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.)

Jane Austen's Handwritten Letter About a Nightmarish Visit to the Dentist Is Up for Auction

Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

For about $100,000, you could own a tangible reminder that Jane Austen hated going to the dentist, too—even when she wasn’t the patient.

After escorting her three nieces to a dentist named Spence in 1813, Austen was so appalled at the dental practices of the time that she described them to her sister Cassandra in a letter, which could now sell for $80,000 to $120,000 at an auction later this week. Smithsonian reports that the value is so high partially because only 161 of an estimated 3000 letters written by the celebrated author still exist; the rest were destroyed by Austen’s family after her death, possibly to avoid personal matters from leaking to the public.

jane austen letter about the dentist
Bonhams

This letter doesn’t contain anything particularly private, but it does provide some intimate insight into Austen—who famously remained unmarried and childless herself—as a doting aunt and sister.

“The poor Girls & their Teeth!” she wrote. “We were a whole hour at Spence’s, & Lizzy’s were filed and lamented over again & poor Marianne had two taken out after all … we heard each of the two sharp hasty screams.”

While Austen doesn’t speculate about whether or not the work on the aforementioned nieces’ teeth was necessary, she definitely had an opinion about Spence’s treatment of her third (and favorite) niece Fanny.

“Fanny’s teeth were cleaned too—& pretty as they are, Spence found something to do to them, putting in gold & talking gravely … but I think he must be a Lover of Teeth & Money & Mischief to parade about Fannys [sic].”

If you think a visit to the dentist is uncomfortable in the age of anesthetics and easily accessible milkshakes, you can imagine that getting teeth filed, filled, and pulled in the early 19th century was a full-fledged nightmare. The main fix for a cavity was simply pulling the tooth out, which the Jane Austen Center explains was often done with a pelican or key, both metal instruments that were braced against the gum and then twisted to tear out the tooth.

In addition to the horrifying dental report, Austen also writes about her mother’s improving health, a visit to a family friend, and a department store shopping trip.

Bonhams will include the letter in their annual Americana and Travel auction in New York on Wednesday, October 23.

Curious to know more about the woman behind Pride and Prejudice? Check out eight intriguing facts here.

[h/t Smithsonian]

12 Amazing Facts About Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great moved to a foreign land as a teenager and became one of the most important leaders in its history. During her 34-year reign, she transformed Russia’s culture while expanding its borders. Here's what you need to know about the unlikely ruler, who is the subject of not one, but two series: HBO's Catherine the Great, which debuts on October 21, 2019, and Hulu's The Great, slated for 2020.

  1. Catherine the Great's name wasn't Catherine.

The woman who would become Catherine the Great was born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst on April 21, 1729 (Julian Calendar) in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland). She was the daughter of Christian August, a minor German prince and general in the Prussian army, and Princess Johanna Elisabeth, who had connections to the Russian royal family.

Despite being a princess herself, young Sophie wasn’t exactly a top-tier member of the European nobility. But thanks to her mother’s campaigning, she was chosen to marry Karl Peter Ulrich (later known as Tsar Peter III), heir to the Russian throne. The couple wed on August 21, 1745. Sophie converted to Russian Orthodoxy—despite her Lutheran father’s objections—and took on a new Russian name: Ekaterina, or “Catherine.” Her official title would be Empress Catherine II (Peter the Great's second wife had been Empress Catherine I).

  1. Catherine the Great's marriage to Peter the III was rocky.

Catherine and Peter were an ill-matched pair: Catherine was bright and ambitious whereas Peter, according to Britannica, was "mentally feeble." Catherine didn’t like him: “Peter III had no greater enemy than himself; all his actions bordered on insanity,” she wrote in 1789. Her memoirs portray the Tsar as a drunk, a simpleton, and somebody who “took pleasure in beating men and animals.” Whether these statements are accurate or not, Catherine and her spouse were clearly unhappy, and they both had extramarital affairs. Catherine had at least three affairs, and hinted that none of her children were her husband's.

  1. Catherine the Great overthrew Peter the III so that she could rule.

Peter III assumed the throne on January 5, 1762, and was immediately unpopular. He enraged the military by pulling out of the Seven Years’ War and making big concessions to Russia’s adversaries in the process.

Eventually, Catherine believed that Peter was going to divorce her—so she worked with her lover, Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, and her other allies to overthrow him and take the throne for herself. In July 1762, just six months after he took the throne, Peter III was deposed in a coup d'état. Eight days later, he was killed while in the custody of one of Catherine's co-conspirators.

With Peter out of the picture, Catherine became the new empress of Russia. She was formally crowned on September 22, 1762. She never married again, and took numerous lovers during her long reign.

  1. Voltaire was basically Catherine the Great's pen pal.

Catherine, a bibliophile, built up a collection of 44,000 books. Early in her reign, she began a correspondence with one of her favorite authors: The great Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. Russia fascinated Voltaire, who had written a biography of Peter the Great. Catherine would never get the chance to meet him in person, but through these letters, she and Voltaire discussed everything from disease prevention to Catherine's love of English gardens.

  1. Catherine the Great annexed Crimea.

Russian interest in the Crimean Peninsula long predates Vladimir Putin. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774, Catherine seized the landmass, thus strengthening Russia’s presence on the Black Sea. And her conquests didn’t end there. Over 200,000 square miles of new territory was added to the Russian empire during Catherine’s rule. Much of it was acquired when the once-independent nation of Poland was divided between Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Tsarina Catherine’s slice contained portions of modern-day Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine.

An illustration of Catherine the Great.
iStock.com/traveler1116
  1. Great Britain asked for Catherine the Great's help when the Revolutionary War broke out.

In 1775, the Earl of Dartmouth approached Catherine with a request for 20,000 Russian troops to help Britain put down the colonial rebellion in America. She refused. As the war continued, British diplomats kept trying to establish an alliance with Russia, hoping that the Empress would either send military aid or, failing that, pressure France into abandoning the American cause. Catherine did neither. However, out of concern for Russian shipping interests in the Atlantic (and elsewhere), she did attempt to mediate an end to the violence between Britain and its rebellious colonies in 1780.

  1. Alaska was colonized on Catherine the Great's watch.

Russian explorers had been visiting Alaska since 1741, but the empire didn’t set up its first permanent colony there until 1784, when merchant Grigory Shelikhov sailed to Kodiak Island and established the Three Saints Bay Colony. Later, in 1788, he visited Catherine in St. Petersburg and asked if she’d give his company a monopoly over the area’s lucrative fur trade. She denied his request, but thanked the explorer for “[discovering] new lands and peoples for the benefit of the state.” Russia’s colonial presence in North America would continue long after Catherine’s death—and it wasn’t limited to Alaska.

  1. Catherine the Great embraced inoculation.

Thomas Dimsdale, an English physician, built upon an existing technique for immunizing people to smallpox. The technique involved finding a carrier of the ailment, then taking a blade dipped in a very, very small amount of "the unripe, crude or watery matter" from that person's pustules and injecting it into the patient’s body. In 18th century Russia, smallpox claimed millions of lives, so Catherine was eager to see if Dimsdale’s strategy worked. At her invitation, he came to Russia and quietly inoculated the empress. The procedure was a success, and with the Tsarina’s encouragement, Dimsdale inoculated about 150 members of the nobility. Before the end of the century, approximately 2 million Russians had received smallpox inoculations.

  1. A rebel claimed to be Catherine the Great's dead husband.

Catherine’s Enlightenment-fueled beliefs didn't lead to the demise of serfdom. According to Marc Raeff in his book Catherine the Great: A Profile, "During her reign it was possible to buy and sell serfs with or without land, buy whole families or individuals, transact sales on the estate or marketplace; contemporaries termed all this ‘veritable slavery.'”

The unjust arrangement triggered 160 documented peasant uprisings in the first 10 years of Catherine’s reign. The best known of them was Pugachev’s Rebellion (1773-1775) [PDF], which was organized by Yemelyan Pugachev, a veteran of the Russo-Turkish wars. To win support, he introduced himself as Catherine’s deposed and deceased spouse, Peter III (even though Pugachev looked nothing like Peter). Pugachev and his followers enjoyed some big military victories early on, but after a crushing defeat in August 1774, their revolution fell apart. Pugachev was captured and executed in Moscow on January 10, 1775.

  1. Catherine the Great's art collection was the basis of St. Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum.

In 1764, Catherine purchased a set of 225 paintings—including works by Rembrandt and Frans Hals—from a Berlin dealer, and founded the Hermitage with those works. Catherine went on to buy or commission thousands of additional pieces for her budding museum. Today, the State Hermitage Museum has more than 3 million items in its collections.

  1. Catherine the Great was Russia's longest-serving female leader.

Thirty-four years after assuming the throne, Catherine passed away on November 6, 1796. The monarch was succeeded by her son, Tsar Paul I.

  1. Wild rumors flew after Catherine the Great's death—including that one about the horse.

A lot of rumors sprung up in the wake of Catherin's death. One said that she had died while on the toilet, while another—the most persistent tale, and a completely unfounded one—claimed that Catherine the Great was crushed to death while attempting to have sex with a stallion. Where exactly the story came from is unknown; an autopsy determined that the empress had actually died of a cerebral stroke.

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