50 Things Turning 50 in 2019

NASA, Getty Images
NASA, Getty Images

Celebrating the big 5-0 this year? You’re in excellent company. From the first manned Moon landing to Monty Python, here are 50 things marking a half-century on this planet (and beyond) in 2019.

1. First Manned Moon Landing

Apollo 11 began its historic voyage to the Moon on July 16, 1969. It reached its destination on July 20 and on July 21, Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface, with Buzz Aldrin following him about 20 minutes later. The mission marked the beginning of the U.S. putting a dozen men on the moon.

2. Sesame Street

On November 10, 1969, television audiences were introduced to Sesame Street (including an orange version of Oscar the Grouch). In the nearly 50 years since, the series has become one of television's most iconic programs—and not just for kids.

3. Stonewall Riots

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, The Stonewall Inn—a popular gay bar in New York City’s West Village—was raided by police. The incident sparked a series of riots in protest, and became the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. In 2016, the bar was named a National Monument.

4. Monty Python’s Flying Circus

The creators of Monty Python's Flying Circus
Alan Howard, Getty Images

On October 5, 1969, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam changed the face of sketch comedy forever with the BBC debut of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

5. The Internet

There’s been a long-running debate about when “The Internet” was born, with many tech-heads citing April 7, 1969 as the web’s official birthdate. That’s the day the first official Request for Comments, or RFC, was published—which included research, proposals, and ideas for the creation of true internet technology.

6. Woodstock

On August 15, 1969, a 600-acre dairy farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains became the site of one of the most defining music events in rock ‘n’ roll history. Though Woodstock’s organizers assured town officials that no more than 50,000 music lovers would show up, word spread fast and the final tally ended up being closer to 400,000—almost 100 times the town of Bethel’s year-round population of about 4200.

7. Fla-Vor-Ice

Those plastic tubes of frozen, flavored sugar water seem to be a part of everyone’s childhood—and with good reason: Fla-Vor-Ice made its grocery store debut in 1969.

8. The Gap

On August 21, 1969, Donald and Doris Fisher opened the very first Gap store on San Francisco’s Ocean Avenue. While jeans were a main attraction, the retailer looked a lot different back then: It sold Levi’s only (plus records, in an attempt to attract that coveted teenage demographic).

9. The Beatles’s Rooftop Concert

On January 30, 1969, right around lunchtime, The Beatles made their way to the rooftop of the Apple Corps building, their record label’s headquarters, for an unannounced performance. It was the first time in more than two years that the band had performed live, and they didn’t miss a beat. The Fab Four spent 42 minutes testing new material out on a crowd of onlookers. Eventually, a bank manager called the police to lodge a noise complaint—and the plug was pulled.

10. PBS

On November 3, 1969, PBS was founded as a successor to National Educational Television (NET) and quickly became the country’s preeminent broadcaster of educational, cultured television. Among its most popular series in those early days were Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Nova, The French Chef with Julia Child, and Masterpiece Theatre (some of which are still going strong).

11. Wendy’s

Wendy’s—the fast food burger giant that also makes a mean baked potato—was founded by Dave Thomas in Columbus, Ohio on November 15, 1969. The restaurant differentiated itself from the competition with its square burger patties, which were inspired by Kewpee’s, a burger joint in Thomas’s hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

12. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

On June 3, 1969, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar came into the world and made the tale of, well, a very hungry caterpillar that eats his way through the story and emerges as a butterfly a staple of bedtime stories around the world. More than 30 million copies of the children’s book have been sold since its original publication.

13. David Bowie's "Space Oddity"

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired David Bowie to write “Space Oddity,” the opening song on his second studio album that would become one of the artist’s defining hits. It was released on July 11, 1969—less than a week before Apollo 11 began its historic voyage to the Moon.

14. Peter Dinklage

On June 11, 1969, Peter Dinklage came bouncing into this world in Morristown, New Jersey. In 1991, he made his onscreen debut in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog. Today, of course, he’s best known as Tyrion Lannister—everyone’s favorite character Game of Thrones’s character and the series’ real star (according to math).

15. Funyuns

Looks like an onion ring, tastes like an onion-flavored chip. Funyuns have been offering the best of both worlds since 1969.

16. The Brady Bunch

Here's the story of a lovely lady, her architect husband, three daughters, three stepsons, one housekeeper, a dog named Tiger, and one jinx of a cousin—all of whom came together to create one memorable blended family sitcom. The Brady Bunch made its premiere on September 26, 1969.

17. Slaughterhouse-Five

On March 31, 1969, Kurt Vonnegut published what is arguably his most popular work, Slaughterhouse-Five—a semi-autobiographical novel based on his experiences as a POW during the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.

18. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their bed in the Presidential Suite of the Hilton Hotel, Amsterdam, 25th March 1969. The couple are staging a 'bed-in for peace' and intend to stay in bed for seven days 'as a protest aga
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On March 20, 1969, one of the world’s most famous couples—John Lennon and Yoko Ono—officially got hitched. Knowing that all eyes would be on them in the days following their wedding, they decided to book the presidential suite at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel and stage a week-long “Bed-In” to protest the Vietnam War and promote global peace.

19. Automatic Teller Machine

On September 2, 1969, the country’s first ATM started shelling out cash to Chemical Bank customers in Rockville Center, New York.

20. Cracker Barrel

On September 19, 1969, Dan W. Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Lebanon, Tennessee, where made-from-scratch fare was always on the menu. Today, the restaurant chain operates more than 650 locations across 45 states.

21. Chappaquiddick Incident

In the late-night hours of July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a one-lane bridge and into the water on Chappaquidick Island, Massachusetts. While Kennedy was able to escape the vehicle, his passenger—28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, a former staffer for Ted’s late brother Bobby—was not. Instead of calling for help, Kennedy fled the scene and didn’t report the incident for another 10 hours. Kennedy eventually pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month jail sentence, which was suspended. Though he remained an active politician for the rest of his life, the “Chappaquidick Incident,” as it came to be known, is often cited as a reason why Kennedy was never elected president (he ran unsuccessfully in 1980).

22. Tic Tacs

Introduced in 1969 as “Refreshing Mints,” Tic Tacs have cornered the market on teeny-tiny breath mints that make a fun shaking noise while resting in your pocket. Though orange and mint were the original (and still popular) flavors, dozens of new flavors have been added since then and the mints now sell in more than 100 countries.

23. "Sweet Caroline"

Neil Diamond sings 'Sweet Caroline' during a game between the Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox in the 8th inning at Fenway Park on April 20, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts
Jim Rogash, Getty Images

In June 1969, Neil Diamond released “Sweet Caroline,” which he later explained had been inspired by Caroline Kennedy. (He even performed the tune at her 50th birthday.) Whether you love the song or hate it, it endures—particularly as a theme at sporting events. For more than 20 years, it’s been played at Boston’s Fenway Park during every Red Sox home game. So good, so good, so good.

24. Jennifer Aniston

On February 11, 1969, Jennifer Aniston was born in Sherman Oaks, California to actors John Aniston and Nancy Dow. Though she rose to super-stardom playing Rachel Green on Friends, her roles weren’t always so glamorous: Her first gig was an uncredited role in 1987’s Mac and Me and she had a starring role in the awesomely terrible 1993 “horror” film Leprechaun. Aniston share’s her birthday with a host of other talented actresses turning 50 this year, including Cate Blanchett, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Lopez, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

25. Easy Rider

A seminal film of the late 1960s counter-culture—and one of the film’s that kicked off the New Hollywood era of filmmaking—Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s trippy road movie made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 1969. Hopper, who directed Easy Rider and co-wrote it with Fonda and Terry Southern, left France with the festival’s Best First Work award (and a soon-to-be-iconic film on his hands).

26. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Originally published in 1969, the first in Maya Angelou’s series of autobiographies delves into her earliest years, beginning at age 3, when she and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Arkansas. It culminates with a teenaged Angelou giving birth to her son, Guy, at the age of 16. The book confirmed Angelou’s status as one of America’s most original and important voices, and was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970.

27. “A Boy Named Sue”

On February 24, 1969—while famously performing live at California's San Quentin State Prison—legendary singer Johnny Cash debuted “A Boy Named Sue.” If the title and lyrics seem oddly whimsical for the Man in Black, that’s because the tune was written by children’s author/poet Shel Silverstein.

28. Firebird Trans Am

The first generation of Pontiac’s legendary muscle car began rolling off the assembly line in 1969 and continued being manufactured—with tiny tweaks over the years—until 2002. The vehicle earned an important place in pop culture, thanks to starring roles in Smokey and the Bandit and Knight Rider.

29. The Star Trek Finale

Given its pop culture dominance and impact on the science fiction genre, it’s hard to believe that the original version of Star Trek only spent three seasons on the air. But on June 3, 1969, early Trekkies watched as an evil scientist swapped bodies with Captain Kirk and attempted to take control of the Enterprise in the series finale, “Turnabout Intruder."

30. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather

The bestselling novel that led to Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning movie—and one of the only sequels in cinema history to be as good as, if not better than, its predecessor—was published on March 10, 1969.

31. The Concorde


Getty Images

While the origins of the supersonic jet that came to be known as the Concorde began back in the 1950s, it wasn’t until March 2, 1969, that the vessel—a.k.a. Concorde 001—made its maiden voyage. It would take another seven years for the plane to become a regular sight in the skies.

32. Paul Rudd

Hollywood’s most likeable actor was born in Passaic, New Jersey on April 6, 1969. Fifty years later, he’s stirring up all sorts of confusion and excitement amongst fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe following his unexpected cameo in the first trailer for this year’s Avengers: Endgame. Rudd shares a birthday with Matthew McConaughey and Dave Bautista.

33. Human Eye Transplant

On April 22, 1969, doctors at Houston’s Methodist Hospital made history when they performed the first human eye transplant on 55-year-old John Madden. While the transplant itself was technically a success, the donated eye had not been properly preserved, so Madden’s eyesight remained unchanged. "I don't know what they expected,’’ Madden’s wife said at the time. “They tell us that being able to transplant an eye and have movement in it is really something.”

34. Midnight Cowboy

John Schlesinger’s buddy dramedy about a goofy Texan (Jon Voight) and a sickly—albeit crafty—con man (Dustin Hoffman) teaming up to turn the 6-gallon-hat-wearing galoot into one of New York City’s most in-demand gigolos is the first and only X-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

35. Quartz Watches

On December 25, 1969—following 10 years of extensive research—Seiko debuted the Quartz-Astron 35SQ, the world’s first quartz watch. Even today, it's still logged as one of the great milestones in electric engineering.

36. Abbey Road

Abbey RoadThe Beatles’s eleventh studio album, and the final one on which all four original members recorded together—was released on September 26, 1969. (Let It Be came out on May 8, 1970, but was recorded before Abbey Road.)

37. Home Surveillance Systems

On December 2, 1969, Queens, New York native Marie V.B. Brown and her husband Albert were issued a patent for a home security system that allowed the owner to utilize a television set in order to see and hear whoever was at the front door.

38. Portnoy's Complaint

On January 12, 1969, the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint turned author Philip Roth into both an instant celebrity and a lightning rod for controversy for those who took issue with his frank depictions of sexuality. He maintained an impressive status as both until his passing in 2018.

39. The Saturday Evening Post’s Final Issue

After nearly 150 years of Norman Rockwell covers and iconic Americana, The Saturday Evening Post ceased publication in 1969. Though the print magazine was revived in 1971, its focus was much more on medical articles, so it was never again the same thing that it had been.

40. Wes Anderson


Tullio M. Puglia, Getty Images

The quirky, whimsy-loving director behind Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Grand Budapest Hotel was born in Houston, Texas on May 1, 1969. It’s in that very same city that Anderson attended high school at the St. John’s School, which would later play the titular role in Rushmore.

41. Capri Sun

Though Capri Sun—and its notoriously difficult-to-pierce-in-just-the-right-place juice pouches—didn’t make its way to the U.S. until 1981, the juice concentrate was first introduced in Switzerland in 1969.

42. Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin’s first studio album made its American debut on January 12, 1969, less than a year after the iconic rock band’s formation.

43. Cory Booker

Cory Booker, the longtime mayor of Newark-turned-New Jersey senator, was born in Washington, D.C. on April 27, 1969.

44. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Director George Roy Hill took the American western to dizzying new heights with the help of Paul Newman and Robert Redford when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released in theaters on October 24, 1969. Four Oscars followed.

45. RMS Queen Elizabeth 2

For nearly 40 years, the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2—better known as the QE2—was the grand dame of the Atlantic Ocean. As part of the Cunard family of ships, the luxury ocean liner made her maiden voyage on May 2, 1969 and continued to serve as a transatlantic shuttle between Southampton, England and New York City until 2008. In 2018, she reopened as a floating hotel in Dubai.

46. Altamont Free Concert

Free concerts didn’t work out quite as planned in 1969. Four months after Woodstock attracted an unprecedented number of guests to a dairy farm in upstate New York, the Rolling Stones decided to host a free concert of their own at California’s Altamont Speedway. While it’s often reported that the Hells Angels were officially hired as security for the event, some individuals involved in its planning deny this. But there’s no denying that several members of the infamous motorcycle club were indeed there, surrounding the stage, and reacting to the increasingly agitated crowd. By the end of the night, four people had been killed—three of them accidentally—while many more were injured due to scuffles of varying degrees of severity. Documentarians Albert and David Maysles were on hand to record the events, which they turned into Gimme Shelter, one of the most fascinating rockumentaries of all time.

47. Battery-operated Smoke Detectors

Smoke detector and smoke
iStock

You know that tiny device that wakes you up in the middle of the night making a racket just because its batteries are dying? But could also save your life in the event of a fire? It’s turning 50! Duane D. Pearsall invented the first battery-operated smoke detector on February 5, 1969.

48. The Manson Family

In 1967, following his release from a seven-year prison stint for forging checks and transporting women across state lines for the purpose of prostitution, Charles Manson moved to San Francisco and began assembling a devout group of followers—many of them young women—who were ready to do his bidding, whatever that might be. Though the “family” unit was formed a bit earlier, they rose to global prominence—much to the horror of everyday citizens everywhere—when a group of Manson’s followers murdered five people at Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s Los Angeles rental home on the evening of August 8, 1969. Tate, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was among the victims. One week later, police raided Spahn Ranch—where the Manson Family lived—and arrested 26 individuals, Manson among them.

49. Scooby Doo

On September 13, 1969, CBS viewers were introduced to the kind of trippy world of Scooby Doo and his gang of human mystery-solvers—Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Shaggy Rogers—when Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! debuted as part of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup. That most of the “mysteries” ended in the same way—with the gang pulling a mask off the monster that had been stalking them, only to find it was a human they knew—didn’t seem to hinder the classic cartoon’s popularity.

50. Turn-on

Several months before Monty Python’s Flying Circus made its debut, another sketch comedy show—one that included Albert Brooks among its writers—made its premiere on February 5, 1969 and disappeared just as quickly. Though two episodes were filmed, only one aired. Leaving the series to be remembered as one of the biggest flops of all time. (Yes, it’s important to commemorate that, too.)

25 Regal Facts About Queen Elizabeth II

Jane Barlow, Pool/Getty Images
Jane Barlow, Pool/Getty Images

On April 21, Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her 93rd birthday—and her first of two official birthdays. Though millions of words have been written about the world's longest-reigning monarch, few people know the woman behind the crown, or even what her daily duties entail. In honor of Her Majesty, here are some things you might not know about this royal legend, and why it's good to be the Queen.

1. She wasn't born an heir apparent to the throne.

The Queen Elizabeth (3rd-L, future Queen Mother), her daughter Princess Elizabeth (4th-L, future Queen Elizabeth II), Queen Mary (C) , Princess Margaret (5th-L) and the King George VI (R), pose at the balcony of the Buckingham Palace in December 1945.
The Queen Elizabeth (3rd-L, future Queen Mother), her daughter Princess Elizabeth (4th-L, future Queen Elizabeth II), Queen Mary (C) , Princess Margaret (5th-L) and the King George VI (R), pose at the balcony of the Buckingham Palace in December 1945.
AFP, Getty Images

For the first 10 years of her life, Princess Elizabeth was a relatively minor royal—her status was akin to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York today—but that all changed with the death of her grandfather, King George V, in 1936.

The next in the line of royal succession was Elizabeth's uncle, Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne less than a year after taking it so that he could marry an American socialite named Wallis Simpson. Edward didn't have any children at the time, so his brother Albert (Elizabeth’s father) ascended to the throne, taking the name George VI and making the then-10-year-old Elizabeth the first in line to become Queen.

2. Her younger sister gave her a family nickname.

Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth in 1933.
Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth in 1933.
AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth and Margaret were the only children of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and King George VI, who said of his daughters: "Lilibet is my pride, Margaret my joy." "Lilibet," of course, is Elizabeth, who earned her nickname because Margaret—whom the family affectionately called Margot—constantly mispronounced her big sister’s name.

3. She didn't go to school.

Princesses Elizabeth (right) and Margaret at Waterloo Station, London, 1939.
Princesses Elizabeth (right) and Margaret at Waterloo Station, London, 1939.
Fox Photos, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Heirs apparent don’t just show up to primary school like normal kids. Instead, Elizabeth was tutored at home during sessions by different teachers like Henry Marten, vice-provost of Eton College (which is still for boys only), and was also given private religion lessons by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

4. But she and Margaret technically did have a teacher.

Stamps from 1937 featuring Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, The Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey, The Coronation Coach, The Houses of Parliament, Windsor Castle, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the King's Coronation.
Stamps from 1937 featuring Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, The Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey, The Coronation Coach, The Houses of Parliament, Windsor Castle, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the King's Coronation.
London Express, Getty Images

Just because she didn't attend school doesn't mean that Elizabeth didn't receive an education. She received the bulk of it through her nanny, Marion Crawford, who the royal family referred to as "Crawfie." Crawford would eventually be ostracized by the royal family for writing a tell-all book in 1953 called The Little Princesses without their permission; the book recounted Crawford's experiences with Elizabeth during her younger days.

5. She wanted to go to war, but was too young.

Queen consort Elizabeth holds Princess Margaret's hand as Princess Elizabeth follows, in 1936.
Queen consort Elizabeth holds Princess Margaret's hand as Princess Elizabeth follows, in 1936.
Central Press, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When World War II broke out in 1939, Elizabeth—then just a teenager—begged her father to join the effort somehow. She started out by making radio broadcasts geared toward raising the morale of British children. During one of the broadcasts, the 14-year-old princess reassured listeners, "I can truthfully say to you all that we children at home are full of cheerfulness and courage. We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers, and airmen and we are trying too to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war."

6. She eventually served in World War II.

Princess Elizabeth changing the tire of a vehicle as she trains at as ATS Officer during World War II in April 1945.
Princess Elizabeth changing the tire of a vehicle as she trains at as ATS Officer during World War II in April 1945.
Central Press, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite the risks, Elizabeth eventually joined the women's Auxiliary Territorial Service and trained as a truck driver and mechanic in 1945, when she was 18 years old.

Queen Elizabeth remains the only female royal family member to have entered the armed forces, and is currently the only living head of state who officially served in World War II.

7. She celebrated the end of the war by partying like her subjects.

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1947.
Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1947.
William Vanderson, Fox Photos/Getty Images

When then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that the war in Europe was over on May 8, 1945, people poured out into the streets of London to celebrate—including Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The sheltered duo were allowed to sneak out of Buckingham Palace to join the revelers at their father's behest.

"It was a unique burst of personal freedom," recalled Margaret Rhodes, their cousin who went with them, "a Cinderella moment in reverse."

8. She married her cousin.

Then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, following their wedding ceremony in November 1947.
Then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, following their wedding ceremony in November 1947.
AFP, Getty Images

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth are third cousins; both share the same great-great-grandparents: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

9. Elizabeth and her husband have known each other since childhood.

A family portrait in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace on the wedding day of Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on November 20, 1947.
A family portrait in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace on the wedding day of Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on November 20, 1947.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Philip, son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, first met Elizabeth when she was only 8 years old and he was 14. Both attended the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece (Prince Philip's cousin) and Prince George, the Duke of Kent (Elizabeth’s uncle).

Five years later the pair met again when George VI brought Elizabeth to tour the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, where Philip was a cadet. In a personal note, Elizabeth recalled falling for the young soldier-in-the-making: "I was 13 years of age and he was 18 and a cadet just due to leave. He joined the Navy at the outbreak of war, and I only saw him very occasionally when he was on leave—I suppose about twice in three years," she wrote. "Then when his uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, were away he spent various weekends away with us at Windsor."

10. She didn't tell her parents she was getting hitched.

Princess Elizabeth, Philip Mountbatten, Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother), King George VI, and Princess Margaret pose in Buckingham Palace on July 9, 1947, the day the engagement of Princess Elizabeth & Philip Mountbatten was officially announced.
Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II), Philip Mountbatten (also the Duke of Edinburgh), Queen Elizabeth (future Queen Mother), King George VI, and Princess Margaret pose in Buckingham Palace on July 9, 1947, the day the engagement of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten was officially announced.
AFP/Getty Images

In 1946, Philip proposed to Elizabeth when the former planned a month-long visit to Balmoral, her royal estate in Scotland. She accepted the proposal without even contacting her parents. But when George VI finally caught wind of the pending nuptials he would only officially approve if they waited to announce the engagement until after her 21st birthday.

The official public announcement of the engagement finally came nearly a year later on July 9, 1947.

11. She has a very royal name.

Princess Elizabeth (left) and her mother, Queen consort Elizabeth, in 1951.
Princess Elizabeth (left) and her mother, Queen consort Elizabeth, in 1951.
Reg Speller, Fox Photos/Getty Images

She's the second British monarch named Elizabeth, but Elizabeth II wasn't named after Henry VIII's famous progeny. Queen Elizabeth II's birth name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, after the names of her mother, Elizabeth, her paternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, and her paternal grandmother, Queen Mary.

12. She got to choose her own surname.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with two of their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, circa 1951.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with two of their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, circa 1951.
OFF, AFP/Getty Images

Technically, the Queen's last name is "Windsor," which was first chosen by George V in 1917 after the royal family wanted to distance themselves from "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha"—the dynasty to which they belonged—for sounding too Germanic during World War I.

But as a way to distinguish themselves from the rest of the royal family, in 1960 Elizabeth and Philip adopted the official surname Windsor-Mountbatten. (Fans will surely remember that the surname drama was briefly discussed in Netflix’s series The Crown.)

13. She has two birthdays.

Princess Elizabeth just before her 21st birthday in April 1947.
Princess Elizabeth just before her 21st birthday in April 1947.
AFP/Getty Images

Like most British monarchs, Elizabeth gets to celebrate her birthday twice, and the reason why boils down to seasonably appropriate pomp and circumstance.

She was born on April 21, 1926, but April was deemed too cold and liable to fall during inclement weather. So instead, her official state-recognized birthday occurs on a Saturday in late May or June, so that the celebration can be held during warmer months. The specific date varies year to year in the UK, and usually coincides with Trooping the Colour, Britain’s annual military pageant.

14. Her coronation was televised against her wishes.

Queen Elizabeth's coronation, June 1953
Queen Elizabeth's coronation, June 1953.
AFP, Getty Images

Elizabeth officially ascended to the throne at just 25 years of age when her father, George VI, died on February 6, 1952. Elizabeth was in Kenya at the time of his death and returned home as her country's Queen. As fans of The Crown will remember, the hubbub surrounding her coronation was filled with ample amounts of drama.

The notoriously camera-shy Elizabeth—who didn't even allow photos to be taken of her wedding—didn't want the event televised, and others believed that broadcasting the coronation to commoners would break down upper-class traditions of only allowing members of British high society to witness the event. A Coronation Commission, chaired by Philip, was set up to weigh the options, and they initially decided to only allow cameras in a single area of Westminster Abbey "west of the organ screen," before allowing the entire thing to be televised with one minor caveat: no close-ups on Elizabeth's face.

15. She paid for her wedding dress using war ration coupons.

A 1947 sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress by Norman Hartnell.
A 1947 sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress by Norman Hartnell.
Central Press, Getty Images

Still reeling from an atmosphere of post-war austerity, Elizabeth used ration coupons and a 200-coupon supplement from the government to pay for her wedding dress. But don't be fooled, the dress was extremely elegant; it was made of ivory duchesse silk, encrusted with 10,000 imported seed pearls, took six months to make, and sported a 13-foot train. (It cost just under $40,000 to recreate the dress for The Crown.)

16. She doesn't need a passport to travel.

Queen Elizabeth II in Nuku'alofa, Tonga in December 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II in Nuku'alofa, Tonga in December 1953.
STRINGER, AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth II is the world's most well-traveled head of state, visiting more than 115 countries between more than 270 official state visits, but she doesn't even own a passport. Since all British passports are officially issued in the Queen’s name, she technically doesn't need one.

17. She doesn't need a driver's license either.

Queen Elizabeth II drives a car in 1958.
Queen Elizabeth II drives a car in 1958.
Bob Haswell, Express/Getty Images

It's not just because she has a fleet of chauffeurs. Britain also officially issues driver's licenses in Elizabeth’s name, so don’t expect her to show off her ID when she gets pulled over taking other heads of state for a spin in her Range Rover.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, recounted to The Sunday Times the time when Elizabeth drove former Saudi crown prince Abdullah around the grounds of Balmoral: "To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off," he said. "Women are not—yet—allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen."

18. She doesn't have to pay taxes (but chooses to anyway).

Queen Elizabeth rides in a carriage in 2000.
ODD ANDERSEN, AFP/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth has voluntarily paid income and capital gains taxes since 1992, but has always been subject to Value Added Tax.

19. She survived an assassination attempt.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II rides a horse side saddle and salutes during a Trooping of the Colour ceremony in London in 1952.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II rides a horse side saddle and salutes during a Trooping of the Colour ceremony in London in 1952.
STRINGER, AFP/Getty Images

During the 1981 Trooping the Colour, the Queen led a royal procession on horseback down the Mall toward Buckingham Palace when shots rang out. A 17-year-old named Marcus Sarjeant, who was obsessed with the assassinations of figures like John Lennon and John F. Kennedy, fired a series of blanks toward Elizabeth. Sarjeant—who wrote in his diary, "I am going to stun and mystify the whole world with nothing more than a gun"—was thankfully unable to purchase live ammunition in the UK. He received a prison sentence of five years under the 1848 Treason Act, but was released in October 1984.

20. She also survived an intruder coming into her bedroom.

Queen Elizabeth II in Australia in 1954.
Queen Elizabeth II in Australia in 1954.
Fox Photos, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A year after the Trooping the Colour incident, Elizabeth had another run-in. But instead of near Buckingham Palace, this time it was inside Buckingham Palace. On July 9, 1982, a man named Michael Fagen managed to climb over the Palace's barbed wire fence, shimmy up a drain pipe, and eventually sneak into the Queen's bedroom.

While reports at the time said Fagen and the Queen had a long conversation before he was apprehended by palace security, Fagen told The Independent the Queen didn't stick around to chat: "She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor."

21. She technically owns all the dolphins in the UK.

The HMAS Vengeance seen from a helicopter, as the Australian Naval crew spell out the signature of Queen Elizabeth II on the deck, in 1954.
The HMAS Vengeance seen from a helicopter, as the Australian Naval crew spell out the signature of Queen Elizabeth II on the deck, in 1954.
Keystone, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In addition to owning all of the country's dolphins, she owns all the sturgeon and whales, too. A still-valid statute from the reign of King Edward II in 1324 states, "Also the King shall have ... whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm," meaning most aquatic creatures are technically labeled "fishes royal," and are claimed on behalf of the Crown.

As the song goes, "Rule, Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!"

22. She has her own special money to give to the poor.

Queen Elizabeth II hands out maundy money in 2004.
Queen Elizabeth II hands out maundy money in 2004.
PHIL NOBLE, AFP/Getty Images

Known as "Maundy Money," the Queen has silver coins—currently with Elizabeth's likeness on the front—that are given to pensioners in a ceremony called Maundy Thursday. The royal custom dates back to the 13th century, in which the royal family was expected to wash the feet of and distribute gifts to penniless subjects as a symbolic gesture to honor Jesus’s act of washing the feet of the poor in the Bible. Once the 18th century rolled around and washing people's dirty feet wasn't seen as befitting of a royal, the act was replaced with money allowances bequeathed by the monarch.

23. Gin is her drink of choice.

Queen Elizabeth II sipping a drink.
RUSSEL MILLARD, AFP/Getty Images

The Queen drinks gin mixed with Dubonnet (a fortified wine) and a slice of lemon on the rocks every day before lunch. She also reportedly drinks wine at lunch and has a glass of champagne every evening.

24. She created her own breed of dogs.

Queen Elizabeth with her dog Susan, circa 1959.
Queen Elizabeth with her dog Susan, circa 1959.
AFP, Getty Images

Elizabeth has a famous, avowed love of Corgis (she has owned more than 30 of them during her reign; her last one, Willow, passed away in 2018), but what about Dorgis? She currently owns two Dorgis (Candy and Vulcan), a crossbreed she engineered when one of her Corgis mated with a Dachshund named Pipkin that belonged to Princess Margaret.

25. She's on social media ... kind of.

Queen Elizabeth II tours a Canadian Blackberry factory in 2010.
Queen Elizabeth II tours a Canadian Blackberry factory in 2010.
John Stillwell, Pool/Getty Images

The Queen joined Twitter in July 2009 under the handle @RoyalFamily, and sent the first tweet herself, but hasn't personally maintained the page since then. In fact, a job listing went up in 2017 looking for an official royal Digital Communications Officer to help out. She's also on Facebook (and no, you cannot poke The Royal Family).

This story originally ran in 2017.

7 Surprising Facts About Hans Christian Andersen

 Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) is recognized around the world for his beloved books, including The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl, The Princess and the Pea, and many others. However, few people know much about the man behind these famous fairy tales—a man who endured many hardships and, by some accounts, transformed his pain into art. Here are seven surprising facts about Andersen’s life and legacy that you won't find in the children's section of a bookstore.

1. Some of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are autobiographical.

According to scholars, the tale of The Ugly Duckling reflects Andersen’s own feelings of alienation. As a boy, he was teased for his appearance and high-pitched voice, which often made him feel isolated, and he later wrote a story about a boy named Hans who gets made fun of as a child. Much like the ugly duckling, Andersen only later in life became the “swan”—a cultured, world-renowned writer with friends in high places. Andersen even admitted of The Ugly Duckling, “This story is, of course, a reflection of my own life.”

There’s also evidence that Andersen placed his characters in desperate and hopeless situations to reflect his own personal traumas, which included being raised in poverty, losing his father, and having to briefly work in a factory at age 11 to support his mother. Paul Binding, a literary critic who penned a book about Andersen, said the long-lasting appeal of his stories go beyond their authenticity, though. "True, some of Andersen’s most famous stories—The Ugly Duckling, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, even The Little Mermaid—are dramatizations or sublimations of his own dilemmas, but they would not work on us as they do if they did not transcend the personal—in language, in observation and detail, and in intricate but unobtrusive structure—to stand on their own as perfectly wrought artifacts of universal appeal," Binding wrote for The Guardian.

2. Andersen's original version of The Little Mermaid was a lot more depressing than Disney’s take.

Andersen’s Little Mermaid story from 1837 was far darker than the kid-friendly Disney movie it would later inspire. In the original (which you can read online for free here), an unnamed mermaid who falls in love with a prince is offered the chance to take a human form, even though she'll live in perpetual agony and has to have her tongue cut out. The mermaid's goal—besides love—is to gain an immortal soul, which is only possible if the prince falls in love with her and marries her. After the prince marries someone else, however, the mermaid contemplates murdering him, but instead accepts her fate and throws herself into the sea, where she dissolves into sea foam. The mermaid is greeted by spiritual beings who say they'll help her get into heaven if she does good deeds for 300 years. So there’s that, at least.

3. Poor translations may have altered Andersen's image abroad.

According to UNESCO, Andersen is the eighth most-translated writer in the world, trailing right behind Vladimir Lenin. Though his works have been reproduced in more than 125 languages, not all of them have been faithful retellings. From the beginning, there have been many examples of “shoddy translations” that “obliterated” his original stories, according to the writers Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank in their modern translation of The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen. As a result, Andersen’s reputation beyond Scandinavia was “not as a literary genius but as a quaint 19th-century writer of charming children’s stories,” the pair write.

4. Andersen wore out his welcome while staying with Charles Dickens.

Andersen met his literary hero, Charles Dickens, at an aristocratic party in 1847. They kept in touch, and a decade later Andersen came to stay with Dickens at the British author's home in Kent, England. The visit was meant to last two weeks at most, but Andersen ended up staying five weeks, to the dismay of the Dickens family. On his first morning there, Andersen proclaimed that it was a Danish custom for one of the sons of the household to shave their male guest. Instead of complying, the family set him up with a local barber. Andersen was also prone to tantrums, at one point throwing himself face down on the lawn and sobbing after reading a particularly bad review of one of his books. Once Andersen finally left, Dickens wrote and displayed a note that read, “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks—which seemed to the family AGES!” Dickens stopped responding to Andersen's letters, which effectively ended their friendship.

5. Andersen was terrified of being buried alive.

Andersen had a lot of phobias. He was afraid of dogs. He didn’t eat pork because he worried he would contract trichinae, a parasite that can be found in pigs. He kept a long rope in his luggage while traveling, in case he needed to escape a fire. He even feared he would accidentally be declared dead and buried alive, so before bed each night, he propped up a note that read, “I only appear to be dead.”

6. Andersen may have been celibate his whole life.

Although Andersen lived a long and full life, he struggled with personal relationships and never got his own fairy tale ending. At different points in his life, he fell for a number of women—and possibly a few men as well, according to some interpretations of the amorous letters he wrote to young men—but his feelings were unrequited each time. "I believe he never had a sexual relationship," biographer Bente Kjoel-bye told the Deseret News. Although Andersen is often regarded as a pure and chaste figure, he was no stranger to lustful thoughts. When he was 61 years old, he went to a brothel in Paris for the first time and paid a prostitute, but didn't do anything except watch her undress. After a second visit to a "shop which traded in human beings," he wrote in his diary, "I spoke with [a woman], paid 12 francs, and left without having sinned in action, but probably in thought."

7. Andersen is considered a “national treasure” in Denmark.

The Danish government declared Andersen a “national treasure” when he was in his late sixties, around the same time that he started showing symptoms of the liver cancer that would ultimately claim his life. The government subsequently paid him a stipend and started constructing a statue of the author in the King's Garden in Copenhagen to commemorate his 70th birthday. Andersen lived to see his birthday, but died four months later. Over a century later, you can still see tributes to the writer’s legacy in Copenhagen, including a second statue of Andersen along the street named after him (H.C. Andersens Boulevard) and a sculpture of the Little Mermaid at Langelinje Pier. Visitors are also welcome at his childhood home in Odense, Denmark, and at a museum dedicated to his work in the same city.

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