Original image
Getty Images

10 U.S. Cabinet Departments that were Renamed or No Longer Exist

Original image
Getty Images

After George Washington took office, he assembled a Presidential Cabinet that had just four positions: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Since then, the Cabinet has evolved greatly. Some Departments have simply been renamed, some have been proposed by Congress and never passed, and some have vanished altogether. Currently, the Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 departments. This always-fluctuating body isn’t explicitly included in either the U.S. Code or the Code of Federal Regulations, and isn’t even really outlined in the Constitution; the document says that the President may receive “opinion” from the principal officer in each executive department. It’s up to Congress to decide the number of executive departments, but the President gets to pick who runs each one (with confirmation from the Senate, of course).

Here are 11 of the U.S. Cabinet Departments that have changed since the first Cabinet member, Hamilton, was confirmed on September 11, 1789.

1. Post Office Department

The Post Office Department originated in 1792, began its association with the president's Cabinet during Andrew Jackson’s administration, and was officially designated as a Cabinet Department in 1872. But the Postmaster General's powerful political position in the Cabinet was nixed by President Nixon with the Postal Reorganization Act in 1970. The Act transformed the nearly 200-year-old U.S. Department into a government-owned corporation, which limited its autonomy. Congress put up a fight, though; it did not want to lose control over the agency and the thousands of positions within it, which could be awarded to political do-gooders. With the switch from government-run to quasi-private, the USPS runs like a business, relying on postage revenue rather than taxpayer money, which they haven't used since 1982—except for mailing voter materials to Americans with disabilities or those overseas.

2. Department of War/Navy/Air Force

These three separate departments, now under the Department of Defense, started out under the roof of the Department of War in 1789. When it was created, the War Department oversaw the U.S. Army, but also handled naval affairs and land-based air forces. Eventually, the Navy and Air Force received their own cabinet-level departments, until the Department of Defense came along in 1949 and took over supervising all agencies concerned with national security.

3. Department of Foreign Affairs

What is now the State Department began in the summer of 1789 as the Department of Foreign Affairs, and was created because George Washington realized he needed a Cabinet to help him with his daily duties. This first Cabinet department oversaw management of the Mint, keeping of the Great Seal, and conducting the census.

4. Department of Commerce and Labor

This cabinet, created in 1903, was concerned with controlling the excess of big business. In 1913, the department was divvied up into two departments: the Department of Commerce, which still watched over big business expansion, and the Department of Labor, which took over duties including occupational safety, wage and hour standards, and re-employment services. Because the original department was under the purview of President Teddy Roosevelt and President Taft, all four secretaries were Republican. 

5. Federal Security Agency

Created in 1939, the Federal Security Agency was responsible for overseeing social security, federal education funding, and food and drug safety. It was abolished in 1953 when President Eisenhower supported a plan in the Reorganization Act of 1949 shifting most of the agency’s powers to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

6. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

This department got renamed and gave away quite a bit of its responsibilities. In 1979, it moved its concerns to health and became the Department of Health and Human Services. Its education duties were passed to the newly created Department of Education.

7. Office of National Drug Control Policy

Demoted from a cabinet-level department in 2009, the Office of National Drug Control Policy was born out of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, giving it the power to enforce laws mandating that all employers contracting with the federal government must meet certain requirements for promoting a drug-free workplace.

8. National Military Establishment

This was the first name for the Department of Defense. It was organized in 1947 to unite all of the various agencies with the intent of protecting national security. It was retitled the Department of Defense in 1949.

9. Federal Emergency Management Agency

FEMA, put in place with the primary objective of responding to disasters that occur in the U.S. that overwhelm the resources of local and state authorities, used to be a cabinet-level department. In March 2003, FEMA was demoted and placed under the watch of the Department of Homeland Security.

10. Central Intelligence Agency

After reorganization following the September 11 attacks, the Director of the CIA is no longer a part of the President’s Cabinet. However, the President still appoints someone to the position. The office succeeded what was originally the Office of Strategic Services, formed during World War II and meant to operate espionage activities. After the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, the Cabinet position of the director was removed. The act created the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which now oversees the CIA.

Original image
Master Sgt. Rose Reynolds, U.S. Air Force, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
How the U-2 Aircraft Made Area 51 Synonymous With UFOs
Original image
Master Sgt. Rose Reynolds, U.S. Air Force, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Area 51 may be the world’s most famous secret military base. Established on an abandoned airfield in the Nevada desert, the facility has fueled the imaginations of conspiracy theorists scanning the skies for UFOs for decades. But the truth about Area 51’s origins, while secretive, isn’t as thrilling as alien autopsies and flying saucers.

According to Business Insider, the U.S. government intended to build a base where they could test a top-secret military aircraft without drawing attention from civilians or spies. That aircraft, the U-2 plane, needed to fly higher than any other manmade object in the skies. That way it could perform recon missions over the USSR without getting shot down.

Even over the desert, the U-2 didn’t go completely undetected during test flights. Pilots who noticed the craft high above them reported it as an “unidentified flying object.” Not wanting to reveal the true nature of the project, Air Force officials gave flimsy explanations for the sightings pointing to either natural phenomena or weather research. UFO believers were right to think the government was covering something up, they were just wrong about the alien part.

You can get the full story in the video below.

[h/t Business Insider]

Original image
6 Times Multiple Leaders Reigned in a Single Year
Original image

The longest presidential inauguration speech in U.S. history was given by William Henry Harrison when he took over from Martin Van Buren on March 4, 1841. Lasting a full hour and 45 minutes, the almost 8500-word speech was delivered amid a blinding snowstorm without a coat or hat to keep out the cold. Harrison's doctors blamed pneumonia caught that day for the president's death 31 days after taking office, though modern medical experts think the culprit was more likely enteric fever.

Whatever its cause, Harrison’s untimely death caused a brief political crisis, since it seemed unclear whether the president’s successor, Vice President John Tyler, should remain in power for Harrison’s full term or operate as acting president until a new election could be held. In the end, Tyler remained in office for the rest of Harrison’s term, becoming the United States’ third president in a single year. A similar situation emerged 40 years later, when James A. Garfield replaced Rutherford B. Hayes in March 1881 only to be replaced, after his death the following September, by Vice President Chester A. Arthur.

As tumultuous as these years were, they certainly aren’t the only in history to have seen an unusually quick turnaround in the highest offices in the land.


Shortly after Nero committed suicide in 68 C.E., the Roman Empire was thrown into a rocky 12 months known as The Year of the Four Emperors. Initially Nero was succeeded by the Roman governor Galba, but Galba soon proved just as unpredictable and as unpopular as his predecessor. As his reign became increasingly tyrannical (he had a habit of executing any senator he distrusted), he adopted a successor, slighting his longstanding supporter Otho, who subsequently arranged to have Galba and the successor assassinated on January 15, 69. Otho was crowned the same day, but Galba’s seven-month rule had caused such unrest across the empire that the northern province of Germania had already turned its back on Rome and appointed its own ruler, Aulus Vitellius—who now had his sights set firmly on the Roman throne.

In April, Vitellius marched his armies south, defeated Otho in battle, and swept to power. In celebration, he supposedly began spending so lavishly on parades and banquets in honor of himself that his entertainment bill alone almost bankrupted the state. But when his actions were questioned, he is said to have had his advisors, moneylenders, and debt collectors tortured and executed.

Once again, unrest spread throughout the empire, and in frustration many of the eastern provinces proclaimed Vespasian, one of Rome’s most successful generals, their new emperor. In December, an alliance of forces loyal to Vespasian met Vitellius’s dwindling supporters in battle at Cremona and ensured Vespasian’s successful march on Rome. After a short time on the run (with two of his chefs alongside him), Vitellius was caught, killed, and his body dumped in the Tiber. Vespasian took to the throne as the year came to an end, and quickly set about restoring some much-needed stability.

2. ENGLAND, 1016

Ethelred the Unready
Ethelred the Unready
Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

When the Saxon king Ethelred the Unready died on April 23, 1016, his 26-year-old son Edmund Ironside was elected to succeed him. He immediately faced the same struggle that had dogged his father’s final years: In the north of England, vast swathes of territory were being invaded and claimed by the Danish king Cnut the Great.

In the months that followed, Edmund’s armies clashed repeatedly with the Danes in a series of bloody but inconclusive battles, until finally a truce was agreed upon. England was to be divided between the two kings, with Edmund keeping the vast Saxon heartland of Wessex and Cnut ruling over the kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia in the north and east. Just weeks later, however, Edmund too died suddenly and Cnut ascended to the throne unopposed as England’s third king in just eight months. Historians today are divided over whether foul play was responsible for Edmund’s death, and while some sources claim he succumbed to infected wounds inflicted in battle, at least one much more vivid account claims he was stabbed up the backside, while sitting on a latrine, by an assassin hiding in a cesspit.

3. FRANCE, 1316

 Louis X of France
Louis X
Hulton Archive/Getty

When Louis X of France died on June 5, 1316 (either of pleurisy or from drinking poisoned wine, depending on which version you believe), a problem emerged over who should succeed him. Although Louis had a daughter, Joan, from his disastrous first marriage, a male heir was required—but Louis’s second wife, Queen Clementia of Hungary, was still pregnant at the time of the king’s death, and with the sex of the child unknown, it was impossible to tell whether Louis had a male successor or not.

As a result, Louis’s younger brother Philip was appointed regent for the final five months of the queen’s pregnancy, until finally, on November 15, 1316, she gave birth to a baby boy. The child was immediately crowned King John I, but died just five days later. The cause of his death is a mystery, and rumors soon emerged that the young king had likely been killed or exiled. But whatever the truth, Louis’s brother Philip was able to retake to the throne in his own right as King Philip V, becoming France’s third king in just six months.

4. THE VATICAN, 1590

Pope Sixtus V
Pope Sixtus V
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After the death of Pope Sixtus V on August 27, 1590, Urban VII was elected to succeed him a little over two weeks later, on September 15. But by September 27, Urban VII, too, was dead. His 13-day papacy remains the shortest in history, but despite its brevity he is nevertheless credited with introducing one of the world’s first smoking bans, threatening anyone who “took tobacco in the porchway of or inside of a church” with immediate excommunication. After Urban’s death, Gregory XIV became pope—the third in just 100 days—on December 5, but he fared little better and died of a “gallstone attack” the following October.

5. RUSSIA, 1605

When Tsar Feodor I died without a male heir to succeed him in 1598, the Russian parliament elected his brother-in-law and former advisor, Boris Godunov, as his successor. Although the first few years of Boris’s reign were prosperous, his rule later became a disaster: Russia was devastated by a widespread famine that killed a third of the population, and Boris’s ever-weakening leadership saw the country soon descend into anarchy. On his death in April 1605, Boris’s 16-year-old son succeeded him as Tsar Feodor II, but his reign only lasted a few weeks as both he and his mother were assassinated. And that paved the way for a successor few people saw coming.

A few years earlier, in 1601, a young man living in Moscow had attracted considerable attention by asserting that he was Tsarevich Dmitri Ivanovich, the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible. Tsarevich Dmitri, it was believed, had either been killed or had died in a terrible accident at the age of just 8 in 1591. This Muscovite Dmitri, however, claimed that the stories of his death had been greatly exaggerated: He had supposedly managed to escape and flee into exile, and with Russia on the verge of anarchy, he had now returned to take his rightful place as tsar.

Threatened with banishment for his treasonable actions, Dmitri fled to Lithuania, but there began forging support for his cause. With the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Catholic groups, and an army of mercenaries from across continental Europe now behind him, Dmitri marched on Moscow and swept to power on Feodor’s death to become Russia’s third tsar in as many months.

But even “False” Dmitri, as he became known, wasn’t to hold the throne for too long. A little under a year later, the Kremlin was stormed and Dmitri was killed by his opponents, having broken his leg fleeing from an upstairs window. (According to popular legend, as one final gesture, his body was cremated and his ashes fired from a cannon pointed in the direction of Poland.)

Dmitri was succeeded by Prince Vasili Shuisky (one of the opponents who had plotted his downfall), who became Tsar Vasili IV on May 19, 1606. His reign wasn’t exactly lacking in drama either—two more “False Dmitris” emerged over the coming years—leading to this entire shambolic period of Russian history becoming known as “The Time of Troubles.”


Lord North
Lord North
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It's generally agreed that on March 20, 1782, Lord North became the first Prime Minister in British history to resign, following a vote of no confidence. His 12-year term had seen him lead Britain through much of the American Revolutionary War, but the American victory at Yorktown in October 1781 had damaged his standing beyond repair and he was forced from power. His successor, the Marquess of Rockingham, was appointed a week later and quickly sought to negotiate a peaceful end to the war and to recognize America’s independence. Negotiations began in Paris in April—but were halted when Rockingham died suddenly during a flu epidemic after just 14 weeks in power.

In his place, King George III himself appointed Rockingham’s Secretary of State, William Petty, the Earl of Shelburne, as Britain’s third Prime Minister in just five months.


More from mental floss studios