15 Post-Harry Potter Revelations from Pottermore

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Since J.K. Rowling launched Pottermore in 2012, the Harry Potter author has been steadily revealing secrets of the wizarding world, delving into the histories of beloved (and some not-so-beloved) characters, and discussing her thoughts on the books and characters. Here are a few things we've learned.

1. THE FIRST MEETING BETWEEN THE POTTERS AND THE DURSLEYS WAS A DISASTER.

Petunia had long hated being overshadowed by her witch sister, and her fiance and future husband, Vernon Dursley, hated all things that weren’t perfectly normal—so they were pretty much predisposed to hating all things magical. But it was the first meeting between the couple and Lily and James that really cemented that attitude:

James was amused by Vernon, and made the mistake of showing it. Vernon tried to patronize James, asking what car he drove. James described his racing broom. Vernon supposed out loud that wizards had to live on unemployment benefit. James explained about Gringotts, and the fortune his parents had saved there, in solid gold. Vernon could not tell whether he was being made fun of or not, and grew angry. The evening ended with Vernon and Petunia storming out of the restaurant, while Lily burst into tears and James (a little ashamed of himself) promised to make things up with Vernon at the earliest opportunity.

Of course, no amends were ever made. Petunia didn’t ask Lily to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, and, Rowling writes, “Vernon refused to speak to James at the reception, but described him, within James' earshot, as 'some kind of amateur magician.'” The couple didn’t attend James and Lily’s wedding, and the last letter Petunia received from the magical pair—Harry’s birth announcement—went in the trash.

Fun fact: Rowling reveals that, though many other characters went through name changes, Petunia and Vernon’s names were set from the start. “‘Vernon’ is simply a name I never much cared for,” she writes. “‘Petunia’ is the name that I always gave unpleasant female characters in games of make believe I played with my sister, Di, when we were very young. … The surname ‘Dursley’ was taken from the eponymous town in Gloucestershire, which is not very far from where I was born. I have never visited Dursley, and I expect that it is full of charming people. It was the sound of the word that appealed, rather than any association with the place.”

2. THE IDENTITIES OF ALL THE MINISTERS FOR MAGIC.

The Ministry of Magic was established in 1707 (it took over for the Wizard Council as the governing body of the wizarding community). Rowling has listed out all of the Ministers for Magic since then, along with short descriptions of their time in office. A few of our favorites include Basil Flack (1752), “Shortest serving minister. Lasted two months; resigned after the goblins joined forces with werewolves”; Evangeline Orpington (1849-55), “A good friend of Queen Victoria’s, who never realised she was a witch, let alone Minister for Magic”; and Wilhemina Tuft (1948-59), a “Cheery witch who presided over a period of welcome peace and prosperity. Died in office after discovering, too late, her allergy to Alihotsy-flavoured fudge.”

3. CORNELIUS FUDGE GAVE HIMSELF THE WIZARDING WORLD’S TOP HONOR.

The Order of Merlin First Class is awarded for “‘acts of outstanding bravery or distinction’ in magic.” Dumbledore received the award—a gold medal on a green ribbon—for defeating the Dark Wizard Grindlewald, a decision everyone agreed with. But when Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic, awarded it to himself for “a career that many considered less than distinguished,” there was “a good deal of muttering in the wizarding community.”

4. UMBRIDGE HAD A SQUIB BROTHER—AND A MUGGLE MOM!

You'd never guess from the books that the Mud Blood hating, all-around toad Dolores Umbridge was anything but a pure blood. But Umbridge was a half-blood, the eldest child and only daughter of wizard Orford Umbridge and muggle Ellen Cracknell. Her brother was a Squib. Her parents weren't happy, and, Rowling writes, “Dolores secretly despised both of them”:

Orford for his lack of ambition (he had never been promoted, and worked in the Department of Magical Maintenance at the Ministry of Magic), and her mother, Ellen, for her flightiness, untidiness, and Muggle lineage. Both Orford and his daughter blamed Ellen for Dolores's brother's lack of magical ability, with the result that when Dolores was fifteen, the family split down the middle, Orford and Dolores remaining together, and Ellen vanishing back into the Muggle world with her son. Dolores never saw her mother or brother again, never spoke of either of them, and henceforth pretended to all she met that she was a pure-blood.

The essay explains Umbridge’s rocket ascent through the Ministry of Magic, covers her failure to find a husband, and explains how she came to be on Voldemort’s side during his takeover. You can read the whole thing here.

5. MINERVA MCGONAGALL HAD A SAD CHILDHOOD.

Minerva McGonagall, future Hogwarts Transfiguration teacher and headmistress, was the first child of Reverend Robert McGonagall, a Muggle, and Isobel Ross, a witch. There was just one problem: Isobel didn’t tell Robert that she was a witch until after Minerva was born, a choice that broke the trust between the young witch’s parents. “Minerva, a clever and observant child, saw this with sadness,” Rowling writes:

Minerva was very close to her Muggle father, whom in temperament she resembled more than her mother. She saw with pain how much he struggled with the family's strange situation. She sensed too, how much of a strain it was on her mother to fit in with the all-Muggle village, and how much she missed the freedom of being with her own kind, and of not exercising her considerable talents. Minerva never forgot how much her mother cried, when the letter of admittance into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry arrived on Minerva's eleventh birthday; she knew that Isobel was sobbing, not only out of pride, but also of envy.

This knowledge directly affected McGonagall’s life after Hogwarts, when she met a Muggle named Dougal McGregor, “the handsome, clever and funny son of a local farmer.” They fell in love, and when he proposed, McGonagall accepted. But that very night, she realized their love could never be, because “Dougal did not know what she, Minerva, truly was ... Minerva had witnessed at close quarters the kind of marriage she might have if she wed Dougal. It would be the end of all her ambitions; it would mean a wand locked away, and children taught to lie, perhaps even to their own father. She did not fool herself that Dougal McGregor would accompany her to London, while she went to work every day at the Ministry. He was looking forward to inheriting his father’s farm.”

She broke off their engagement without telling him why—if she violated the International Statute of Secrecy, she would have lost her job at the Ministry, “for which she was giving him up,” Rowling writes. “She left him devastated, and set out for London three days later.”

6. WHY HARRY COULDN’T ALWAYS SEE THESTRALS.

This is something that has bothered many a Harry Potter fan: If thestrals are “invisible to all who have never been truly touched by death,” and if anyone who has seen someone die can see the thestrals, why couldn’t Harry see them after his parents died, or after witnessing Cedric’s murder in the graveyard?

Though she’s touched on it in interviews, Rowling is now making this part of canon, explaining that a person not only needs to witness death to see thestrals, but must also have gained an emotional understanding of what death means ... the precise moment when such knowledge dawns varies greatly from person to person.” Harry was just a baby when his parents died, and therefore couldn’t comprehend it. And after Cedric died, it took weeks “before the full import of death’s finality was borne upon [Harry].” Only after that had happened could he see the creepy (but “kindly and gentle”) thestrals.

7. SYBILL TRELAWNEY WAS MARRIED!

Unfortunately, it ended “in unforeseen rupture when she refused to adopt the surname ‘Higginbottom.’” Also fun: One of her hobbies is “sherry.”

8. ICE CREAM PARLOR OWNER FLOREAN FORTESCUE WAS KIDNAPPED AS PART OF A PLOT ROWLING DECIDED NOT TO USE.

Many a book reader has been puzzled by the Death Eaters’ abduction and killing of Florean Fortescue, the wizard, magical history buff, and ice cream parlor owner Harry meets in Prisoner of Azkaban. In one Pottermore extra, Rowling revealed that she had “originally planned Florean to be the conduit for clues that I needed to give Harry during his quest for the Hallows, which is why I established an acquaintance fairly early on … I imagined the historically-minded Florean might have a smattering of information on matters as diverse as the Elder Wand and the diadem of Ravenclaw, the information having been passed down in the Fortescue family from their august ancestor,” former Hogwarts Headmaster Dexter Florean:

As I worked my way nearer to the point where such information would become necessary, I caused Florean to be kidnapped, intending him to be found or rescued by Harry and his friends.

The problem was that when I came to write the key parts of Deathly Hallows I decided that Phineas Nigellus Black was a much more satisfactory means of conveying clues. Florean's information on the diadem also felt redundant, as I could give the reader everything he or she needed by interviewing the Grey Lady.

So, unfortunately, Rowling had the character meet his untimely end for no real reason at all. “He is not the first wizard whom Voldemort murdered because he knew too much (or too little),” Rowling writes, “but he is the only one I feel guilty about, because it was all my fault.”

9. DRACO MALFOY WAS RAISED TO BELIEVE HARRY WAS A GREAT DARK WIZARD.

One of many theories that went around after Harry survived Voldemort’s curse was that The Boy Who Lived was actually a great Dark wizard—and it was this theory that Lucius Malfoy, Draco’s father, clung to. “It was comforting to think that he, Lucius, might be in for a second chance of world domination, should this Potter boy prove to be another, and greater, pure-blood champion,” Rowling writes. Which is why Draco went out of his way to befriend Harry on the Hogwarts Express:

Harry’s refusal of Draco’s friendly overtures, and the fact that he had already formed allegiance to Ron Weasley, whose family is anathema to the Malfoys, turns Malfoy against him at once. Draco realised, correctly, that the wild hopes of the ex-Death Eaters – that Harry Potter was another, and better, Voldemort – are completely unfounded, and their mutual enmity is assured from that point.

Rowling also reveals that Draco could have had a very different last name; Smart, Spinks, or Spungen were all options.

10. SOME WIZARDS USE “NAMING SEERS.”

In the Harry Potter world, this “ancient wizarding practice”—in which a witch or wizard gifted with the sight “will predict the child’s future and suggest an accurate moniker”—will cost parents a lot of gold. But Rowling writes that it’s going out of vogue.

11. THERE’S ONLY ONE LICENSED MAKER OF FLOO POWDER IN BRITAIN.

This substance, invented by Ignatia Wildsmith in the 13th century, is made in Britain by Floo-Pow, “a company whose headquarters are in Diagon Alley, and who never answer their front door.” The price, 100 sickles for a scoop, has remained a constant for 100 years. Much like the recipes for Coke and Bush’s Baked Beans, the precise composition of Floo Powder, Rowling writes, is “a closely guarded secret”:

Those who have tried to “make their own” have been universally unsuccessful. At least once a year, St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries reports what they call a ‘Faux Floo’ injury— in other words, somebody has thrown a homemade powder onto a fire and suffered the consequences. As irate Healer and St Mungo’s spokeswizard, Rutherford Poke, said in 2010: “It’s two Sickles a scoop, people, so stop being cheap, stop throwing powdered Runespoor fangs on the fire and stop blowing yourselves out of the chimney! If one more wizard comes in here with a burned backside, I swear I won’t treat him. It’s two Sickles a scoop!”

12. THE MALFOYS WEREN'T ALWAYS SO HATEFUL OF MUGGLES.

Rowling reveals in the Malfoy family history that, at one point, they were quite close to Muggles they deemed worthy. “In spite of their espousal of pure-blood values and their undoubtedly genuine belief in wizards' superiority over Muggles, the Malfoys have never been above ingratiating themselves with the non-magical community when it suits them,” Rowling writes. This includes—according to rumor, anyway—trading in Muggle money and assets, annexing Muggle land, and procuring Muggle art and other treasures for the family collection.

They often hung out in Muggle social circles as well—but only wealthy Muggles, of course. “Historically, the Malfoys drew a sharp distinction between poor Muggles and those with wealth and authority,” Rowling writes. “Until the imposition of the Statute of Secrecy in 1692, the Malfoy family was active within high-born Muggle circles, and it is said that their fervent opposition to the imposition of the Statute was due, in part, to the fact that they would have to withdraw from this enjoyable sphere of social life.”

Once the Ministry of Magic—“the new heart of power”—was founded, the Malfoys “performed an abrupt volte-face, and became as vocally supportive of the Statute as any of those who had championed it from the beginning, hastening to deny that they had ever been on speaking (or marrying) terms with Muggles.”

13. LUCIUS MALFOY I WANTED TO MARRY A QUEEN.

It's not that surprising that a member of this ambitious and power-hungry would want to be royalty. “There is ample evidence to suggest that the first Lucius Malfoy was an unsuccessful aspirant to the hand of Elizabeth I, and some wizarding historians allege that the Queen's subsequent opposition to marriage was due to a jinx placed upon her by the thwarted Malfoy,” Rowling writes. This, of course, happened long before the Malfoys changed their tune on Muggles, and later, the scandalous story was “hotly denied by subsequent generations.”

14. FENRIR GREYBACK ATTACKED REMUS LUPIN BECAUSE OF SOMETHING LUPIN’S FATHER SAID.

During Voldemort’s initial rise to power, Lyall Lupin, Remus’s father, joined the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, where he encountered Fenrir Greyback, “who had been brought in for questioning about the death of two Muggle children.” Because the Werewolf Registry was poorly maintained, and Lupin’s colleagues didn’t see the signs, they believed Greyback’s claim that he was a Muggle tramp. “Lyall Lupin was not so easily fooled,” Rowling wrote. “He ... told the committee that Greyback ought to be kept in detention until the next full moon, a mere twenty-four hours later.” When his colleagues laughed at him, Lupin grew angry, calling werewolves “soulless, evil, deserving nothing but death.” After Greyback was released, he told his fellow werewolves how Lupin had described them, and vowed to get his revenge—which he did, shortly before Remus turned 5:

As [Remus Lupin] slept peacefully in his bed, Fenrir Greyback forced open the boy's window and attacked him. Lyall reached the bedroom in time to save his son's life, driving Greyback out of the house with a number of powerful curses. However, henceforth, Remus would be a full-fledged werewolf.

Lyall Lupin never forgave himself for the words he had spoken in front of Greyback at the inquiry ... He had parroted what was the common view of werewolves in his community, but his son was what he had always been—loveable and clever—except for that terrible period at the full moon when he suffered an excruciating transformation and became a danger to everyone around him. For many years, Lyall kept the truth about the attack, including the identity of the attacker, from his son, fearing Remus's recriminations.

15. AZKABAN HAS A REALLY DARK HISTORY.

Rowling writes that the North Sea island on which the prison is built has never appeared on any map, wizard or muggle. An early resident, a sorcerer named Ekrizdis who practiced the worst kinds of dark magic, lured Muggle sailors there and tortured and killed them. When he died, the concealment charms faded, and the Ministry became aware of the island’s existence. “Those who entered to investigate refused afterwards to talk of what they had found inside,” Rowling writes, “but the least frightening part of it was that the place was infested with dementors.”

See Also: 12 Post-Potter Revelations J.K. Rowling Has Shared

15 Facts About Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure on Its 30th Anniversary

MGM
MGM

In 1989, a couple of slackers from San Dimas, California hopped inside a time-traveling phone booth and gathered a gaggle of key figures from the past so they wouldn’t fail their high school history class. In 1991, they were at it again. Now, 30 years after Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter first cemented their place in sci-fi history as the lovable duo, the long-awaited threequel—Bill & Ted Face the Music—has been officially confirmed. Here are 15 things you might not know about the most excellent original film.

1. Bill and Ted were born in an improv class.

The idea for the characters of Bill and Ted came about in 1983, when UCLA classmates Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson formed a student improv workshop with a few of their peers. “One day, we decided to do a couple of guys who knew nothing about history, talking about history,” Solomon recalled to Cinemafantastique in a 1991 interview. “The initial improv was them studying history, while Ted’s father kept coming up to ask them to turn their music down.” (Solomon played Ted, Matheson was Bill.)

2. Originally, it was Bill & Ted & Bob.

When the skit originated, there was a third character, Bob. But “Bob” wasn’t as into it as Solomon and Matheson, so the trio became a duo.

3. Bill wanted to be Ted and Ted wanted to be Bill.

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Keanu Reeves playing Ted Logan, or another actor besides Alex Winter in the role of Bill S. Preston, Esq., but each actor actually auditioned for the opposite role. But when Solomon and Matheson saw their audition tapes, they thought the opposite would work better. In an online chat with Moviefone, Reeves claimed that he didn’t even know their roles had been switched until after he had been cast. “I got a call saying that I got the part,” Reeves recalled. “So I went to the wardrobe fitting… assuming I was playing Bill, and I get there and Alex Winter, who eventually played Bill, went to the wardrobe fitting thinking he was playing Ted. Then we were informed that that wasn't the case.”

4. Pauly Shore also wanted to be Ted.


Getty Images

Pauly Shore was among the hundreds of actors who auditioned for the role of Ted. In 1991, Shore hosted an MTV special, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Premiere Party, in which Shore corners Reeves in a back room to talk about his failed audition. Lucky for America, Shore did go on to find fame apart from Bill & Ted, and bring the phrase, “Hey, Bu-ddy!” into the popular lexicon.

5. No, Bio-Dome is not Bill & Ted's threequel.

Speaking of Pauly Shore ... For years, rumors circulated that the script for 1996’s Bio-Dome—starring Shore and Stephen Baldwin—was actually written as the third film in the Bill & Ted franchise. In 2011, Winter laid this rumor to rest when he told /Film that the story is “total urban legend as far as I know. No one involved in that movie had anything to do with Bill & Ted. So unless they were just going to try and reboot the franchise with that concept and different actors, I can’t see a connection.”

6. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter weren't quite nerdy enough.

The casting of Reeves and Winter posed a problem for the script. “Bill and Ted were conceived in our minds as these 14-year-old skinny guys, with low-rider bellbottoms and heavy metal T-shirts,” Solomon told Cinefantastique. “We actually had a scene that was even shot, with Bill and Ted walking past a group of popular kids who hate them. But once you cast Alex and Keanu, who look like pretty cool guys, that was hard to believe.”

7. George Carlin was a happy accident.


Getty Images

In a 2013 Reddit AMA, Alex Winter called the casting of George Carlin (as Rufus, Bill and Ted’s mentor) “a very happy accident. They were going after serious people first. Like Sean Connery. And someone had the idea, way after we started shooting, of George. That whole movie was a happy accident. No one thought it would ever see the light of day.”

8. The time machine was originally a van.

In Solomon and Matheson’s original script, it was a 1969 Chevy van that served as Bill and Ted’s time machine. But in the course of rewriting the script for Warner Bros., who showed early interest in producing the project, there was concern that a motor vehicle as time machine would ring too closely as a rip-off of Back to the Future, which arrived in theaters in 1985. It was director Stephen Herek who suggested a phone booth, as he thought it could lend itself to something akin to a roller coaster in the visuals. (The phone booth’s similarity to Doctor Who’s TARDIS was apparently not a big concern to the studio.)

9. Some Nintendo lover has that phone booth.

As part of a promotion for 1991’s Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure, Nintendo Power magazine gave away Bill & Ted’s phone booth as a contest prize. The lucky winner was one Kenneth Grayson, who Reddit tracked down for an AMA in 2011. Grayson spent much of the chat answering questions about whether or not any X-rated activities had ever taken place in the phone booth.

10. The script was written in four days. By hand.

In 1984, Solomon and Matheson wrote the script over the course of just four days. They wrote it by hand, on note paper, during a series of meetings at a couple of local coffee shops. The 2005 box set, Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection, features some of their handwritten notes.

11. Sci-fi wasn't part of the plan.

Keanu Reeves, Dan Shor, and Alex Winter in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
MGM

Though Matheson is the son of legendary sci-fi writer Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend, he didn’t intend for Bill & Ted to be a science-fiction movie. “I try to consciously fight it, out of a desire to break away, but maybe I have a predilection toward that because of my dad,” Matheson told Starlog Magazine of the inevitable fantasy elements that emerged. “He’s a great writer and craftsman, and always has suggestions.” In fact, it was the elder Matheson’s idea that the time travel story be its own movie. “We were going to write a sketch film, with this as one of the skits, but my dad said, ‘That sounds like a whole movie,’” Matheson recalled, “And he was right!”

12. Bill and Ted almost traveled straight to television.

Shortly after principal photography on the film was completed in 1987, the film’s financiers, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bankrupt. A straight-to-cable release was the most likely path for the time-traveling comedy until Orion Pictures and Nelson Entertainment bought the rights in 1988 for a 1989 release. Because of the delay to theaters, references to the year—which had been filmed as “1987”—had to be dubbed for 1988, resulting in a few scenes where the actors’ lips don’t quite match the sound.

13. Their journeys continued in a variety of media.

In addition to the 1991 sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the Bill & Ted franchise includes 1990’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, an animated series for which Reeves, Winter, and Carlin provided the voices. It lasted for one season. The title was revived as a live-action series in 1992, which included none of the original cast and ran for just seven episodes. In 1991, Marvel Comics launched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book, written by Evan Dorkin.

14. Back in the late 1980s, you could eat Bill and Ted.

As a tie-in to the animated series, you could—for a short while—actually start your morning with a bowl of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal, which was touted as “A Most Awesome Breakfast Adventure.”

15. Bill and Ted will ride again.

Over the past several years there has been a lot of buzz about a third Bill & Ted movie coming to theaters. In 2011, Winter tweeted that the script had been completed and that he was getting ready to read it. When asked about the possibility of a threequel in 2013, Reeves told the Today Show, “I'm open to the idea of that. I think it’s pretty surreal, playing Bill and Ted at 50. But we have a good story in that. You can see the life and joy in those characters, and I think the world can always use some life and joy.” Several references to the possible project have been made since then, and it's now been confirmed that the third film, Bill and Ted Face the Music, is currently in pre-production.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, via a report from the Cannes Film Festival, Matheson and Solomon co-wrote the script and Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) is attached to direct. Reeves and Winter will, of course, be reprising their roles, which "will see the duo long past their days as time-traveling teenagers and now weighed down by middle age and the responsibilities of family. They’ve written thousands of tunes, but they have yet to write a good one, much less the greatest song ever written." Excellent!

25 Things You Might Not Know About Thomas Jefferson

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iStock

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third president of the United States, penned one of the greatest documents of the modern world in the Declaration of Independence. While that’s certainly a career highlight, it’s far from the only interesting thing about him. For more on Jefferson’s life, accomplishments, and controversies, take a look at this assembly of 25 facts.

1. He was addicted to learning.

Born April 13 (April 2 on the pre-Gregorian calendar), 1743 at his father’s Shadwell plantation in Virginia, Jefferson was one of 10 children (eight of whom survived to adulthood). While he attended the College of William and Mary (he graduated in 1762), he was said to have studied for 15 hours daily on top of violin practice. The hard work paid off: Jefferson moved into law studies before becoming a lawyer in 1767. Two years later, he became a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, the Virginia legislature. His autodidact ways continued throughout his life: Jefferson could speak four languages (English, Italian, French, Latin) and read two more (Greek and Spanish).

2. His greatest work was a study in contradiction.

As a member of the Second Continental Congress and the “Committee of Five” (a group consisting of John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson brought together for this purpose), Jefferson was tasked with writing the Declaration of Independence, an argument against the 13 colonies being held under British rule. While the Declaration insisted that all men are created equal and that their right to liberty is inherent at birth, Jefferson’s plantation origins meant that he embraced the institution of slavery. In any given year, Jefferson supervised up to 200 slaves, with roughly half under the age of 16. He perpetuated acts of cruelty, sometimes selling slaves and having them relocated away from their families as punishment. Yet in a book titled Notes on the State of Virginia (which he began writing during his stint as governor and published in 1785), Jefferson wrote that he believed the practice was unjust and “tremble[d]” at the idea of God exacting vengeance on those who perpetuated it. Though Jefferson acknowledged slavery as morally repugnant—and also criticized the slave trade in a passage that was cut from the Declaration of Independence "in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia”—he offered no hesitation in benefiting personally from it, a hypocrisy that would haunt his legacy through the present day.

3. He didn't like being rewritten.

After drafting the Declaration, Jefferson waited as Congress poured over his document for two days. When they broke session, Jefferson was annoyed to find that they were calling for extensive changes and revisions. He disliked the fact the passage criticizing the slave trade was to be omitted, along with some of his harsh words against British rule. Benjamin Franklin soothed his irritation, and the finished Declaration was adopted July 4, 1776, spreading via horseback and ship throughout that summer.

4. He recorded everything.

After inheriting his family’s Shadwell estate, Jefferson began constructing a new brick mansion on the property he dubbed Monticello, which means “little mountain” in Italian. For operations at Monticello and the properties he would acquire later in life, Jefferson was preoccupied with recording the minutiae of his daily routine, jotting down journal entries about the weather, his expansive garden, and the behavior of animals on his property. He kept a running tally of the hogs killed in a given year, mused about crop rotations, and noted the diet of his slaves.

5. He doubled the size of the country.

Jefferson’s greatest feat as president, an office he held from 1801 to 1809, was the Louisiana Purchase, a treaty-slash-transaction with France that effectively doubled the size of the United States. The deal took careful diplomacy, as Jefferson knew that France controlling the Mississippi River would have huge ramifications on trade movements. Fortunately, Napoleon Bonaparte was in the mood to deal, hoping the sale of the 830,000 square miles would help finance his armed advances on Europe. Bonaparte wanted $22 million; he settled for $15 million. Jefferson was elated, though some critics alleged the Constitution didn’t strictly allow for a president to purchase foreign soil.

6. He fought pirates.

Another instance where Jefferson pushed the limits of his Constitutional power was his fierce response to Barbary pirates, a roving band of plunderers from North Africa who frequently targeted supply ships in the Mediterranean and held them for ransom. Under Jefferson’s orders, American warships were dispatched to confront the pirates directly rather than capitulate to their demands. The initial Navy push was successful, but the pirates were able to capture a massive American frigate—which an American raiding party subsequently set fire to so the ship couldn't be used against them. A treaty was declared in 1805, although tensions resumed in what was known as the Second Barbary War in 1815. Again, Naval ships forced Algerian ships to retreat.

7. He helped popularize ice cream in the U.S.

Jefferson spent time in France in the 1700s as a diplomat, and that’s where he was likely introduced to the dessert delicacy known as ice cream. While not the first to port over recipes to the United States, his frequent serving of it during his time as president contributed to increased awareness. Jefferson was so fond of ice cream that he had special molds and tools imported from France to help his staff prepare it; because there was no refrigeration at the time, the confections were typically kept in ice houses and brought out to the amusement of guests, who were surprised by a frozen dish during summer parties. He also left behind what may be the first ice cream recipe in America: six egg yolks, a half-pound of sugar, two bottles of cream, and one vanilla bean.

8. He bribed a reporter.

Presidential scandals and dogged newspaper reporters are not strictly a 20th or 21st century dynamic. In the 1790s, a reporter named James Callender ran articles condemning several politicians—including Alexander Hamilton and John Adams—for various indiscretions. In 1801, he turned his attention to Jefferson, whom he alleged was having an affair with one of his slaves, a woman named Sally Hemings. Callender went to Jefferson and demanded he receive $200 and a job as a postmaster in exchange for his silence. Disgusted, Jefferson gave him $50. Callender eventually broke the news that Hemings and Jefferson had been involved, a relationship that resulted in several children. Jefferson supporters ignored the story—which modern-day DNA testing later corroborated—but Callender was never in a position to gather more evidence: He drowned in the James River in 1803.

9. He had a pet mockingbird.

Even before the Revolution, Jefferson had taken a liking to mockingbirds, and he brought this affection to the White House, which they filled with melodious song. (And, presumably, bird poop.) But he was singularly affectionate toward one mockingbird he named Dick. The bird was allowed to roam Jefferson’s office or perch on the president’s shoulder. When Jefferson played his violin, Dick would accompany with vocals. Dick and his colleagues followed Jefferson back to Monticello when he was finished with his second term in 1809.

10. He invented a few things.

Not one to sit idle, Jefferson used his available free time to consider solutions to some of the problems that followed him at his Monticello farming endeavors. Anxious to till soil more efficiently, he and his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, conceived of a plow that could navigate hills. He also tinkered with a way of improving a dumbwaiter, the elevator typically used to deliver food and other goods from one floor to another.

11. His wife had a curious connection to his mistress.

Jefferson was married for just 10 years before his wife, Martha Wayles, died in 1782 at age 33 of unknown causes. Curiously, Jefferson’s involvement with his slave, Sally Hemings, was part of Martha's convoluted family tree. Martha’s father, John Wayles, had an affair with Sally’s mother, Elizabeth Hemings—meaning most historians think Sally and Martha were half-sisters.

12. He's credited with creating a catchphrase.

During his second term as president, Jefferson was said to have run into a man on horseback near his Monticello estate who proceeded to engage him in a lengthy complaint of everything wrong in Washington. Reportedly, the man had no idea he was speaking to the commander-in-chief until Jefferson introduced himself. The man, deeply embarrassed, quickly spouted “my name is Haines” and then galloped away. True or not, Jefferson is credited with originating the resulting catchphrase that was popular in the 1800s, with people saying “my name is Haines” whenever they wanted to feign embarrassment or were forced to leave abruptly.

13. He was served with a subpoena.

Long before Richard Nixon landed in hot water, Thomas Jefferson resisted attempts to compel him to testify in court. The matter unraveled in 1807, when James Wilkinson insisted he had sent Jefferson a letter informing him of Aaron Burr’s plot to invade Mexico. Government attorneys wanted Jefferson to appear with the letter, but the president—who said that the country would be left without leadership if he traveled to Richmond to answer the subpoena—refused to appear, an act of executive willpower that was never challenged in court.

14. He had a secret retreat.

Though Monticello remained Jefferson’s pride and joy, he had another residence for times when he wanted to be alone. Poplar Forest, located near Lynchburg, Virginia, was an octagonal home that he had built to exacting detail: The windows were measured so they would bring in only Jefferson’s preferred amount of sunlight. The home took years to construct and was nearly ready by the time he left office in 1809. It’s now open to the public.

15. He was a shabby dresser.

After taking office, Jefferson offended some in Washington who believed the president should be an impeccably-dressed and polished social host. While many of his stature would opt for a carriage, Jefferson rode a horse and dressed in plain and comfortable clothing. He acknowledged only two official White House celebrations annually: the 4th of July and New Year’s Day.

16. He was an early wine connoisseur.

Centuries before wine appreciation became a national pastime, Jefferson was busy accumulating an eclectic wine cellar. His love for the drink coincided with his trip to France, where he was introduced to the various tastes and textures. He kept a well-stocked collection at Monticello and also tried growing his own European grapes, but was never successful.

17. He shocked people by eating a tomato.

Jefferson’s multitudes of crops included what were, for their time, unique and sometimes puzzling additions. He grew tomatoes when their consumption in Virginia was uncommon, and, according to one account from 1900, Jefferson reportedly appalled some onlookers when he would consume one in front of witnesses.

18. He probably had a fear of public speaking.

Without today’s methods of addressing the public—radio, television, and Twitter—Jefferson was largely free to succumb to his reported phobia of speaking in public. While working as a lawyer, he found himself unable to deliver orated arguments as eloquently as he could write them. When he did speak, it was apparently with a meek disposition. One listener to his inaugural address in 1801 described Jefferson’s speech as being in “so low a tone that few heard it.”

19. He harvested opium.

At Monticello’s sprawling vegetable and plant gardens, Jefferson grew over 300 different kinds of crops, flowers, and other sprouts. Among them were Papaver somniferum, the poppy seed that can be used to create opioid drugs. Common in Jefferson’s time, the plant is now under much closer scrutiny and the estate was forced to pull up their remaining crop in 1991.

20. Abraham Lincoln was not a fan.

Though they weren’t contemporaries, Abraham Lincoln sometimes seethed with animosity toward Jefferson. William Henry Herndon, Lincoln’s onetime law partner, wrote that Lincoln “hated” Jefferson both for his moral shortcomings and his political views. But Lincoln also recognized the potency of the Declaration, citing its words as proof of equality among the population. “All honor to Jefferson,” he said, for making the document a “stumbling block” for anyone arguing in favor of tyranny. But he still never liked the guy.

21. He sold a lot of books to the Library of Congress.

Jefferson, a voracious reader, was dismayed when the War of 1812 resulted in British forces burning the Capitol in Washington and reducing its 3000-volume library of books to ashes. To repopulate the repository of knowledge, Jefferson sold Congress his entire personal library of 6707 titles for $23,950. The sale was finalized in 1815, and the books were sent via wagon from Virginia to Washington.

22. He helped found the University of Virginia.

A fierce advocate of education, Jefferson used his later years to propagate an institution of higher learning. Jefferson began planning the resources for a Virginia state university during his presidential term, writing to the Virginia House of Delegates that a college should not be solely a house but a “village.” In the proceeding years, Jefferson arranged funding, contributed design ideas, and helped shepherd the University of Virginia toward its formal opening in March 1825. Known as the “founding father” of the school, his influence has not always been welcomed. In April 2018, protesting students spray-painted the words rapist (in reference to his controversial relationship with slave Sally Hemings) and racist on a campus statue.

23. He was always in debt.

Status, salary, and opportunities should collude to make sure presidents are in solid financial shape during and after their tenure in office. Jefferson was an exception. Despite inheriting his father’s estate, he was plagued by debt for most of his life. He often spent beyond his means, expanding his property and making additions and renovations with little regard for the cost involved. His father-in-law, John Wayles, carried debt, which Jefferson became responsible for when Wayles died in 1774. Jefferson himself died owing $107,000, or roughly $2 million today.

24. His onetime nemesis dies on the same day.

Before Jefferson passed away on July 4, 1826, he had finally made amends with John Adams, the president who preceded him in office and for whom Jefferson had acted as vice-president. The two men, once on the same side, had grown to resent the other’s approach to diplomacy and politics, with Jefferson lamenting Adams’s preference for centralized and meddlesome government—though according to Jefferson, the major issue was the so-called “Midnight Judges,” appointments that Jefferson felt “were from among [his] most ardent political enemies.”

Strangely, Adams passed away the same day as Jefferson, just five hours later. The date, July 4, was also the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence being adopted.

25. He wrote his own epitaph.

Jefferson wasn’t willing to leave his final resting place in the hands of others. He was exacting in how he wanted his grave marker to look and how his epitaph should read. He also directed the marker be made of inexpensive materials to dissuade vandals from bothering it. Following his death in 1826, several people chipped away at his grave in Monticello as souvenirs. Congress funded a new monument in 1882, which is still toured by visitors to the estate today. The engraving reads:

Here was buried

Thomas Jefferson

Author of the Declaration of American Independence

of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom

& Father of the University of Virginia

This time, no one had the temerity to rewrite him.

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