Category Archives: History

“Every Man His Own Stylo” – That Time MI6 Agents Used Semen as Invisible Ink


The British Secret Intelligence Service, better known to the world as MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6), is, rather oddly for a supposedly secretive agency, one of the better known intelligence services in the world. While the work MI6 does today is top-secret, thanks to the wonders of the Freedom of Information Act, we’re able to peer into the mysterious agency’s […]

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How the Freedom of Information Act Came About


The following is an article from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader The Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1966—and it was the very first law in American history that gave regular citizens the legal footing to compel the government to release internal documents. Before that—not for you! Getting it passed was a long, tough battle. (And it’s still going on.) […]

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Americans and The Date Format and How That Relates to Data Storage, Holy Wars and Soft-Boiled Eggs


M. Seager asks: Why do Americans write dates Month/Day/Year and most others Day/Month/Year? In the United States, our date format begins with the month and ends with the year (MM/DD/YYYY), and this arrangement is unique. In most of the rest of the world, the day is written first and the year last (DD/MM/YYYY), although in some places like China, Korea […]

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The Bare-Breasted “Petticoat” Duel


A time-honored method of settling disputes, trial by combat became an institution in Europe during the Middle Ages. Although it fell out of fashion for many, beginning with the Enlightenment, it remained a popular means for European nobility to settle matters of honor well into the 19th century. While most duels were fought by men, occasionally a ladies’ disagreement would […]

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The High-Flying Origin of Hot Air Balloons


It isn’t often that a duck, rooster and sheep get this much attention. In September 1783, King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette (see: The Truth About Marie Antoinette’s Cake)- along with 130,000 curious French citizens – stood in the Palace of Versailles’ courtyard to witness a demonstration of a modern marvel. After months of tests, two well-to-do paper […]

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Why Does the United States Use the Electoral College Instead of a Simple Vote Count When Deciding the Next President?


Mike C. asks: Why don’t we use the popular vote to pick the president? On December 13, 2000,  Vice President Al Gore conceded the presidential election to Governor Bush. A day earlier, a lengthy and expensive manual vote recount process in Florida was stopped by the United States Supreme Court despite Bush leading by only 537 votes. With Bush winning […]

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When Did Humans Start Wearing Clothes?


M. Schane asks: When did humans start wearing clothing? Determining exactly when humans began wearing clothes is a challenge, largely because early clothes would have been things like animal hides, which degrade rapidly. Therefore, there’s very little archaeological evidence that can be used to determine the date that clothing started being worn. There have been several different theories based on […]

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The Duel That Wasn’t


It was a beautiful spring day on the banks of the Potomac River in 1826 when Secretary of State Henry Clay and Senator John Randolph of Roanoke counted paces, cocked their guns and prepared to fire at one another. The two notable American politicians were engaged in an illegal duel that, by nearly all accounts, should have never happened. Shots […]

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Why a Typical Work Day is Eight Hours Long


During the Industrial Revolution, companies attempted to maximize the output of their factories by keeping them running as many hours as possible, typically implementing a “sun up to sun down” work day.  Wages were also extremely low, so workers themselves often needed to work these long shifts just to get by, including often sending their children to work in the […]

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Why Did Yankee Doodle Stick a Feather in His Cap and Call It Macaroni?


James H. asks: Curious question for you, but something I’ve always wondered about. Why did Yankee Doodle call the feather in his hat macaroni? While silly and irreverent, the song “Yankee Doodle” holds a rather patriotic place in many American hearts and is even the official state song of Connecticut. Today, the jingle may bring to mind a proud revolutionary […]

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How Hitler’s Flatulence May Have Helped End WWII Earlier Than it Otherwise Would Have


The following is an article from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader What was it that caused Adolf Hitler’s physical and mental health to collapse in the closing days of World War II? He was losing the war, of course— surely that had a great deal to do with it. But for more than 60 years, historians have wondered if there was […]

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