33 History “Facts” We’ve All Been Getting Dead Wrong

Published February 2, 2018
Updated March 15, 2018

Turns out a ton of what we all learned in high school history class just isn't true.

Fortune Cookie
They were actually invented in Japan and are almost never served with a meal in China.NYPL/Wikimedia Commons

Columbus Lands In The New World
Columbus' four voyages only made it to the Caribbean islands — and Norse explorer Leif Erikson is believed to have reached what is now Canada centuries earlier.Library of Congress

Betsy Ross
The real creator was likely Francis Hopkinson, a New Yorker who designed numerous seals for the newly-created country.Library of Congress

Napoleon
His height was famously recorded as 5'2". However, that was in French units, not English units, in which he was 5'7", which was slightly taller than average for French men at the time.Wikimedia Commons

Pilgrims
In fact, the Pilgrims wore garments of red, green, violet, and blue — and all with far fewer buckles than you'd think.Wikimedia Commons

Washington Teeth
He did wear dentures, but his false teeth were a combination of gold, lead, ivory, horse teeth, and teeth from slaves.Wikimedia Commons

Salem Witch Trial
The accused either died in prison or by hanging. One was executed by pressing.Library of Congress

Freedom Signing
While the Continental Congress ratified the document on July 4, independence had been declared on July 2 and the document wasn't signed until Aug. 2.Wikimedia Commons

Abe Lincoln
As his personal correspondence shows, Abraham Lincoln's goal was to save the Union, whether that meant freeing some, all, or no slaves.Wikimedia Commons

Iron Maiden
It never existed in the Middle Ages, but was actually assembled in the 19th century from various artifacts to create a menacing device for show. Wikimedia Commons

Shoot Out
Actually, even in infamously violent Wild West towns like Tombstone, Ariz., you had to leave your pistol with the sheriff and couldn't retrieve it until leaving town.Amon Carter Museum of American Art/Wikimedia Commons

Flat Map
Europeans generally accepted the claims of a spherical Earth made by Ancient Greek experts centuries earlier.Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving
It's more likely that duck, goose, or deer was the protein on the menu, rather than wild turkey.Wikimedia Commons

Albert Einstein
Einstein did, however, fail his first attempt at admission to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School. Doris Ulmann/Library of Congress

Charles Lindbergh
British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown actually flew from Newfoundland to Ireland eight years earlier.Library of Congress

Thomas Edison
First "working light bulb" would be more accurate. Other inventors had created similarly functioning bulbs, but it was Edison and his team who created the longer-lasting filament.Library of Congress

Cavemen
Our ancestors had a nomadic lifestyle and mostly slept in open air camps, retreating to caves only to escape harsh weather. Museum of Mongolian History/Wikimedia Commons

Great Wall Of China
Many cities (at night), roads, and bridges are also visible, as well as Spain's Greenhouses of Almería.Wikimedia Commons

Ben Franklin
Franklin didn't approve of the bald eagle and did extoll the virtues of the turkey, but never actually suggested that the latter be an official U.S. symbol. He instead proposed we use an image of Moses. Wikimedia Commons

Holocaust Victims
While the Holocaust did indeed kill 6 million Jews, that widely-known number ignores the further 5 million civilians (communists, Roma, Serbs, Polish intelligentsia, homosexuals, the disabled, and others) killed by the Nazis.Wikimedia Commons

Paul Revere
Revere did warn of the British approach at the outset of the American Revolution, but he wasn't the only one and likely went door-to-door quietly spreading the news, given that shouting would have given away his clandestine mission. Wikimedia Commons

Gladiator
What an emperor would have done when deciding a gladiator's fate is extend a thumb for a kill and hide a thumb in his fist for an acquittal.Wikimedia Commons

No Cake
Most historians attribute the phrase to French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but France's last queen before the revolution was widely given credit because it fit with her reputation.Wikimedia Commons

Walt Disney
The iconic mouse was actually the creation of animator Ub lwerks.Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Graham Bell
Some historians state that Bell and his lawyer used bribery to have his patent pushed through ahead of the one rightfully submitted by inventor Elisha Gray earlier that same day, Feb. 14, 1876. Research also suggests that Bell even stole ideas from Gray's patent.Wikimedia Commons

Viking
This whole idea of the Viking with a horned helmet didn't come about until an opera performance in 1876.Wikimedia Commons

Jfk Sitting Down
During a 1963 speech given by Kennedy in Berlin, he used the German phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner." Legend has it that he meant to say, "I am a citizen of Berlin," but by including the "ein," had changed the meaning of the sentence to say that he was a Berliner, a type of jelly doughnut. However, this grammatical explanation simply isn't accurate.Library of Congress

Painting Of Jesus
"Xmas" can be traced back to 1021, when British monks used it as an abbreviation because "X" stands for the Greek letter chi, the starting letter for "Christ" in Greek.Wikimedia Commons

Horse Charge
This simply false report was spread by Nazi propagandists shortly after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.Wikimedia Commons

George Washington Carver
While he did come up with hundreds of uses for the peanut, the invention of peanut butter can be traced all the way back to the Aztecs.Wikimedia Commons

Machiavelli
Neither he phrase nor any close variant ever appears in Machiavelli's The Prince. Furthermore, the underlying sentiment had already famously been published by authors going back to Ancient Rome, centuries before.Wikimedia Commons

No Virgins
Companions are mentioned for all people, not just martyrs. The source for the 72 virgins comes from Persian scholar Imam Tirmidhi and is not part of the Quran.Pixabay

Cowboys
Derby and bowler hats dominated the Wild West, whereas the Stetson model now known as the cowboy hat didn't become popular until the tail end of the 19th century.Wikimedia Commons

As the centuries tick on by, history has a way of becoming blurred. In many cases, it doesn't even take centuries for a historical fact to become distorted, but merely a few decades — if not sooner.

Whether such distortions happen for political reasons or because of unintentional mistakes, historical inaccuracies shape our very perceptions of the important events and figures of our past. Villains can become heroes and triumphs can be misrepresented or worse, forgotten.

Then there are the straightforward historical "facts" that we all know to be true — even though they aren't. From high school textbooks to movies and TV shows, countless sources repeat such historical "facts" that are actually nothing more than myths.

Did you think Napoleon was short, for example? Did you think Betsy Ross designed the American flag? Did you think the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776?

In each of these cases, the truth is much different, sometimes much more complicated — and often far more interesting — than you ever realized. Moreover, of course, the truth is the truth; it clears away the falsehoods that have taken root in our minds and allowed us to form some warped ideas about humanity's past. And ultimately, these false ideas about our past can inform false ideas about our present and our future.

The gallery above will help clear up some historical myths and misconceptions and finally give the real facts their due.


Next, check out some interesting history facts you've never heard before. Then, have a look at some interesting random facts that'll make you feel like the smartest person in any room.

Joel Stice
Joel Stice is a writer who enjoys digging into all things pop culture, history, science, and anything weird.