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25 Things Turning 25 This Year

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The year 1988 was a quarter-century ago. If you're turning 25 this year, good news—you can now rent a car in the US without paying a weird fee, and you're as old as the California Raisins. Read on, before your quarter-life crisis hits.

1. Zack Morris, Screech, Lisa Turtle, and Mr. Belding

Before Saved by the Bell, a little show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss introduced us to the gang from Bayside High School...except it was called John F. Kennedy Junior High, and it was in Indianapolis, not California.

Miss Bliss starred Hayley Mills as the eponymous teacher, and it ran on the Disney Channel for one 13-episode season. The cast of characters was impressive, including the core of the later Saved by the Bell group. Jaleel White, who would play Steve Urkel in 1989's Family Matters, and Brian Austin Green, who starred in Beverly Hills, 90210, also appeared in the pilot. The Disney Channel dropped Miss Bliss after its first season, NBC picked it up and re-tooled it, and Saved by the Bell became a Saturday morning mainstay starting in 1989.

2. A Brief History of Time

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On September 1, 1988, physicist Stephen Hawking unleashed the bestseller A Brief History of Time, exploring great questions about the universe in easily understandable language. While working on an early draft, Hawking was warned that for each equation in the text, the book's readership would be halved. So he compromised, including just one equation: Einstein's E = mc2.

The book went on to sell more than 10 million copies. In the tenth anniversary edition, Hawking wrote: "Nathan Myhrvold of Microsoft (a former post-doc of mine) remarked: I have sold more books on physics than Madonna has on sex." (To be fair, Madonna's Sex wasn't released until 1992.)

3. Photoshop

YouTube / j0han1

Before "Photoshop" became a verb, it was a piece of software designed by John Knoll to display grayscale images on a Macintosh computer's black-and-white screen. Knoll's brother John (who worked for Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm) suggested that the program could be an image editor, not just a viewer. So Knoll dutifully built Photoshop. The first 200-ish copies shipped in 1988, bundled with Barneyscan slide scanners. Adobe bought the rights, put the Knoll brothers to work, and the rest is history.

4. Sega Genesis

Sega ad courtesy of Fors Yard. See a larger version here.

Sega's two-year headstart on Nintendo in the 16-bit gaming wars began on October 29, 1988, when the Sega Genesis launched in the US and Japan. Though sales were initially dicey, the Genesis went on to become Sega's most successful console, largely thanks to a branding rework in 1991 that exchanged the original bundle game, Altered Beast, with the critically acclaimed new game Sonic the Hedgehog.

By the time Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in 1991, the Genesis had already formed a solid reputation as "the cool console," and Nintendo had to compete against a lower price point, a much larger game library, and a Sega ad campaign claiming "Genesis does what Nintendon't." The two battled through the entire 16-bit era, with Sega inching out Nintendo for the lead (in hardware sales, at least) most years, excluding 1994, when Donkey Kong Country released.

5. Girl Talk

Not even Jewel Staite escaped childhood without playing Girl Talk, the very pink, all-girl version of Truth or Dare that launched in 1988. (That's the Firefly and Stargate Atlantis actress in 1995, kissing and telling.) Thanks to Girl Talk's overwhelming popularity, girl-only spin-offs popped up over the next several years, including Milton Bradley's Mall Madness, 1989's Barbie Just Us Girls ("a game of style and challenge," but mostly just spinning and collecting cards), 1990's Pretty, Pretty Princess, and 1991's Electric Dream Phone.

6. The Morris Worm (Computer Virus)

Wikipedia

On November 2, 1988, the first large-scale worm (a form of computer virus) struck the Internet. Written by Robert Tappan Morris (or RTM for short), the Morris worm was designed to figure out the size of the internet by aggressively spreading to Internet-connected computers. The worm had a design problem that made it overzealous in its attacks; the net effect was that the worm ran rampant over systems across the Internet, often repeatedly infecting the same computer until it slowed to a crawl. Sysadmins disconnected from the Internet, cleaned up the worm's damage, and RTM became the first man convicted under 1984's Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

RTM later sold a startup to Yahoo! for tens of millions, received a Ph.D. from Harvard, and ultimately became a professor at MIT. So he's doing all right.

7. Dunk-a-Roos

How do you Dunk-a-Roos? The cookie-and-icing snack debuted in 1988, hot on the heels of Handi-Snacks (the cheese-and-pretzel version offered by Kraft) and remains on (most) supermarket shelves in the US. Though the cookies were all originally cinnamon-flavored and the icing only came in chocolate or vanilla, newer iterations include vanillla, graham or chocolate cookies with chocolate chip, rainbow sprinkle and various other limited-time icing flavors. The mascot was originally a Crocodile Dundee-esque kangaroo named Sydney, who was voiced by John Cameron Mitchell, the director of 2010's Rabbit Hole, for which Nicole Kidman scored an Oscar nomination. After a 1996 contest, the mascot became a different roo named Duncan.

8. Matilda

Roald Dahl's 1988 book introduced us to Matilda, the precocious daughter of sleazy car salesman Harry Wormwood and his unnamed wife, who find Matilda lacking in both charm and intelligence even though she's a genius and secret telekinetic. Matilda uses her powers (spoiler alert) to save beloved teacher Miss Honey from her overbearing aunt and tyrranical headmaster, Miss Trunchbull.

Dahl's story has been adapted for the screen (the 1996 film starred Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman and Mrs. Doubtfire's Mara Wilson), the stage (in a musical written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin), and the radio (by way of a two-part BBC broadcast). If you'd like to relive part of Matilda at home but think building your own Pokey is probably a bad idea (it is), then consider making a real-life version of the Trunchbull's chocolate cake — you'll find instructions in Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes.

9. Prozac

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Eli Lilly & Co. introduced Prozac to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia, and a host of other psychiatric ills. It became one of the best-selling drugs in history, racking up tens of billions of sales by 2001, the year that generic versions hit the market in the US. It was such a commonly prescribed drug that references to popping Prozac flooded pop culture in the 90s, including the books Prozac Diary and Prozac Nation.

Prozac's possible side effects include nausea, insomnia, anorexia, and anorgasmia. On the bright side, recent research indicates that it might also be an antiviral.

10. Don't Panic

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Neil Gaiman was not a household name in 1988, when he released the book Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Gaiman had previously written a biography of Duran Duran in 1984, a sort of joke book in 1985 featuring bad sci-fi quotes, and some early comics and short stories in 1987. But 1988 was Gaiman's year—Don't Panic was a biography of author Douglas Adams as well as a companion to Adams's work, and it marked the beginning of Gaiman's massive success as a writer (1989 would see his first Sandman comics).

Douglas Adams blurbed the book, saying "It's all devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies."

11. Music - The Traveling Wilburys

1988 saw the formation of a bunch of bands that would go on to rule the 90s: Boyz II Men, Barenaked Ladies, Blur, House of Pain, Mother Love Bone (featuring future members of Pearl Jam), Mudhoney, and Nine Inch Nails. But the biggest new group of the year was The Traveling Wilburys, a supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. Tragically, Orbison died two months after the Wilburys released their first album, and their second video (for "End of the Line") featured Orbison's lonely guitar in a rocking chair (he did live to participate in the "Handle With Care" video).

The term "Wilbury" came from George Harrison's recording sessions for Cloud Nine—he joked to the recording engineer that "we'll bury" recording mistakes in the mix. (To their credit, the Wilburys buried most of Dylan's vocals in the mix.)

Honorable mentions in the music category: Milli Vanilli, Mr. Big, and Crash Test Dummies were also formed in 1988. Rick Astley's single "Never Gonna Give You Up" was still topping American charts, despite being released the year before. (Nobody got the idea to perform a Rickroll until two decades later.) Guns 'n Roses had a string of hits, most notably "Sweet Child o' Mine." And as we mention elsewhere in this list, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was a major hit.

12. Batman: The Killing Joke

Wikipedia

1988 brought us Batman: The Killing Joke, a graphic novel written by Alan Moore explaining the dark origin story of The Joker. Although Tim Burton didn't use Moore's story for his now-classic 1989 film Batman, the graphic novel was a huge motivator for the movie focusing on The Joker as Batman's primary enemy. Burton said:

"I was never a giant comic book fan, but I've always loved the image of Batman and the Joker. The reason I've never been a comic book fan—and I think it started when I was a child—is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read. I don't know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that's why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read. It's my favorite. It's the first comic I've ever loved. And the success of those graphic novels made our ideas more acceptable."

Heath Ledger was also given a copy of The Killing Joke as a character reference for his performance of The Joker in The Dark Knight.

13. Movies (Mostly Rain Man)


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Rain Man ruled the box office and the Academy Awards for 1988, winning four Oscars, including Best Picture. The film started shooting just before the 1988 Writers Guild of America Strike, so screenwriters Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass couldn't visit the set during production (they won Best Original Screenplay anyway).

But while Raymond Babbitt was watching Wapner on The People's Court, the rest of us were enjoying a string of 80s-tastic movies, including Beaches, Beetlejuice, Big, Big Top Pee-Wee, Coming to America, Die Hard, The Land Before Time, My Neighbor Totoro, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

An honorable mention for best 1988 film goes to The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, which featured a memorable (if slightly embellished) interview in which Ozzy Osbourne cooked breakfast and gave career advice to future rockers.

14. TV Shows

It was a great year for television... but not for criminals. America's Most Wanted aired for the first time on 7 FOX stations in February, 1988. Within 4 days, profiled fugitive David James Roberts was captured thanks to tips from sharp-eyed viewers. A few weeks later the show was picked up on all FOX stations, and in 2008 the AMW team announced their 1000th captured criminal: a New York realtor named Dwight Smith.

While Americans were on the lookout for wayward baddies, Kevin Arnold was crushing hard on Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, which debuted in January. To set the record straight, again: "Paul Pfeiffer" actor Josh Saviano is not Marilyn Manson. He's a merger and acquisitions lawyer in New York.

Other memorable shows that debuted in 1988: Roseanne, Murphy Brown, The Gong Show (syndicated weekday revival), Garfield and Friends, C.O.P.S., China Beach, and Yo! MTV Raps.

15. Oh, and MST3K!

In November, the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 aired on the Twin Cities UHF station KTMA-TV. The Satellite of Love (the name of the ship on which the show is set, inspired by a Lou Reed song) and the robots were all constructed in one night by the show's creator, Joel Hodgson, who built everything entirely of toys and Goodwill finds. The premise of the show changed quite a lot between the first and last episodes, but originally, Joel Robinson (played by Hodgson) was a janitor for Gizmonic Institute who was part of an evil experiment by mad scientists Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt. Their diabolical plan was to force as many terrible B movies on Joel as possible until he finally snapped. The torture took a while, though, because Joel didn't escape until season 5, when he was replaced by unwitting successor Mike Nelson. Joel (and later Mike) and the bots made an average of 700 comments during each movie.

16. He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper

RON WOLFSON/Landov

Speaking of rap, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released their second studio album in March. He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper was the first-ever double-vinyl hip hop album, the first to win a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance (in 1989 for "Parents Just Don't Understand"), and led to Jeff Townes and Will Smith's first "serious" movie offers: they declined the lead roles in House Party, which were taken by Kid & Play.

It seems everyone loved "Parents Just Don't Understand," even Will's future wife, Jada Pinkett. Here she is in 1988 with fellow Baltimore School of the Arts alum and friend, Tupac Shakur:

(That clip is from the short-lived Keenan Ivory Wayans Show, which ran from August 1997 to March 1998.)

17. Koosh

Flickr user K Tempest Bradford/Wikimedia Commons

Developed in 1986 by Scott Stillinger for his kids, the Koosh ball was soon picked up by Hasbro. The rubbery toy took off when it was released in 1988, making its way onto the Christmas lists of thousands of kids in 1988. Each ball contains around 2,000 rubber filaments, and the name comes from the sound it makes when it lands.

18. Wild Cherry Pepsi

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In 1988, Pepsi decided to tinker with their Cherry Cola Slice formula. The result was good, but too different from the original product to continue selling it under the same name. Goodbye, Cherry Cola Slice—hello Wild Cherry Pepsi (which was rebranded Pepsi Wild Cherry in 1995).

19. The Flowbee

While Flowbee's website has been updated at least once since 1988, the haircutting/vacuum cleaner apparatus remains largely unchanged at 25 years old. Your desire for feathered bangs may have, however.

20. Battle Chess

Tired of playing the game of kings using physical pieces and your boring old "imagination"? In 1988, Battle Chess changed the game, adding animated battle sequences (several referencing Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Raiders of the Lost Ark), along with sound effects and artificial intelligence, so you could match wits with your Amiga. Of course, those of us who'd seen Star Wars still yearned for Holochess.

21. Shamu One

Southwest Airlines

Few aviation gimmicks are as exciting to children as Southwest Airlines and Sea World San Antonio's collaboration, a Boeing 737 Classic painted to look like Shamu, Sea World's main attraction. Within the next decade, two more aircraft would receive the orca paint job and then all three would be replaced with newer model planes. In December 2012, Shamu took off and landed for the last time. (Sea World's "Shamu" is actually many killer whales; currently there are six different orca in the rotation.)

22. World AIDS Day

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World AIDS Day was first held on December 1, 1988. Supporters wore the now-familiar red ribbon, and world leaders (including Pope John Paul II) marked the occasion with messages of support. In 2007, the Bush administration hung a two-story red ribbon from the North Portico of the White House to draw attention to the cause.

Each year, World AIDS Day has a theme, often focusing on a certain population, like men, women, or children living with AIDS. For the years 2011 to 2015, the theme is clear and aggressive: "Getting to Zero."

23. Pi Day

The first Pi Day was organized by physicist Larry Shaw of the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988. On March 14, his colleagues and Exploratorium-goers were invited to march in circles and eat lots of pie. These days Pi Day is a somewhat bigger deal: In 2009, the House of Representatives passed HRES 224 recognizing March 14 as National Pi Day. (Get your 2014 Pi Day shopping done early in our store!)

24. Kids' Choice Awards

In 1988, Tony Danza hosted the first ever Kids' Choice Awards on Nickelodeon. Guest appearances included Debbie Gibson, Wil Wheaton, Marc Summers, Charles Barkley and Jeremy Miller, who played Ben Seaver on Growing Pains.

The first year's notable wins went to Beverly Hills Cop 2 (Favorite Movie) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (for Favorite Cartoon). Les Lye of You Can't Do That on Television was the celebrity slime recipient.

{You can watch the 1988 show in full on YouTube.)

25. Michael Cera

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1988 was a good year for young actors: Michael Cera was born in Ontario, and went on to win our hearts in Arrested Development, Superbad, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. His birthday is June 7, so you still have time to get him a sweet card.

Other notable births in 1988:

  • Rupert Grint, aka Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films
  • Haley Joel Osment, who famously saw dead people, but also played Forrest Gump's son in 1994
  • Sonny John Moore (aka Skrillex), who won three Grammys in 2011
  • Adele, whose age-themed albums (19 and 21) have led to record-breaking success in the music world (her full name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins)

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See Also

30 Things Turning 30 This Year

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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13 Secrets From the Guinness Archives
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Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Guinness has been a staple in Irish pubs for nearly 260 years. With so much history, it's no surprise that the Guinness Storehouse Archives—which are open to the public—are stuffed with intriguing artifacts that tell some pretty wild stories. Here are a few.

1. THE LEASE TO THE DUBLIN BREWERY WAS INTENDED TO LAST 9000 YEARS.

In 1759, founder Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a four-acre property at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The lease required a down payment of £100, an annual rent of £45, and a term of 9000 years (not a typo). Such lengthy leases were relatively common back then: “At the time in Ireland, there was a lot of instability to do with land tenure,” explains Fergus Brady, Archives Manager at Guinness. Centuries earlier, the British had begun confiscating land from native Irish in an effort to build plantations, and extra-long leases were a means of avoiding this fate. As Brady explains, “You see these really long leases: 99-year or 999-year leases. It seemed to be a legal custom at the time that they used the number nine.”

2. ARTHUR GUINNESS WAS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS PROPERTY WITH A PICKAXE.

In 1775, the Dublin Corporation—that is, the city government—demanded that Arthur Guinness pay for the spring water flowing to his brewery. When Guinness argued that he was already paying for water rights through his 9000-year rental agreement, the Dublin Corporation sent a sheriff and a committee to his brewery to cut off the water supply. Guinness was livid. He seized a pickaxe and unleashed a torrent of obscenities so colorful that the Dublin Corporation’s goons eventually retreated.

3. GUINNESS ONCE DEPLOYED FIELD AGENTS TO CATCH COUNTERFEITERS.

Guinness Apology
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as brand consistency. Guinness did not bottle its own beer; instead, it shipped the suds in wooden casks to publicans who supplied their own bottles and applied their own personalized labels. Occasionally, these publicans sold fake or adulterated Guinness. To prevent such sales, the company sent special agents called “travellers” into the field to collect beer samples, which it tested in a laboratory. “If a publican was found to be serving adulterated or counterfeit Guinness, they had to give a public apology in their local newspaper—and even the national newspapers,” archivist Jessica Handy says.

4. FOR 21 YEARS, THE COMPANY HIRED A GUY TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND DRINK BEER.

In 1899, Guinness hired an American ex-brewer named Arthur T. Shand to be a “Guinness World Traveller.” It was arguably the coolest job in the world. For 21 years, Shand traveled the world taste-testing beer. According to Brady, “His job was to travel the world and taste Guinness, say whether it was good or bad, who our bottlers in the market were, who our major competition was, what kind of people were drinking our product.” Shand traveled to Australia and New Zealand, to Southeast Asia and Egypt. “He was sort of a Guinness sommelier,” Brady says.

5. THE COMPANY'S HARP LOGO CAUSED TROUBLE WITH THE IRISH GOVERNMENT.

The Celtic harp—based on the 14th century “Brian Boru Harp” preserved at Trinity College—became a trademarked Guinness logo in 1876. Forty-five years later, when Ireland gained independence from England, the Irish Free State decided to use the same Celtic harp as its official state emblem. This became awkward. Guinness owned the trademark, and the Irish government was forced to search for a workaround. You can find their solution on an Irish Euro coin. Look at the coin, and you’ll notice that the harp’s straight edge faces the right; meanwhile, the harp on a glass of Guinness shows the straight edge facing left [PDF].

6. GUINNESS REPORTEDLY SAVED LIVES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

The old slogan “Guinness is good for you” sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it was born out of a genuine belief that the beer was, in fact, a restorative tonic. The health claim dates back to 1815, when an ailing cavalry officer wounded at the Battle of Waterloo reportedly credited Guinness for his recovery. For decades, the medical community widely claimed that the dark beer possessed real health benefits—and they weren’t necessarily wrong. “There was little safe drinking water at the time,” Handy says. “But with brewing, consumers knew they were getting a safe beverage.”

7. THE COMPANY CREATED A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR CONVALESCENTS.

A label for Guinness invalid stout
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

From the 1880s to the 1920s, Guinness produced a special “Nourishing Export Stout”—a.k.a. “Invalid Stout”—that contained extra sugars, alcohol, and solids and came in cute one-third pint bottles. “It was very common practice for people to buy a couple bottles and keep them as a tonic, even if it was just a glass or half a glass,” Handy says. In fact, Guinness went as far as asking general practitioners for testimonials attesting to the beer’s medical benefits. According to Brady, “Many of them wrote back and said yes, we prescribe this for various ailments.” One doctor even claimed a pint was “as nourishing as a glass of milk.”

8. DOCTORS REGULARLY PRESCRIBED THE BEER TO NURSING MOTHERS.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, many physicians believed Guinness was an effective galactagogue—that is, a lactation aid. The company sent bottles to hospitals as well as wax cartons of yeast (which supposedly helped skin problems and migraines). Hundreds, possibly thousands, of doctors prescribed the beer for ailments such as influenza, insomnia, and anxiety, David Hughes writes in A Bottle of Guinness Please: The Colourful History of Guinness. According to Brady, the company was sending beer to hospitals as late as the 1970s.

9. THE COMPANY ONCE DROPPED 200,000 MESSAGES-IN-A-BOTTLE INTO THE OCEAN.

A Guinness message in a bottle
The message within every bottle dropped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1959.
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In 1954, Guinness dumped 50,000 messages-in-a-bottle in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 1959, they repeated the stunt again, with 38 ships dropping 150,000 bottles in the Atlantic. The first bottle was discovered in the Azores off Portugal just three months after the initial drop [PDF]. Since then, the bottles have turned up in California, New Zealand, and South Africa. Just last year, a bottle was discovered in Nova Scotia. (If you find one, you just might be offered a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.)

10. THE PERSONNEL FILES IN THE GUINNESS ARCHIVES CONTAIN SOME DOOZIES.

The Guinness corporate archives are open to the public. According to Handy, “Some of the stories you get in there are amazing, because you get accident reports and you get crazy stories of people bouncing on bags of hops outside the brewery." This may sound less surprising considering that, back in the day, Guinness employees were given an allowance of two pints of beer every day [PDF].

11. A GUINNESS SCIENTIST MADE A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MARK IN THE FIELD OF STATISTICS.

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you might be familiar with the Student’s t-test or the t-statistic. (It’s a method of working with a small sample size when the standard deviation is unknown.) The t-test was first described by William S. Gosset, a brewer and statistician at Guinness who was attempting to analyze a small sample of malt extract. Gosset’s discovery not only helped Guinness create a more consistent-tasting beer, it would lay the bedrock for one of the most important concepts in statistics: statistical significance.

12. GUINNESS IS SO BIG IN AFRICA, IT LAUNCHED A SUCCESSFUL FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.

Guinness began exporting beer to Africa in 1827. In the 1960s, it opened a brewery in Nigeria—followed by Cameroon and Ghana. Today, there are reportedly more Guinness drinkers in Nigeria than there are in Ireland. “In Ireland, England, and the United States, everybody thinks that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland,” Brady says. “But in Nigeria, there’s a very very low conception of that.” The beer is such a cultural staple that a fictional character who advertised the product named Michael Power—a James Bond-like, crime-fighting journalist—became the star of a feature film in 2003 called Critical Assignment, which was a box office smash. (Of course, there’s some branding built into the script. As Brady explains, “There are definitely scenes where Michael Power is enjoying a pint of Guinness.”)

13. DISPENSING BEER WITH NITROGEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONSIDERED LAUGHABLE.

In the 1950s, Guinness scientist Michael Ash was tasked with solving the “draft problem.” At the time, dispensing a draft pint of Guinness was ridiculously complicated, and the company was losing market share to draft lagers in Britain that could be easily dispensed with CO2. “The stout was too lively to be dispensed with CO2 only,” Brady says. “Ash worked on the problem for four years, working long hours day or night, and became a bit of a recluse apparently. A lot of doubters at the brewery called the project ‘daft Guinness.’” But then Ash attempted dispensing the beer with plain air. It worked. The secret ingredient, Ash discovered, was nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. Today, a Guinness draft contains 75 percent nitrogen. Not only did the discovery make dispensing the beer easier, it created a creamy mouthfeel that’s been the signature of Irish stouts since.

Full disclosure: Guinness paid for the author to attend an International Stout Day festival in 2017, which provided the opportunity to speak to their archivists.

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