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10 Historical Connections

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The Fax Machine Was Invented the Same Year the First Wagon Crossed the Oregon Trail (1843)

BrokenSphere/Alfred Jacob Mille

Scottish inventor Alexander Bain received the patent for the “Electric Printing Telegraph”—the granddaddy of the modern fax machine—on May 27, 1843. That same year, in what’s now known as the “Great Migration of 1843,” about 1,000 emigrants headed to Oregon via wagon train on the Oregon Trail.

Woolly Mammoths Were Still Alive While Egyptians Were Building the Pyramids (2660 BCE)

Flying Puffin/Nina Aldin Thune

Wrangel Island—a Delaware-sized island about 90 miles off the coast of far eastern Siberia—until about 1650 BCE. The oldest of the so-called “Great Pyramids” in Egypt was constructed between 2667 and 2648 BCE, meaning that yes, there were actually woolly mammoths alive and well when the Great Pyramids were being built.

You Could Take the London Underground to the Last Public Hanging in the UK (1868)

mattbuck /Fraser Mummery

The last public hanging in the UK took place on May 26, 1868, when Michael Barrett was executed in front of a crowd of two thousand people outside the walls of Newgate Prison in London. The Barbican London Underground station was built in 1865 (as Aldersgate Street) and is only a ten-minute walk from Newgate Prison (now the Central Criminal Court), according to Google Maps. This means it was entirely possible that Londoners took the tube to watch a hanging.

Nintendo Was Founded When Jack the Ripper Was Still on the Loose (1889)

Eckhard Pecher/Tom Merry

Japanese gaming giant Nintendo was founded on September 23, 1889, originally producing handmade playing cards called hanafuda. This means the company behind Mario, Donkey Kong, Samus, Kirby, and that copy of Wii Sports gathering dust in your parent’s basement was actually contemporaneous with the legendary London serial killer Jack the Ripper. Though all the murders we now attribute to the killer were committed in 1888, in September 1889, Londoners still thought Jack was on the loose: he was a suspect in the murder of unidentified woman—called “The Pinchin Street Torso” because all they found was her torso—just a few weeks before Nintendo was founded. The identity of Jack the Ripper is still unknown.

Swiss Women Got the Right to Vote the Same Year the US Drove a Buggy on the Moon (1971)

Alex Lee/Dave Scott

Women in Switzerland couldn’t vote until 1971, largely because Switzerland requires national referendums for constitutional change, and the only people that could vote in those referendums at the time were men. That’s 65 years after Finland became the first European country to grant women the right to vote and 51 years after America made it happen. In 1971, the US was up on the moon driving a “moon buggy”. Sure, it was men doing the driving, but it’s still a shocking contrast especially considering Switzerland’s 21st-century status as a progressive wonderland.

The Brooklyn Bridge Was Being Built During the Battle of Little Bighorn (1876)

Postdlf/Seifert Gugler & Co.

Construction on the Brooklyn Bridge—the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever—was, surprisingly, contemporaneous with “Custer’s Last Stand” at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. The bridge was still six years from completion when George Armstrong Custer and his men were defeated by Crazy Horse and members of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes in eastern Montana territory.

Orville Wright Was Still Alive When Hiroshima and Nagasaki Were Bombed (1945)

Unknown/509th Operations Group

Orville Wright (b. 1871) and his brother Wilbur are widely considered to be the inventors of the airplane—or “fixed-wing powered flight,” at least—so it’s startling that Orville was alive when planes were used to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Wilbur died from typhoid fever in 1912, but Orville lived long enough to give an interview expressing his sadness about the destruction WWII bombers caused: “No, I don’t have any regrets about my part in the invention of the airplane, though no one could deplore more than I do the destruction it has caused.”

Ecstasy Was Invented the Same Year the Titanic Sank (1912)

DEA/Robert John Welch

The year the Titanic sank, scientists in Germany first synthesized MDMA (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine)—better known as Ecstasy—“possibly to be used as an appetite suppressant.” Merck patented it the next year but decided against marketing it.

The Crusades and the Construction of Mesa Verde Happened Simultaneously (1200)

HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY

The first of the Crusades began in 1095, when armies of Christians from Western Europe responded to Pope Urban II’s plea to go to war against Muslim forces in the Holy Land. After the First Crusade achieved its goal with the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, the invading Christians set up several Latin Christian states, even as Muslims in the region vowed to wage holy war (jihad) to regain control over the region. Deteriorating relations between the Crusaders and their Christian allies in the Byzantine Empire culminated in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Third Crusade. Near the end of the 13th century, the rising Mamluk dynasty in Egypt provided the final reckoning for the Crusaders, toppling the coastal stronghold of Acre and driving the European invaders out of Palestine and Syria in 1291. Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The structure built by the Ancestral Puebloans is located in Mesa Verde National Park in their former homeland region. The cliff dwelling and park are in the southwestern corner of Colorado, in the Southwestern United States. The main structure was built from 1190 CE through 1260 CE, although the major portion of the building was done within a 20-year time span.

The Peshtigo Fire and The Great Chicago Fire Started on the Same Day (October 8, 1871)

Harper’s Bazaar/Unknown

The Peshtigo Fire was a forest fire that took place on October 8, 1871 in and around Peshtigo, Wisconsin. It was the deadliest wildfire in recorded history, with estimated deaths of around 1,500 people, possibly as many as 2,500. The Great Chicago Fire was a conflagration that burned from Sunday, October 8, to early Tuesday, October 10, 1871. The fire killed up to 300 people, destroyed roughly 3.3 square miles (9 km2) of Chicago, Illinois, and left more than 100,000 residents homeless.

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