CLOSE
Getty Images
Getty Images

11 Things You Might Not Know About the U.S. Navy

Getty Images
Getty Images

Founded on October 13, 1775, by an order of the Continental Congress, the U.S. Navy is the largest navy in the world, and it is steeped in lore and tradition. Presidents, astronauts, artists, and athletes have worn its uniform, and untold thousands have lived by the words engraved on the Naval Academy chapel door: “Non sibi, sed patriae,” or: ”Not for self, but for country.” Here are eleven things you might not know about the Navy.

1. The Navy’s birthplace is in dispute.

Beverly, Massachusetts, and Marblehead, Massachusetts, have long argued over which was the birthplace of the Navy. Each town claims to be homeport of the schooner Hannah, the first armed sea vessel of the American Revolution, and founding boat of the U.S. Navy. (It was so named for Hannah Glover, wife of General John Glover of the 21st Marblehead Regiment.) Marblehead provided the crew; Beverly outfitted the ship. (The men of Marblehead are notable for another action during the American Revolution—they rowed General George Washington across the Delaware River just before the Battle of Trenton.)

Other cities vying for recognition as the birthplace of the Navy include Philadelphia, PA; Whitehall, NY; and Providence, RI. The Navy takes no position on its place of origin.

2. All submariners are volunteers.

Most attack submarines in the U.S. Navy are 33-feet wide and about the length of a football field. Ballistic missile submarines are the length of the Washington Monument. Submarines stay submerged for months at a time. There are no windows, there is no night and day, you have fifteen square feet of living space and no privacy—and there’s a nuclear reactor right behind you. They don’t just let anyone in a submarine. All submariners are volunteers, and have passed rigorous psychological and physical tests. Claustrophobics need not apply. Those serving on submarines are among the most highly trained personnel in the military.

3. How does the Navy name its ships?

In 1819, the United States Congress placed the Secretary of the Navy in charge of naming ships—a power he or she still enjoys. Generally, names are compiled by the Naval Historical Center based on the suggestions from the public, sailors, and retirees, and from naval history. The Chief of Naval Operations formally signs and recommends the list to the Secretary. Ships named for individuals are christened by “the eldest living female descendent” of that individual. Commissioned ships are prefixed with USS, which stands for United States Ship. Though the convention had been in use since the late eighteenth century, it was not standardized or formalized until 1907, by Teddy Roosevelt.

4. The Navy SEAL Trident is sometimes called the “Budweiser.”

The trident worn on the uniforms of Navy SEALs is officially designated as the “Special Warfare Insignia,” but it is sometimes called the “Budweiser,” named in part for the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course, the grueling twenty-five week special warfare school. The trident also has an uncanny resemblance to the Anheuser-Busch logo.

5. Why was TOPGUN founded?

The United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program—previously called the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, but more popularly, “TOPGUN”—was founded during the Vietnam War. The Navy was concerned by the poor performance of its air-to-air missile attacks against the North Vietnamese and ordered an evaluation of its combat aviation program. Inadequate crew training was decided to be at fault, and TOPGUN was established, where pilots would engage in realistic dogfight training against aircraft comparable to the enemy of the day. By the 1970s, Navy kill-to-loss rates went from 3.7:1 to 13:1—a testament to the profound and radical success of the program. It later became the basis of a Tom Cruise movie and, not to spoil anything, but don’t get too attached to Goose.

6. You’ve heard of a few people who know the words to Anchors Aweigh.

• Neil Armstrong flew armed reconnaissance as a Naval aviator during the Korean War. In 1951, he landed on Korean soil after his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and he had to eject. Eighteen years later, he landed on a more famous patch of ground.

• There’s a good argument to be made that Robert Heinlein’s literary universe was influenced by his time at the United States Naval Academy, from which he graduated, and his time on the USS Lexington and USS Roper.

• Humphrey Bogart enlisted in the Navy in 1918 and served on the USS Leviathan and USS Santa Olivia.

• Before he was MC Hammer, he was AK3 Stanley Burrell (short for Petty Officer Third Class Aviation Storekeeper).

• Bob Barker’s time as a Navy fighter pilot means he's familiar with more means of transportation than just a new car!

7. NCIS isn’t just a TV show.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is a federal law enforcement agency operating from 140 locations in the world. Special agents for the largely civilian organization are charged with criminal investigations (obviously), counterterrorism, and counter-intelligence. It was founded as the Office of Naval Intelligence, and at the time was responsible for gathering information on foreign vessels, passengers, bodies of water, and naval infrastructure. During World War I, its mission expanded to espionage and sabotage. Today, it’s a cash cow for CBS.

8. If not for the Navy, James T. Kirk would have been captain of the USS Yorktown.

In the original pitch for Star Trek, the ship we know as the USS Enterprise was called the USS Yorktown. Gene Roddenberry renamed it in part for the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier whose maiden voyage was in 1962. The seafaring Enterprise was (and remains) the longest vessel in the U.S. Navy. Roddenberry felt that the starship at the heart of his series would have had a similar standing as the aircraft carrier, and a new Enterprise was christened.

9. In the Navy, there are no walls or bathrooms.

The Navy has a rich lexicon established by millennia of naval tradition. Ships don’t have walls, they have bulkheads. The mess deck is where you eat food, the deck is where you walk. The head is where you’ll find a toilet. The rack is where you sleep. Birds take off from the bird farm or, rather, planes take off from an aircraft carrier.

10. SEAL Team Six has an outlaw past.

When Richard Marcinko founded SEAL Team Six (so named because there were only two other SEAL Teams, and he wanted the Soviets to think the number was much larger), he did so quickly and effectively. Because the unit was so cloaked in secrecy, the best decisions weren’t always made about spending and training. Marcinko, a combat hero and visionary, went on to found a unit called Red Cell (designed to test military units, tactics, and security) and would later spend time in federal prison for defrauding the government. The present name (that we know of) for SEAL Team Six is the Naval Special Warfare Development Group.

11. The first admiral in the Navy was David Farragut.

Even if you’ve never heard the name, you know his words, allegedly spoken at the Battle of Mobile Bay: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” (It’s unknown whether he spoke those exact words—different accounts give slight variations.) He was commissioned into the U.S. Navy at age nine. His adoptive father, Captain David Porter, probably had some hand in this. At age twelve, Farragut fought in the War of 1812. Though he was born in Tennessee, he remained steadfastly loyal to the Union during the Civil War, and after he seized the city of New Orleans, was promoted to Rear Admiral—a rank created specially for him by Congress. President Lincoln later promoted him to Vice Admiral (Farragut would later be a pallbearer at Lincoln’s funeral). Following the war, he was made the first Admiral of the Navy.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Disney/Marvel
arrow
entertainment
The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain
arrow
Weird
9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
iStock

Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
iStock

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios