great Depression. Her elderly husband was a former soldier of the Confederate Army.


This picture was taken in 2004 inside her home in Lexa, Arkansas, when she was 89 years old. She passed away in 2008 at the age of 93, the same year Barack Obama won the Presidential election and became the first African-American president of the United States.


Adolf Hitler And Charlie Chaplin Were Born In The Same Year

Charlie Chaplin was a comedian, actor, and director. Adolf Hitler was an infamous dictator. Though they couldn’t have been more different, the two actually have something in common.


Chaplin and Hitler were both born in 1889. Chaplin wrote, starred in, directed, and scored the 1940 movie, The Great Dictator. The film became controversial because it openly criticized and condemned Hitler and his party at a time when America was technically at peace with Germany.


Scientists Agreed On Plate Tectonics When NASA Was Already Exploring Space

The continental drift idea was proposed by Alfred Wegener as early as 1912 to explain the earth’s landmass. Unfortunately, geologists at that time did not take his proposal seriously. According to experts, no mechanism existed to make his idea possible.

Wikimedia Commons,NASA

Though Wegener was not able to explain his theory, he was vindicated in 1967 – thirty-seven years after his passing – thanks to the plate tectonics theory, which was later accepted by the scientific community. At this time, NASA had been sending rockets to outer space and had long since moved beyond issues relating to the earth’s surface.


A Person Could Ride The London Underground To See UK’s Last Public Hanging

Criminals in the UK were once punished by public hanging. However, the practice was abolished in 1868. The last man to be hanged was Michael Barrett, and the deed was done in Newgate prison. He was hanged in front of a large number of people.

Londonist.com; Matt Buck

Five years before this final hanging took place, the London Underground took its first journey. One of the stations in operation was situated near the Newgate prison. It was highly likely that people rode the tube to go watch the hanging due to the convenience afforded by the prison’s proximity to the London Underground.


What Does Jack The Ripper Have In Common With Nintendo?

Nintendo is known as the creator of popular video games such as Donkey Kong, Mario, Pokemon, and Zelda. Before they made video games, however, Nintendo produced playing cards. These were named Hanafuda and were the company’s main product when it was founded in 1889.

Docklands Museum; Reddit

In the year Nintendo launched, London was busy fending off a villain who terrorized women – Jack The Ripper. His identity was never known, but ‘The Pinchin Street Torso’ was a crime attributed to him. His atrocities began a few weeks before Nintendo came into existence.


The Roman Colosseum Was Unveiled While The Gospel Was Still Being Written

80 CE was the year the Colosseum of Rome was unveiled to the public. It was a humongous amphitheater that could hold as many as 80,000 people. The Colosseum was used for mock battles, gladiator matches, and executions. In the midst of these hedonistic activities, it is believed that one of the four gospels of the New Testament was still being written.

Wikimedia Commons

Luke is the lengthiest of the four gospels from Jesus’ disciples. It is purported that both Luke and Acts were written by one apostle. These texts are believed to have been penned between 80-110 CE, meaning it was likely being written at the time the Colosseum was seeing most of its action. 


Charlie Chaplin Passed Away The Same Year Apple Was Incorporated

Charlie Chaplin’s passing in 1977 after suffering a stroke in his sleep signaled the end of an era. His films will forever be remembered as part of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He was 88 years old at the time.


In that same year, Apple Computers was incorporated. Its launch symbolized the start of  a new ear, ushering in the technology that was destined to change everyone’s lives. It was also an example of the rapid advancement of technology after the second global conflict.


‘Palace Of The Governors’ Was Built Before Pilgrims Arrived At Plymouth Rock

Based on historical records, Europeans were not the first to arrive in the United States. Despite the popular notion that pilgrims from England were the first immigrants to land at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, in 1620, this is far from the truth.

NationalPark Service/ YouTube

Explorers from Spain had long since arrived in the Southwest. Indeed, they may have made it there as early as 1610. At this time, the ‘Palace of the Governors’ in New Mexico was already being built. Plus, Santa Fe was already a flourishing settlement. 


Disney World Opened And Sylvester Magee Passed Away

Orlando, Florida was witness to a positively memorable moment when Disney World opened in the state on October 1, 1971. In this image we see Disney founder Walt Disney meeting with Florida governor Haydon Burns to announce the project in 1965. Unfortunately Walt would pass away a year later and wouldn’t get to see Disney World’s opening. However, his bother Roy would play a big role in opening day.

Florida Development Commission // Wikimedia Commons

Fifteen days after Disney World’s opening, Sylvester Magee passed away. Some believe he was 130 years old at the time. However, no birth records exist to verify this claim. Still, he was the last known former slave in the country. Magee was in Columbia, Mississippi, when he took his final breath. His body is now in an unmarked grave in Foxworth, Mississippi.


The London Underground Was During The American Civil War

The idea for the construction of the London Underground was developed during the 1830s. The structure was completely built and opened on January 10, 1863. Londoners were clearly having the time of their lives going from one place to another at breakneck speed – relative to the horse carriage, anyway!

Fotosearch; Hulton Getty

However, Americans were having a different experience. The American Civil Conflict was raging at the time. It was two years after the London Underground’s opening that the 13th Amendment allowed slavery to finally be abolished, thus ending the conflict.


The First iPhone Was Released In The Same Year As The Last Harry Potter Book

2007 was a year Harry Potter fans and iPhone geeks all over the world will never forget. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in the same year that the very first iPhone was released.

David Paul Morris

The book was the last to be released since the series began in 1997 via the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Meanwhile, the availability of the iPhone forever changed the way people used technology. Both of these momentous releases had a huge impact on the world – just in vastly different ways. 


When Germans Used Zeppelins, Buffalo Bill Cody Was Still Alive

Buffalo Bill Cody was an American showman who toured Great Britain and Europe to perform shows that presented scenes from the Indian and frontier conflicts. He lived from 1846 to 1917. His depiction of wars in the American Old West paled in comparison to what was happening in Germany a year before Buffalo Bill’s passing in 1917.

Wikimedia Commons; BNPS.co.uk

Detonators were being dropped from German Zeppelins and planes flying through the sky. Paris experienced this first-hand in 1916. This was far from the cowboy shows Buffalo Bill was presenting. 


Spain Was Still Under Fascist Dictatorship When Microsoft Was Created

Microsoft was officially launched in 1975. The company was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. It marked the beginning of a new age in computer technology. Despite such advances, Spain was, at that time, stuck in the past.


The same year Microsoft was founded, Spain was still ruled by autocratic dictator Francisco Franco. Critics described his rule as violent because he suppressed dissent and implemented forced labor as well as concentration camps. He also supported the Axis Powers during the second global conflict. Spain remained a fascist state until Franco’s passing in November 1975. 


Orville Wright Was Still Around During Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Orville Wright was one of the brothers who invented the airplane. His brother Wilbur passed away in 1912 and never got to see just how drastically their invention changed the world. But Orville was still alive when United States Airforce planes dropped explosives on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The destruction took the lives of 129,000 people, including many children.

Before Orville Wright took his last breath in 1948, he conveyed his sadness at how his invention had contributed to the war. He also hoped his invention could bring world peace, explaining that he deplored the destruction it had caused.


Salvador Dali Passed Away The Year Daniel Radcliffe Was Born

Salvador Dali was a Spanish surrealist best known for his bizarre artworks. He also made significant contributions to the fields of photography, theater, and fashion. His style has been described as being influenced by masters from the Renaissance period. It is difficult to believe that he actually passed away relatively recently – in 1989.

Hulton Archive,yuki_0422ame

In that year, a new breed of actor was born into the world. Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe was a mere infant in 1989, as was Heroes actress Hayden Panettiere.


Bin Laden Was Hunted Down Days After Prince William And Kate Middleton Got Married 

Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s royal wedding happened on the 29th of April 2011 at London’s Westminster Abbey. William is second in line to the British throne. He had been with Catherine since 2004, and this happy event was watched by millions of viewers from around the world.

AP; English Royal Family Wikia

Days after this fairy tale moment, the world witnessed a cold, hard reality. Navy SEALs swarmed Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. The most wanted terrorist and Al-Qaeda founder was finally eradicated after almost a decade of chasing him.


Genghis Khan Captured Beijing The Year The Magna Carta Was Signed

While the struggle between the Jurchen Jin dynasty and the Mongols was raging in 1215, the Magna Carta – as drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury – was signed. The Zhongdu (Beijing) battle was won by Genghis Khan after two years of being held at bay by the Jin Dynasty.

Sayf al-Vâhidî; Alex Wong

Genghis Khan’s victory was assured when he divided his army into three small forces to go after the Great Wall of China. His men later wreaked havoc on the city’s inhabitants and took power over northern China. Meanwhile, the Magna Carta served as a highly influential document that still impacts legal freedoms to this day.


The iPod’s Release Coincided With Mauritania’s Abolition Of Slavery

The iPod was first launched by Steve Jobs in 2001. It was a revolutionary moment when everyone realized it could hold 2,000 songs and boasted a 10-hour battery life. The first iPod was such a turning point that it is currently on display in a history museum. 

Seyllou/ Getty Images; Scott Barbour/ Getty Images

When the sixth generation iPod was released five years later, Mauritania similarly had a historic moment in their hands when they officially abolished slavery. At that time, Mauritania was the last stronghold of slavery. The practice has since been criminalized in the sovereign state. 


Yellowstone Became A National Park One Year After Germany Was Unified

Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the United States on March 1st of 1872. Many also consider it to be the first national park in the work. The park spans across the three states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. It is known for its wildlife, including buffalo, and for its geysers and hot springs.

Wikipedia/ Getty

A year prior to the creation of this park, Germany officially became unified. Prior to the unification on January 18, 1871, Germany consisted of independent German states. In 1871, a year prior to Yellowstone, Kasier Wilhelm I became the leader of the newly unified German Reich.


Ex-slaves During the 1940s

America officially joined the second global conflict in 1941. Though the struggle started in 1938, the country only had enough people to support its efforts after two years. At this time, it is believed that many former slaves were still alive to witness the United State’s participation.

Express / Getty Images

Since President Abraham Lincoln officially signed the proclamation that made slavery illegal in 1865, it is possible that former slaves who were kids when the Thirteenth Amendment took effect were in their late 70s or early 80s during the 1940s.


Last Firing Squad Event Coincided With 'Toy Story 3' Premiere

It was only in 2004 that Utah decided to change its death sentence law. The state was actually the last to do so. Previously, such sentences were done by firing squad, but new legislation outlawed such means.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Ronnie Lee Gardner was the last inmate to be executed this way prior to the change. His sentencing occurred on the 18th of June, 2010 – the same day the animated movie Toy Story 3 premiered in theaters. The film was a hit, no pun intended.