CLOSE
Original image

Andrew Johnson: Of Mice and Men

Original image

The award for Most Humble Origins goes to Andrew Johnson, hands down. He was born to a sharecropper in North Carolina, but his father died when he was just 3 years old. Never having the money to attend school, Andrew became an indentured servant when he was 14, but eventually ran away to reunite with his mother. Struggling to eke out a living, they hauled all of their belongings over the mountains into Tennessee. It was a budget move; they lugged everything in a two-wheeled cart pulled by a blind pony. Despite the fresh start, the family's prospects never truly improved.

Growing up poor and uneducated in the South likely helped to foster Johnson's verdant racism. Yet, because he was against secession, he was considered loyal to the North. Lincoln spotted him as a Southerner with Northern sympathies and picked him to be his running mate in 1864. Aside from sharing the ticket, the two men didn't have much in common politically.

Following Lincoln's assassination, Johnson was happy to leave the Southern states to themselves to hash out the details of Reconstruction while Congress was conveniently out of session. As a result, "freed" slaves were basically turned into a permanent underclass. Furious, Congress turned against the sitting president, and in 1868, Johnson was impeached. Although it was purely a political maneuver, the move effectively neutered Johnson for the last year of his presidency.

What did Johnson do with his remaining time in the White House? Mainly, he tended to a family of mice living in his bedroom. Seriously. He'd place fresh water next to the fireplace and keep a constant basket of flour for them on the floor. Referring to the mice as his "little fellows," a lonely Johnson appreciated the fact that they didn't care where he came from—or whether or not he'd just been impeached.

Jenny Drapkin is the Senior Editor of mental_floss magazine. We're currently serializing "All The Presidents' Secrets," her fantastic feature from the September-October 2007 issue. Previous Installments: Rutherford B. Hayes, Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt. Tomorrow: Thomas Jefferson.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
Original image
iStock

While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Original image
iStock
arrow
science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
Original image
iStock

Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios