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Random kinds of FACTNESS
1001 (Or So) Absolutely True Tidbits About (Mostly) Everything
By ERIN BARRETT, JACK MINGO
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2005 Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo
All rights reserved.
Before it was painted white in 1814, the White House was called "the Presidential Palace."
In the 1950s, nearly 50 percent of American workers were unionized. It was a time of unprecedented gains in wages and benefits. Today, only 15 percent of American workers belong to unions.
Circus fans, do you know how many Ringling Brothers there were? Seven. Al, Gus, Otto, Alf, Charles, John, and Henry. They had a sister, too, named Ida.
How many children did George Washington have? Although he was "Father of His Country," Washington had no biological children of his own.
If you're an average American, you'll spend about a year and a half of your life watching TV commercials.
It's not just a popular stereotype; most barns in the 1800s really were painted red. Why was that? Red paint hid dirt well and was easy to make without having to resort to expensive store-bought paint. Here's the recipe: Mix skim milk with some linseed oil and lime. Add rust that you scraped off some old farm tools for the pigment. Voilà!
President John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator around the White House. He said he enjoyed "the spectacle of guests fleeing from the room in terror."
In Maine, log cabins are exempt from property taxes.
In 1920, the average bill at an everyday diner was 28 cents.
"Kiki" was the childhood nickname of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
So far, all U.S. presidents have had siblings. Not one has been an only child.
U.S. founding father, George Washington, was a leader in more ways than the obvious. He was first to introduce the mule to America, and he is also considered the Father of the American Foxhound.
The very first American entrepreneur to be worth a billion dollars? Car mogul Henry Ford.
It may be hard to imagine a time when presidents took pride in cultural pursuits, but two presidents actually published books of poetry: John Quincy Adams and Jimmy Carter.
What do you call a president? George Washington wanted to be called "His Mightiness, the President." John Adams preferred "His Highness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties." Neither title caught on. Finally, democratic Thomas Jefferson came up with "Mr. President."
Thomas Jefferson was also the first president to actually shake hands with people. Previous presidents preferred a slight, dignified bow and no body contact.
In the 1880s, about 15 percent of all city dwellers in America had access to an indoor bathroom.
John Breckinridge at thirty-six was the youngest vice president, followed by Richard Nixon, thirty-nine.
Larger than life: The Statue of Liberty is about twenty times bigger than an average American woman. From her toes to the top of her head, she measures a bit over 111 feet.
The term "french fries" was coined by our favorite president Thomas Jefferson. He brought back samples of the fried potato sticks from France and dubbed them "Potatoes fried in the French manner." Americans are an efficient lot, so shortened the name to "french fries."
In the United States, more gold is used to make class rings than any other piece of jewelry.
Benjamin Franklin was the father of the bifocals, the stove, and the Constitution, but did you also know that he was controversial in his time as an advocate of taking baths? Puritans had made bathing illegal on the grounds that nudity of any kind—even in the privacy of your own bath—was a sin. Ben argued that the laws should be repealed. They were, eventually.
Was the Statue of Liberty modeled after a specific person? Two people to be exact. Sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi used his mother as the model for Liberty's face and his girlfriend as the model for her body. Dr. Freud will see you now, Monsieur Bartholdi.
There's only one crime mentioned by name in the entire U.S. Constitution: treason.
How much does it actually cost to mint our coins? A penny costs about half a cent; a nickel, 2.5 cents; a dime, 1 cent; a quarter 3 cents; and a half-dollar, 5 cents.
Hey, it's tax deductible: every year, American citizens donate about $1 million to the United States government to reduce the national debt.
It is a criminal offense for a sailor or soldier to pose nude, under the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice.
There've been quite a few Jims in the White House over the years. As a matter of fact, James is the most popular presidential first name—there have been six so far. John and William tie for the second most popular president's name.
We have it on good authority that there are 132 rooms in the White House. Thirty-two of them are bathrooms.
During the Cold War, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency advised that each of the following can block radiation as well as 4 inches of concrete: 18 inches of wood; 5–6 inches of brick; 8 inches of hollow concrete block; 7 inches of soil; 6 inches of sand; 10 inches of water; or 14 inches of books or magazines.
If you vote by absentee ballot but die before election day, what happens? Your vote still counts.
Only one-third of American presidents have not been lawyers.
The smallest U.S. president was James Madison, measuring 5 feet 4 inches and weighing in at 98 pounds.
Hubert H. Humphrey kept his pharmacy license as a backup in case his thirty-one-year political career didn't pan out.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. He was second cousin, three times removed, of the man who wrote the U.S. national anthem.
Most people assume that stamping on U.S. currency "In God We Trust" has a long tradition. Actually, it was mandated in 1955. During those jittery Cold War days, Congress also added "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, and "so help me God" to the official oath of office.
On a sad November day in 1963, Lyndon Baines Johnson had to phone three Dallas lawyers before he found one who had a copy of the presidential oath of office. He needed it so that he could be sworn in on Air Force One after President Kennedy was killed.
Worried about natural disasters? Add all the Americans who die in an average year from tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods, and you'll get a total of less than two hundred. Contrast that with the number of city dwellers who die from summer heat in a typical year: about fifteen hundred.
How do you get into the Fort Knox gold repository? Not easily. Only after several trusted individuals dial their own secret combinations can the 20-ton door creak slowly open.
Believe it or not, the presidential oath of office that each incoming president must recite is only thirty-five words long. You'd think there'd be more.
Before coming to his Common Sense, revolutionary writer Thomas Paine was a corset maker and tax collector.
Just minutes after being injured in an assassination attempt, Teddy Roosevelt calmly carried on with a speech in Milwaukee. Afterward, doctors removed the bullet that had lodged in his chest.
Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence at age thirty-three.
Who said obsessive dictionary authors don't have a sense of humor? Noah Webster suggested, tongue firmly planted in cheek, that the following articles also be added to the Bill of Rights: guaranteed good weather and fishing, no restraints on sensible eating or drinking, and when tired of lying on your right side, the guaranteed right to lie on your left side or your back.
Annie Taylor, a school teacher from Bay City, Michigan, became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The year was 1901. Her advice: "No one ought ever do that again."
Richard Nixon had always wanted to work for the FBI. So much so that he applied before he'd graduated from law school. He wasn't accepted. In fact, he never even received a reply, so he went down a different path and became president instead.
The worst battle for American soldiers was the Civil War. Between bullets and disease, the average Johnny had a one in six chance of not marching home again.
The song "Yankee Doodle" began as a nonsense Dutch song called "Yankee Dudel Doodle Down" in the fifteenth century. It spread to England as a children's song before being used to taunt Oliver Cromwell's Protestants during the English Civil War. Finally, the Brits turned it on the American colonists in the same taunting vein, not realizing that we'd adopt it proudly.
The man who invented condensed milk also coined the rallying cry, "Remember the Alamo!" That was Gail Borden, who was a newspaper editor before he founded the milk products company that bears his name.
The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., has 365 steps—one for every day of most years—no more, no less. If you were born on February 29 in a leap year, you're out of luck.
In a "Who Has the Biggest Face?" face-off, the boys on Mount Rushmore come in first with faces about 60 feet tall. The Sphinx in Egypt comes in second with a 30-foot mug. In comparison, the Statue of Liberty is a l'il lady, with only about 20 feet from chin to forehead. In case you're thinking of buying her some gloves, the index finger of the Statue of Liberty is 8 feet long.
Giving credit where it's due, Paul Revere was one of the participants at the Boston Tea Party. However, he didn't make the ride he's most famous for. That was an invention by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In reality, Revere was turned back by the Redcoats— it was Dr. Samuel Prescott who rode to Concord shouting, "The British are coming!"
President Grover Cleveland, weighing in at 280 pounds, was nicknamed "Big Steve" and "Uncle Jumbo."
On July 13, 1985, George H. W. Bush became the first vice president to serve as acting president. He held the position for eight hours while Ronald Reagan underwent surgery to remove a colon tumor.
Undereducated presidents are not a new phenomenon. Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and Zachary Taylor never even graduated from elementary school.
July 4, 1826, was a big day in American history. It was the Declaration of Independence's fiftieth anniversary, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died, and Stephen Foster's mom gave birth to the Americana-besotted songwriter.
Other Fourth of July presidential milestones: James Monroe died July 4, 1831, exactly five years after Adams and Jefferson. President Zachary Taylor celebrated a hot July 4, 1850, with speeches and too much picnic food, then took to his bed with acute indigestion and died five days later. And Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872.
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" songwriter George M. Cohan claimed that he was born on the Fourth of July, 1878. It's a good story, but his baptismal record says his birth took place on July 3.
You know there's a crack in the Liberty Bell, but do you know when it happened? On July 8, 1835, while being rung during the funeral of John Marshall, chief justice of the United States.
The Constitution says that presidents must be native-born citizens, yet eight of ours weren't born in the United States. How can this be? Easy—the first eight presidents were born before the United States was founded, in what were then England's American colonies.
Richard Stockton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, had a change of heart during the war and signed an oath of loyalty to the king. However, later, as the revolutionaries gained ground, Stockton switched sides once again. Smart man.
Explain this one, if you can: all American presidents with facial hair also happened to be Republicans.
Five presidents had beards; four had mustaches but no beard. Of the five who had beards, two were assassinated.
Besides humans, the Asian elephant is the only animal we know of that can stand on its head.
Although humans have bred this out of the farm version, turkeys in the wild can run at speeds of up to 20 mph, and fly at about 55 mph.
American cats have it good: 67 percent of them are allowed to sleep in the bed with their owners.
The biggest hog ever recorded was Big Bill from Jackson, Tennessee. He weighed a whopping 2,552 pounds, and was about 9 feet in length.
Why are bulldogs called that? The breed was originally bred for bullbaiting—to tear apart chained bulls for the amusement of spectators in jolly olde England. Dog breeders have since bred the viciousness out of the breed, and they now make good pets.
After penguin moms lay their eggs, penguin dads are left to incubate them for weeks afterward. Emperor penguin dads do this by balancing the eggs on the topsides of their feet with their ample bellies hanging over them, twenty-four hours a day for weeks.
In America, you have about a one in 3,448,276 chance of dying from a snakebite.
You may already know that a group of frogs is called a "chorus." Did you know, though, a group of toads is called a "knot"?
Cue the hysterical laughter of cat owners everywhere: health care professionals in medieval times thought that owning a cat would cure insanity.
Remember Felix the Cat? The cartoon character's name was a pun on the Latin term for the house cat, Felis catus.
Thailand (Siam)doesn't take credit for the Siamese cat. The people there call it "the Chinese cat."
Got an alligator clamped around your arm? Try poking its eye or punching its nose. We've heard these are the best ways to get free of its grip ... however, we guarantee nothing.
Farmers say that pigs love eating rattlers, gobbling the poisonous snakes up before they have a chance to strike.
If you're an ailurophobe (cat hater), you can blame the Pilgrims for likely bringing the first domestic cats to the New World.
Cows, sheep, dogs, and goats are aplenty in the Bible, but cats are never even mentioned once.
Lizards and flies never lose their suction when climbing on walls, because they don't use suction. Microscopic grooves on their feet grab microscopic pits and scratches, even on a "smooth" surface like glass.
You're probably not going to see a horror movie about it, but more people are killed by pigs than sharks every year.
Why are those wrinkled Chinese dogs called "sharpei"? It's a Chinese word meaning "sharkskin."
Baby alligators signal to their mothers that they're ready to emerge from their eggs. They have to, because she has to dig them out of the mud before they can hatch. What's the signal? A loud barking that can be heard from 50 feet away.
You might not think it, but an alligator mom is a great parent. Unlike many reptiles, she stays with her young for two years, protecting them from predators by letting them ride on her back or in her mouth.
It may be a big animal, but an alligator's brain is only about as big as your thumb. What's pitiful is that, small as an alligator's brain is, the alligator has one of the largest reptilian brains in proportion to its size.
If kept safe from foxes, frying pans, and Colonel Sanders, chickens can live about eight years.
How many lives have the legendary St. Bernards of the Alps saved? The big sloppy rescue dogs with a brandy cask are credited with rescuing twenty-five hundred people over the last two hundred years.
A cow consumes the equivalent of a bathtub full of water every day. Granted some of the moisture comes from the grass it eats, but it all adds up to about 50 gallons.
Bovines are cattle, but what are ovines? Sheep.
Yes, you can train a zebra to pull a horse wagon.
These names will live in history: Doreena Cary, Diane Greib, Kathy Roads, and Dorothy McCarthy. On October 9, 1976, they set the chicken-plucking world record by defeathering twelve birds in less than thirty-three seconds.
Where did Jack Russell terriers get their name? From the man who first bred them in the 1800s, the Reverend John ("Jack") Russell.
The largest frog in the world is about the size of your average pet cat. It's the aptly named goliath frog from West Africa.
In contrast, the Brazilian gold frog is only about an eighth of an inch long.
A reader asks how many neck bones a giraffe has? The answer is seven, same as people and almost every other mammal. They are extra-long, though.
Male marsupials of all kinds have a forked penis. What purpose might this serve, you may well ask? Well, female marsupials all have two uteruses that branch off from a forked opening. You know what they say: There's someone for everybody.
Those inventors at the Dubai Camel Hospital are pretty ingenious. The operating table has a big hole cut in the middle of it. That's for camel humps. The table is lowered on top of a sitting camel, the camel is strapped in, and the table is mechanically moved upright so the animal is belly-up, with all four legs in the air, and ready for surgery.
Hair apparent: Your average cat usually has twelve whiskers on each side of its face.
An ostrich egg measures about 5 inches wide and 4 inches tall. It's big enough to make eleven omelets— a feat that normally requires twenty chicken eggs.
Even though they may happen to have an orange glow, the name orangutan actually comes from the Malay language and means "person of the forest."
Cheetahs are fast, reaching speeds of about 71 mph.
Kangaroos? Don't sell them short. They can reach speeds of up to 40 mph, hopping 33 feet at a time.
A beaver can swim more than half a mile underwater on one single breath of air.
Cats can drive even a genius crazy, what with that out-again, in-again thing they do. Sir Isaac Newton's cat Spithead kept interrupting his work on the laws of gravity, so he put his intellect to work. He invented that sanity-saving contraption, the cat-door flap.
The male right whale's testicles weigh more than a ton, accounting for about 1 percent of its body weight.
Excerpted from Random kinds of FACTNESS by ERIN BARRETT, JACK MINGO. Copyright © 2005 Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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