33 Fun History Facts That Prove The Past Is Even More Fascinating Than You Realized

Published August 12, 2021
Updated August 16, 2021

From the loudest sound ever made to the World War II heroics of Bill Nye The Science Guy's mom, these random historical facts reveal just how astounding the annals of humanity's past really are.

Fun History Facts Wojtek The Bear

The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum – LondonNo list of fun history facts would be complete without Wojtek, the bear soldier enlisted by the Polish army during World War II.

From the ancient Egyptians to the Enlightenment to the modern era, the annals of humanity’s past are absolutely filled with fun history facts that are as random as they are interesting. Astounding stories like these reveal just how much your teachers never shared with you in school — and how much they probably never knew in the first place.

Random historical facts ranging from Victorian postmortem portraiture to Adolf Hitler’s amphetamine addiction just don’t seem to show up in history textbooks, no matter how fascinating such tidbits are. But the fun facts about history below represent some of the best stories you’ve surely never heard — and prove that real life is both much stranger and much more compelling than fiction.

Fun History Facts: Polish Soldiers Made A Bear Part Of Their Unit During World War II

One Polish unit in World War II had an unusual member — a Syrian brown bear named Wojtek.

On April 8, 1942, Polish soldiers came across the bear cub in Iran. They were en route to join up with the British and decided to take the bear cub along.

Although Wojtek started out drinking milk, he quickly developed the same habits as the other soldiers. “He would accept lit cigarettes, take a puff and swallow them,” remembered Dymitr Szawlugo, one of the soldiers who took care of the bear.

“He loved to drink from a beer bottle, and when it was empty, he would look through the opening to see where the rest of the beer was.”

In 1943, the soldiers even made Wojtek an official member of the army (with a rank, service number, and pay book). He then was so heroic carrying ammo during combat in Italy that they promoted him from private to corporal.

He survived the war and spent his final days in retirement at the Edinburgh zoo. Today, his story stands with some of the most astounding fun facts about history ever recorded.

Some 20,000 Confederates Fled To Brazil After The Civil War To Create A Kingdom Built On Slavery

After four bloody years of war, the Confederacy crumbled in April 1865. But not all Confederates were ready to accept defeat.

Instead, as many as 20,000 of them fled south. They went to Brazil, where they hoped that the country’s slaveholding culture could help them preserve their traditions. There, they cooked Southern food, spoke English, and tried to buy enough slaves to resurrect the antebellum plantation system.

To this day, the so-called Confederados gather each year to fly the Confederate flag and celebrate their lost heritage.

Adolf Hitler And Much Of Germany Relied On Opioids And Meth To Fight World War II

“Germany awake!” the Nazis barked — and they meant it more than most people even knew. As Nazi Germany battled its way through World War II, the country relied on a little secret to stay energetic: a little pill called Pervitin.

Soldiers used it to avoid sleep and to numb the terror of battle. Housewives popped Pervitin so they could finish all their chores and lose weight. It turns out, however, that it was just pure methamphetamine.

And Adolf Hitler himself relied on even stronger remedies, taking a drug called Eukodal, effectively a cocktail of oxycodone and cocaine, to treat various ailments.

By 1941, a top German health minister wrote a letter fretting that the entire nation was “becoming addicted to drugs.” Indeed, there remains a trove of weird historical facts about drug use in Nazi Germany that would astound even World War II buffs.

One Loyal Dog Returned To The Same Train Station For A Decade As He Waited For His Deceased Owner To Return

Hachikō the dog and his owner had a routine. In the morning, Professor Hidesaburō Ueno said goodbye to Hachikō and went to work in Tokyo. And in the evening, Hachikō waited patiently at the train station for Ueno to return.

But one day in May 1925, Ueno died suddenly at work. When Hachikō showed up at the train station that night, he waited futilely for Ueno to come home.

Loyal to the end, Hachikō returned to the train station every night. Until his death nearly ten years later, he waited for his owner day in and day out.

Then, Hachikō was cremated and his ashes were placed next to Ueno’s grave — uniting them at long last.

John Adams And Thomas Jefferson Died On The Same Day — The 50th Anniversary Of The First Independence Day

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson share many traits. Both were delegates at the Continental Congress, both served as vice president and president, and both died on the same day. And that day was July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after they’d both helped give birth to the United States.

Although the two men had started out as friends and both helped author the Declaration of Independence, their divergent politics caused them to sour on each other and become bitter rivals.

As he lay dying on Independence Day 1826, John Adams is even said to have cried: “Thomas Jefferson survives!” — not knowing that his old friend had died a few hours earlier. To this day, any good list of random historical facts must should include this unbelievable coincidence.

Random Historical Facts: The Civil War Started On This Man’s Farm And Ended In His Parlor

The first battle of the Civil War took place in Manassas, Virginia on July 21, 1861, on the farm of a man named Wilmer McLean. McLean supported the Confederacy but later fled with his family to Appomattox, Virginia. He stated that he hoped to never see another soldier again.

However, McLean could not outrun the war. Four years later, as the war was coming to an end, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent his men to find an appropriate place for him to meet with Union General Ulysses S. Grant in order to surrender — and they chose McLean’s new house. So, on April 9, 1865, the Confederacy officially surrendered to the Union in McLean’s parlor.

This led one Confederate soldier to quip that McLean “was perhaps the only man who ever had the first major pitched battle of a war fought in his front yard and the surrender signed four years later in his parlor.” To this day, any collection of fun history facts about the Civil War must include Wilmer McLean

Victorians Often Posed With Their Dead Relatives In Photographs

Fun Facts About History Death Photos

Beniamino Facchinelli/Wikimedia CommonsThe Italian photographer Beniamino Facchinelli took this portrait of a deceased child around 1890. To this day, fun history facts about Victorian death photos like these remain absolutely shocking.

In the first half of the 19th century, photography emerged as an exciting new medium. People used photos to capture different facets of everyday life. But for Victorians, death played a huge role in life.

Victorians suffered from high mortality rates — most didn’t live past 40 — and children were especially vulnerable to diseases like scarlet fever, measles, and cholera.

So, Victorians turned to photography as a way to remember those they had lost. Dressing their deceased loved ones — usually children — in clean white clothing, they posed them in chairs or in bed. And after the photo was printed, photographers often added a pink tint to their cheeks to give the illusion of life. Even more than a century later, this stands with the most shocking fun facts about history that you’ll ever read.

America’s First Black Postwoman, Stagecoach Mary, Was Among The Most Intimidating Figures In The Wild West

Tales of the Wild West are routinely populated with stories of white cowboys, sheriffs, and outlaws. But a Black postal worker named Mary Fields deserves a place in the annals of the Wild West.

Called “Stagecoach Mary,” this fearless, gunslinger was the first Black postwoman in the United States. Born into slavery, Fields found freedom after the Civil War and started delivering mail.

She routinely drove 300 miles by stagecoach for her job. Along the way, Fields developed a reputation for her temper like “a grizzly bear” and for her claim that she could knock out any man with a single punch.

Before long, the mayor of Cascade, Montana, declared that Fields could drink at the local saloon — making her the only woman allowed there who was not a prostitute.

Italian Doctors Invented A Fake Disease To Save Jews From The Holocaust

In the fall of 1943, a mysterious and frightening illness spread through Nazi-occupied Rome. But 60 years later, Italian doctors admitted that they had invented the terrifying “Syndrome K” to save Italian Jews.

“The Nazis thought it was cancer or tuberculosis, and they fled like rabbits,” explained Dr. Vittorio Sacerdoti.

In fact, “Syndrome K” was a code. The “K” stood for either Albert Kesselring, the German commander overseeing Rome’s occupation, or SS Chief Herbert Kappler, the city’s Nazi police chief.

Under the guise of illness, doctors saved at least 20 Italian Jews from deportation and likely death.

The U.S. Veteran Who Saved President Gerald Ford From Assassination Was Cruelly Outed By The Media

On Sept. 22, 1975, a U.S. veteran named Oliver Sipple saved the life of President Gerald Ford. While out for his morning walk, Sipple saw a woman named Sarah Jane Moore point a gun at the president. He quickly lunged toward her and saved Ford’s life.

But in the aftermath, the American media outed Sipple as a gay man. Sipple, who was not out, said that the unwanted disclosure had caused him “great mental anguish, embarrassment, and humiliation.”

His family abandoned him, society ostracized him, and Ford barely acknowledged Sipple’s heroism. As a result, Sipple slid into a deep depression. He died at the age of 47, alone, in 1989.

An All-Black Regiment Called The Harlem Hellfighters Fought For Longer Than Any Other Unit In World War I

The all-Black 369th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard called themselves the “Black Rattlers.” The French called them “Men of Bronze.” But the Germans called this fearsome fighting unit the “Harlem Hellfighters” — and that’s the name that stuck.

For 191 days — longer than any unit — the Harlem Hellfighters proved themselves on the battlefields of World War I. Stories of their bravery spread around the world, and soldiers like Henry Johnson came home as heroes.

However, despite the historical facts that make their tale amazing, their legacy has been sadly overlooked. And although many Hellfighters hoped that their service would improve race relations at home, they returned to the United States to find racist Jim Crow laws still in place.

King Leopold II Of Belgium May Be A Worse Mass Murderer Than Hitler

Random History Facts Congo Free State

Wikimedia CommonsCongolese workers under Belgian rule who didn’t meet their quotas were subject to having their limbs chopped off as well as other horrific punishments.

When it comes to history’s most brutal killers, names like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin are well known. But King Leopold II of Belgium may be worse than either one.

Under Leopold’s rule, native people living in the Congo Free State suffered mass mutilations and death as the Belgians treated the entire region like their own rubber plantation. Belgian authorities regularly punished people — even children — for missing work quotas by cutting off their hands.

Ultimately, Leopold is thought to be responsible for some 10 million deaths.

The Woman Who Accused Emmett Till Of Sexual Harassment And Incited His Lynching Later Recanted

In the early days of the American civil rights movement, white men in Mississippi kidnapped, beat, and killed a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till. Till’s open coffin — and horrifying the image of his mutilated body — helped the civil rights movement gain steam.

They claimed that they’d attacked Till because he’d sexually harassed a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. At trial, Bryant testified that Till had approached her at her family’s store. She stated that he followed her behind the counter, put his hands around her waist, and suggested that he’d been with white women before.

But Bryant’s story wasn’t true. In 2017, author Timothy Tyson revealed that Bryant told him that she had lied. “[In] her testimony that Till had grabbed her around the waist and uttered obscenities, she now told me, ‘That part’s not true,'” Tyson said.

The U.S. Enlisted Over 1,000 Nazi Scientists After World War II In Order To Win The Space Race

The Allied powers soundly defeated the Nazis in World War II. But in the aftermath of the war — as the Soviets and the Americans began to compete — the U.S. drew on Nazi technology to get ahead in the Cold War.

The top-secret American program “Operation Paperclip” brought 1,600 Nazi scientists to the United States. Quietly, American officials eliminated or obscured evidence of war crimes from their records.

Eventually, the American government used both the knowledge and labor of Nazi Germany’s top scientists to beat the Soviets to the moon.

Women Working In 1920s Watch Factories Suffered From Radium Exposure That Caused Their Jaws To Fall Off

In the early 1920s, working girls flocked toward a plum new gig: painting watch faces with radium for U.S. Radium Corp. The chemical helped wristwatches to glow in the dark.

But the easy work came at a ghastly price. As the girls toiled, they licked their paint brushes in between watches to give the brush a sharper point. Each time they did this, they swallowed a tiny bit of the chemical.

And before long, the workers began to develop horrifying health conditions. “There was one woman who the dentist went to pull a tooth and he pulled her entire jaw out when he did it,” explained Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook. “Their legs broke underneath them. Their spines collapsed.”

Sadly, many of the so-called Radium Girls died young as U.S. Radium Corp tried to dodge responsibility.

John F. Kennedy’s Sister Was Secretly Lobotomized By Their Father

In the glitzy years of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, his family seemed to embody the glamor of upper-class America. But the shiny Kennedy veneer hid more than one dark truth. One of the most horrifying Kennedy secrets concerns John’s little sister, Rosemary — who his father had lobotomized.

As a child, Rosemary suffered from seizures and poor mental health. And as an adult, she openly defied her parents by sneaking out and meeting up with men.

Hoping to cure his daughter’s ailments — and perhaps with an eye on the political future of his son — Joseph Kennedy decided to have Rosemary lobotomized. In the 1940s, lobotomies were a popular treatment. But Rosemary’s went terribly wrong. She lost the ability to speak and walk.

As John F. Kennedy rose to power, his sister languished in a mental institution.

The World’s Oldest Known Temple Suggests That Early Humans Developed Religion Before Agriculture

Between 11,000 and 12,000 years ago, early humans descended on a site in present-day Turkey and started to build a temple. But the passing centuries obscured their work — and the meaning behind it.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1994 that anyone stumbled across the so-called Gobekli Tepe, which is Turkish for “belly hill.” Then, archeologists were stunned to find a sprawling ancient temple so old that it predates Stonehenge by 6,000 years.

To date, historians aren’t sure why early humans built Gobekli Tepe. But many believe that its mere existence changes our popular understanding of human history — and suggests that organized religion came before the development of agriculture, instead of the other way around. Either way, Gobekli Tepe has more than earned its place on any list of fun facts about history.

A Slave-Turned-Spy Helped The U.S. Win The Revolutionary War — But Was Still Denied His Freedom Afterward

Revolutionary War heroes like George Washington or Paul Revere are well-known. But a slave named James Armistead played a crucial — if overlooked — part in securing the American victory.

During the war, Armistead was sent by the Marquis de Lafayette to infiltrate the British ranks as a spy. Since the British had offered American slaves freedom if they switched sides, no one questioned Armistead’s presence. And no one guessed that Armistead could understand all the maps British soldiers left lying around, because they incorrectly assumed that a Black man wouldn’t be able to read.

Slowly, Armistead fed intelligence to Lafayette and Washington. His insights helped them win the Battle of Yorktown — and the entire war. But after the Americans won their freedom, Armistead was denied his.

It took petitions by both Armistead’s owner and Lafayette himself for Armistead to finally be freed in 1787.

The Great-Grandson Of John D. Rockefeller Was Likely Captured, Beheaded, And Eaten By Tribespeople In New Guinea

Weird History Facts Michael Rockefeller

President and Fellows of Harvard University; Peabody Museum of Archeology and EthnologyMichael Rockefeller on his first trip to New Guinea in May 1960.

On Nov. 19, 1961, the great-grandson of the richest American who ever lived, John D. Rockefeller, vanished without a trace. Michael Rockefeller disappeared off the coast of Dutch New Guinea — but that was just the beginning.

Fascinated with different cultures and hoping to acquire native art, Rockefeller had visited Dutch New Guinea before. But after his boat capsized in 1961, he was never heard from again.

After an intensive search, Dutch authorities declared that Rockefeller had drowned. But decades later, a different story emerged.

According to indigenous tribes on the island — who long held their silence because they feared reprisals — Rockefeller had been killed. A tribe had cut off his head, eaten his flesh, used his bones for weapons, and doused themselves in his blood as part of a religious ceremony.

Cleopatra Was Known For Her Intelligence And Could Speak 12 Languages

Cleopatra is best known for her purported beauty and dramatic death. But the last Egyptian pharaoh was also known for her intelligence.

During her life, Cleopatra learned to speak up to 12 languages. Perhaps most impressive, she learned to speak Egyptian — something her Macedonian ancestors had never bothered with. In addition, Cleopatra could speak Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

Although Roman and Greek historians tended to focus on Cleopatra’s powers of seduction, she possessed strength and intelligence that made her an effective ruler. To this day, these elements often don’t surface in lists of fun history facts about this incredible ruler.

A Teenage Girl Fought Back Against The Nazis And Boldly Chose Death Over Naming Her Comrades

The horrors of World War II are dotted with moments of quiet bravery. One such moment belongs to Lepa Radić, a 17-year-old who was hanged for resisting the Nazis.

On Feb. 8, 1943, Radić was sentenced to death for her activities with the Yugoslav Partisans, a resistance group that was fighting against the Axis powers. After she was led to the gallows, German officials offered her a pardon if she revealed the names of other resistance members.

“I am not a traitor of my people,” Radić replied. “Those whom you are asking about will reveal themselves when they have succeeded in wiping out all you evildoers, to the last man.”

Then she was hanged. After her death, the Yugoslavian government awarded Radić the Order of the National Hero on Dec. 20, 1951.

Weird History Facts: A Months-Long Dancing Plague Overtook An Entire City In 1518

In the summer of 1518, a bizarre illness struck the city of Strasbourg, then a part of the Holy Roman Empire. People impacted by the disease didn’t cough or sneeze, however. Instead, they danced — and couldn’t stop. This may sound like some random facts about history that can’t possibly be true, but it most certainly is.

The so-called “dancing plague” lasted for weeks. At its peak, as many as 400 people danced until their feet bled. Some dropped dead from heart attacks, strokes, and exhaustion.

And to this day, historians aren’t sure what caused the strange outbreak. Some speculate that mold could have triggered it. Others think that medieval mass hysteria may be to blame. But no one is sure why it started or if it could ever come back.

This Native American Chief Allegedly Lived For 137 Years

Chief John Smith

Wikimedia CommonsChief John Smith claimed to be 137 years old just before he died, securing his place on any good list of fun facts about history.

On Feb. 6, 1922, a Native American from Minnesota named Chief John Smith died — allegedly at the age of 137.

To date, no one is sure exactly when Smith was born. He claims he was born in 1785. Other estimates, however, put his birthdate closer to 1825.

Officially, the world’s oldest person was a French woman named Jeanne Louise Calment, who died at the age of 122 in 1997. But any list of fun history facts about the oldest people to ever live must wrestle with the disputed tale of John Smith.

The U.S. May Never Have Gotten To The Moon Without NASA Engineer Margaret Hamilton

The men who landed on the moon — Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins — are famous. But what about the women who put them there?

One NASA software engineer named Margaret Hamilton did all her work back on Earth. Painstakingly, Hamilton and her team wrote out all their code by hand.

As she watched the astronauts land on the moon on July 20, 1969, Hamilton thought: “My God. Look what happened. We did it. It worked.” However, to this day, she had never gotten the credit she deserves.

In 1964, The Beatles Refused To Play For Segregated Crowds In Florida

In September 1964, the Beatles prepared to play at Gator Bowl in Florida. Beatlemania was in full swing, and the stadium had sold tickets for every one of its 32,000 seats.

But when the Beatles learned that the stadium would be segregated, they threatened to pull out. “We never play to segregated audiences,” John Lennon said, “and we aren’t going to start now. I’d sooner lose our appearance money.”

The Beatles’ tough stance led the concert producers to desegregate the Gator Bowl. And the Beatles had their contract amended to say they’d never play for a segregated audience.

A Group Of Men Added A Woman To A Mayoral Ballot As A Joke In 1887 — And She Became America’s First Female Mayor

In 1887, a Kansas woman named Susanna Salter became active in the local temperance movement. This irked some men in the town of Argonia, so they decided they’d teach her a lesson.

To humiliate Salter, they added her name to the mayoral ballot. But to the shock of everyone — Salter included — she won.

Decades before American women won the right to vote, Salter served as the country’s first-ever female mayor.

Fun Historical Facts: The Loudest Sound In Recorded History Was The Krakatoa Volcanic Eruption Of 1883

The 1883 eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatoa volcano was so gargantuan that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. The loudest sound in recorded history, it ruptured the eardrums of people more than 40 miles from the epicenter, created a sound wave that circled the globe seven times, and could be heard all the way in New York City — more than 10,000 miles away.

And even those around the world who didn’t hear the blast still reported seeing the sun turn purple, the moon turn blue, and the sky turn red. In fact, the sky grew so red as far away as Connecticut that one local fire department was dispatched to put out what they were sure was a blaze burning somewhere right in town.

As for those who were much closer to the eruption, Krakatoa tore its island almost completely in two. Later, the bodies of those killed in the blast floated on “rafts” made of volcanic stone all the way to the coast of Africa.

Beethoven Bit Down On A Metal Rod Attached To His Piano To Feel Musical Vibrations

By the time he was seven years old, German composing prodigy Ludwig van Beethoven had mounted his first concert. But by the time he turned 28, he started noticing problems with his hearing. And by the time he was in his 40s, he’d gone completely deaf.

However, Beethoven came up with an ingenious solution that lands him in the upper echelons of any list of fun facts about history. By clenching a metal rod between his teeth and attaching it to his piano, he could make out faint vibrations.

This allowed him to continue his spectacular career although his deafness persisted. When Beethoven premiered his stunning 9th Symphony in 1824, he had to be turned around to see the audience cheering, as he could not hear their applause.

Alexander Fleming Invented Penicillin By Accident After He Forgot To Clean A Petri Dish

When Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming left for vacation in 1928, he neglected to tidy up his lab. Upon his return, he noticed something intriguing in one of his Petri dishes — mold.

This mold, Fleming deduced, had prevented bacteria from growing. He decided that that must mean that the mold contained antibacterial properties.

Fleming was right — and he used his accidental discovery to invent none other than penicillin.

In 1954, Ernest Hemingway Survived Two Plane Crashes — In Two Days

In 1954, author Ernest Hemingway escaped death — twice — in a manner befitting his fiction. That January, Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary Welsh embarked on a sightseeing tour in Uganda.

But the trip quickly turned to disaster when their plane crashed. Hemingway, Welsh, and their pilot had to spend the night in the jungle. They then boarded a rescue plane — which also crashed and caught on fire.

Like a hero in one of his novels, Hemingway headbutted the plane door open. He and Welsh managed to escape, although their luggage burned.

In the aftermath, The New York Times described Hemingway as grinning and “carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin.”

A Group Of Female Soviet Pilots Called The Night Witches Terrorized The Nazis During World War II

Night Witches

Wikimedia CommonsThe all-female Russian 588th Regiment, or “Night Witches,” terrorized Nazi troops from outdated planes that could go undetected by World War II radar. The war is a rich source of fun history facts, but few stories are as amazing as that of the Night Witches.

As World War II escalated, women in the Soviet Union felt frustrated at being stuck on the sidelines. Many of them petitioned Colonel Marina Raskova, a pilot known as the “Soviet Amelia Earhart,” for help.

Raskova convinced Joseph Stalin to let her form all-female flying units. He agreed, and the 588th Night Bomber Regiment was born.

But soon, they were known by another name — the Night Witches.

Because the 588th Night Bomber Regiment was given outdated equipment and planes, they were difficult for the Germans to detect. They flew stealthily over their targets and launched surprise attacks.

As a result, some German soldiers were afraid to even light a cigarette — lest the Night Witches descend.

The Boston Marathon Didn’t Have Female Runners Until 1967 — And Men Attacked The First Woman Who Entered

Believing women to be too “fragile,” the Boston Marathon did not allow them to run until 1972. So when Kathrine Switzer signed up in 1967, she did so using only her initials: K.V.

When “K.V. Switzer” showed up — clearly, not a man — race officials were enraged. Several attempted to stop her from running the course. One even tried to rip off her bib mid-race while yelling: “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!”

Nevertheless, Switzer soldiered on and finished the race in a respectable four hours and 20 minutes.

Random History Facts: Bill Nye’s Mother Was A Whip-Smart Codebreaker Who Helped The U.S. Win World War II

Bill Nye The Science Guy delighted American children across the country with his zany yet informative televised experiments. But few know that Nye inherited his smarts from his mother, Jacqueline Jenkins-Nye — a World War II codebreaker.

Jenkins-Nye worked alongside other codebreakers in secret. Together, they helped crack the code that led to the death of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the masterminded behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Her influence on me,” Bill Nye said, following his mother’s passing, “was infinite, immeasurable,”


After reading through these fun history facts, discover more of the most interesting random historical facts. Then, learn about some of the most fascinating weird facts about history, science, and the natural world.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.