Articles From This Author
8 Things You Might Not Know about Booker T. Washington
1. The plantation where Washington was born was a far cry from “Gone With the Wind.” It’s now a National Monument, but the Franklin County, Virginia, plantation where Washington was born on April 5, 1856, was hardscrabble at best. Washington himself would later call the place ...read more
Who Invented the Flush Toilet?
The centerpiece of today’s modern bathroom, the flush toilet has equal roots in ancient sanitation practices, Elizabethan politics and Industrial Revolution know-how. Primitive latrines that utilized a constant stream of water to carry away waste date back at least 5,000 years, ...read more
What was the first animal in space?
Though far less famous than later non-human astronauts, the first animals in space were a group of fruit flies, launched to an altitude of 42 miles at the tip of a V-2 rocket, developed and used by the Germans during World War II and later by American military scientists on ...read more
Who Was St. Nicholas?
We know very few historical details about St. Nicholas’s life. Even the year of his death is uncertain, although both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have celebrated December 6—the date of his passing—for more than 1,000 years. Within a century of his death, the ...read more
The History of Christmas Pudding
In America, Christmas Pudding (also known as plum pudding or figgy pudding) is a dish as famous as it is misunderstood. It’s the flaming center of the climactic meal of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and pops up in carols themselves: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” has two ...read more
8 Things You May Not Know About Henry VIII
1. In his youth, Henry VIII was one of the Catholic Church’s staunchest supporters. In 1521 Henry VIII published a book-length excoriation of the German Protestant reformer Martin Luther, referring to Luther as “a venomous serpent, a pernicious plague, infernal wolf, an ...read more
What is the world’s oldest democracy?
The term democracy, which means “rule by the people,” was coined by the Greeks of ancient Athens to describe their city-state’s system of self-rule, which reached its golden age around 430 B.C. under the skilled orator and politician Pericles. It is probable that the Athenians ...read more
The History of Pumpkin Pie
It’s hard to imagine an American Thanksgiving table without the ubiquitous orange-crusted custard made from strained, spiced and twice-cooked squash. Few of our festival foods can claim deeper American roots than pumpkins, which were first cultivated in Central America around ...read more
How long was the Berlin Wall?
Few symbols better captured the Cold War divide between western Europe and the Soviet bloc than the Berlin Wall, a concrete and barbed wire barrier that divided Germany’s largest city for nearly 30 years. As World War II wound to a close, Germany and Berlin were divided into four ...read more
10 (Allegedly) Mad Monarchs
1. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (604-562 B.C.) The granddaddy of all mad kings is King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian ruler whose first-person account of a seven-year descent into animal-like insanity is one of the most fascinating sections of the Old Testament book of Daniel. ...read more
6 Modern Capitals With Ancient Roots
1. Athens The earliest evidence of human habitation on Athens’ famed Acropolis dates to between 7000 and 5000 B.C. By the mid-second-century B.C. Athens was an important outpost of the Mycenaean civilization, and remained a leading trading center for centuries due to its central ...read more
When was Columbus Day first celebrated?
As the schoolhouse rhyme goes, in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but the holiday celebrating the Spanish-funded Italian navigator’s discovery of the New World (or “Asia,” as he called it) is much more recent. It wasn’t until 1792 that several U.S. cities planned Columbus ...read more
Who were the first women to win Nobel Prizes?
When it comes to record-setting Nobel Prize recipients, there’s Marie Curie and there’s everyone else. The Polish-French scientist was the first woman to share a Nobel Prize (the 1903 physics award, with her husband Pierre and fellow French scientist Henri Becquerel, for their ...read more
7 Things You May Not Know About the Ming Dynasty
1. The dynasty’s founder grew up in poverty. Born Zhu Yuanzhang in 1328 and orphaned at age 16, the man who would found the Ming dynasty survived by begging before becoming a novice at a Buddhist monastery. When his monastery was burned down a few years later during a conflict ...read more
9 Things You May Not Know About Nikola Tesla
1. The shock of his brother’s death turned him into a mystic—at age seven. The defining event of young Nikola’s childhood was the day he witnessed the death of his older brother Dane in a riding accident. In the years following the tragedy, Tesla (the son and grandson of Serbian ...read more
Where Hamburgers Began—and How They Became an Iconic American Food
The hamburger is one of the world’s most popular foods, with nearly 50 billion served up annually in the United States alone. Although the humble beef-patty-on-a-bun is technically not much more than 100 years old, it's part of a far greater lineage, linking American businessmen, ...read more
How Canned Food Revolutionized The Way We Eat
From pickling and salting to smoking and drying, humans have been finding ways to make food last longer since prehistoric times. But by the 18th century, an efficient—and truly effective—means of preservation remained elusive. In 1795, the French government decided to do ...read more
10 Famous Elephants From History
Although known for millennia by many of the peoples of Africa and Asia, elephants’ introduction to the classical West came around 331 B.C., when Alexander the Great encountered war elephants as his army swept from Persia into India. At the river Jhelum, in present-day Pakistan, ...read more
Who invented the metric system?
If you’re a scientist, a student or a citizen of any country in the world except for the United States, Myanmar or Liberia, there’s no avoiding the metric system. The system, featuring meters, liters and kilograms, was adopted following the French Revolution and devised by a ...read more
What is the longest river in the world?
The longest river in the world, measured from its mouth to its most distant, year-round source, is likely the Amazon, which flows 4,345 miles from the Peruvian Andes through Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean. However, much depends on how you measure it. Until 2007, the title belonged ...read more
Snow in Summer: A Global History of Frozen Treats
According to popular legend, ice cream was invented by the ancient Chinese, brought to Italy by Marco Polo, to France by Catherine de Medici, and thence to America by Thomas Jefferson. The truth, however, about summer’s favorite chilled dairy treat is a bit more difficult to pin ...read more
6 Things You May Not Know About Magna Carta
1. We know who signed it, but we’ll never be sure who wrote it. Magna Carta was an agreement between King John and a group of English barons in response to years of the king’s misrule and excessive taxation. Despite a closing line suggesting the charter was “Given by [John’s] ...read more
How Drive-Thru Dining Changed Fast Food
Dining out got a new look in 1948, thanks to a 100-square foot burger shack perched next to a circular Baldwin Park, California, driveway. There, five cooks worked behind glass walls assembling take-out meals for motorists, lured by the a sign assuring “NO DELAY” and a restaurant ...read more
8 Surprising Facts about Alexander the Great
1. He was taught by Aristotle but had famous run-ins with other philosophers. Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedon, hired Aristotle, one of history’s greatest philosophers,, to educate the 13-year-old prince. Little is known about Alexander’s three-year tutelage but ...read more
A History of Coffee in 10 Buzzwords
1. Mocha Although it was possibly consumed as a food or drink in its native Ethiopian highlands, the evergreen shrub Coffea arabica was first cultivated on a large scale in Yemen, around the 15th century. Many of its earliest adherents were Sufi Muslim mystics, who used the ...read more