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57 Facts Every Disney Fan Should Know

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With Disney parks setting new attendance records and Star Wars crushing the box office, there's never been a better time to be a Disneyphile. Here are 57 things any hardcore Disney fan should know. (Note: For clarity’s sake, this list uses Walt to refer to the man and Disney to refer to the company.)

WALT DISNEY

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1. One of Walt’s first art jobs was drawing cartoons for a local barber in exchange for haircuts.

2. In order to scrape together the money for a train ticket to Hollywood, Walt took pictures of babies in Kansas City, Missouri.

3. Walt’s last words were not “Kurt Russell.” The actor's name was one of the last things he wrote in his office, but the note is undated—it could have been up to a month old at the time Walt died in a hospital. Russell does have a connection with Disney, though: He has appeared in a Disney produced or distributed film every decade since the 1960s, including 1969’s The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 1971’s The Barefoot Executive, 1981’s The Fox and the Hound, 1993’s Tombstone (which was distributed by Disney), and 2005’s Sky High. He still has time for the 2010s ... 

4. When Walt built the 1/8th scale Carolwood Pacific Railway in his backyard, he made his wife, Lillian, sign over the right of way through her flower garden. Their two daughters served as witnesses.

5. He’s most famous for voicing Mickey Mouse, but according to official Disney Archivist Dave Smith, Walt was also the voice of Ferdinand in the Academy Award-winning short Ferdinand the Bull. 

6. The first Disney educational film, which debuted in 1922, was called Tommy Tucker’s Tooth. Walt made it for a local dentist. (Other educational films include Four Methods of Flush Riveting for Lockheed, Advice on Lice, and the slightly better known The Story of Menstruation.)

FIRST, NOT FIRST

Disney has been responsible for many firsts in their long history, and has been falsely credited with others. Here are some of them.

7. Steamboat Willie wasn't the first cartoon with synchronized sound; animators had been experimenting for years. Iin fact, Max Fleischer had produced a couple of experimental sound cartoons four years before Steamboat. Walt himself saw a sound cartoon before Steamboat Willie’s audio was even recorded; he dismissed it as “a lot of racket and nothing else.”

8. The first feature-length animated film wasn’t actually Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (Walt himself admitted that it “was not the first feature-length cartoon by 20 years.”) Snow White wasn’t even Disney’s first. The first Disney animated “movie” was The Academy Award Review of Walt Disney Cartoons, a collection of several previously released shorts with new bridging narration that was released to build excitement for Snow White. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines an Animated Feature Film as having a running time of “more than 40 minutes" [PDF]. The Academy Award Review came in at 41.

9. While Toy Story is often credited as the first 100 percent computer animated movie, Brazilian film buffs disagree; they claim the Brazilian movie Cassiopeia was first. Cassiopeia was released after Toy Story, but because Pixar had used clay models and scanned them in with lasers, not everything in Toy Story was 100 percent computer generated. Some consider this cheating. 

10. While today the term "Imagineer" is associated with Disney, it was actually created by Alcoa in the 1940s.

11. Disney widely gets the blame for starting the myth that lemmings commit mass suicide by running off of cliffs in the 1958 documentary White Wilderness. But the myth is actually much older; for instance, a 1908 issue of Century Path magazine claimed that “the most extraordinary thing is what takes place when [lemmings] reach the sea; for here, descending the cliffs, they plunge headlong into the water and swim as if for some promised Eldorado, with the result that all perish.” Disney’s not completely off the hook, though. The filmmakers did cart lemmings into Alberta, Canada and threw them off a cliff to dramatize this event. (This isn't as odd as it sounds; even today, nature documentary-makers are known to cheat in order to get their ideas across.)

THE DUCKS

12. How rich is Scrooge McDuck? The comics claimed “skyrillions” and “fantasticatillions” until an actual number was revealed in The Menehune Mystery: $500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.16. If turned into solid gold, this amount would create a sphere 6 million light years in diameter—the same as 150,000 Kessel Runs. For what it’s worth, Forbes estimates Scrooge’s wealth at only $65.4 billion.

13. In 2014, the songwriter/keyboardist behind the band Nightwish, Tuomas Holopainen, released Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge, a concept album based on Don Rosa’s Eisner Award-winning comic book story detailing how Scrooge made his money. It reached the top of the charts in Finland.

14. In the original Disney comics, Scrooge’s nemesis, Flintheart Glomgold, was South African. DuckTales decided to make him much more Scottish, presumably because at the time apartheid was still law in South Africa.

15. One of the animals in the first hardback Disney book, The Adventures of Mickey Mouse (1931), was named Donald Duck.

16. Donald wouldn’t officially debut until three years later, in the short The Wise Little Hen. Because this was a Silly Symphony—the first color cartoons Disney produced—Donald was the first of the “Fab 5” (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto) to appear in color in a theatrically released short.

17. Donald’s nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) first appeared in the comics, and then a few months later made their big screen debut. While the background of how they got to Donald are broadly similar, there are a couple big differences between the comic and the cartoon. In the comic, the boy’s mother is named Della, which turned into Dumbella for the cartoon. The bigger change is that Della was Donald’s cousin while Dumbella was his sister.

18. Huey, Dewey, and Louie actually have a fourth brother, Phooey. In the comics, sometimes the artist accidentally drew one too many nephews in a panel.

THE PARKS

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19. One of the most successful things to come out of Disneyland has to be Doritos. In the early days of Disneyland, Casa de Fritos was a restaurant that served Tex-Mex and was associated with Fritos (and later Frito-Lay). The story is that the restaurant was getting in a shipment of tortillas when the salesman advised that instead of tossing unused tortillas away, they should cut them up and fry them. This new dish became an instant hit. Later, when an executive of the newly formed Frito-Lay was looking around, he noticed how popular these fried tortilla chips were. Soon, Doritos were conquering supermarket shelves.

20. The drawbridge at Fantasyland can actually open, and has done so on two occasions: Once on opening day and again after a major park redesign in 1983.

21. During the 1983 renovation of Fantasyland, Disney brought back the original voice of Alice, Kathryn Beaumont, to do the voiceover work—more than 30 years after the movie came out.

22. Another major change was the addition of characters to Fantasyland rides. In the original Peter Pan’s Flight, there was no Peter Pan because guests were supposed to be Peter. But this was so confusing for guests who wanted to see the titular hero that a figure was added in the renovation.

23. The King Arthur Carrousel, which dates back to 1922 and was purchased from a Toronto amusement park, is one of the oldest attractions in Disneyland. But Walt wasn’t entirely pleased with what he bought—he wanted all of the horses to be jumping. Any standing horse had its legs broken and reset.

24. The oldest attraction in Disneyland is the Petrified Tree in Frontierland, which is believed to be about 55 to 70 million years old. Walt procured the relic from a privately owned petrified forest in Colorado. Sadly, the story of it being a present to Lillian is likely just that—a story. Walt probably intended it for a natural history exhibit, where he was planning to display rocks and minerals as well as sell Disney branded minerals.

25. On opening day, Disney didn’t yet have character costumes for the parade, so the company borrowed some from the Ice Capades, which did Disney-related shows.

26. Tony Curtis’s 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962) was the first non-Disney movie filmed at Disneyland.

27. On Partners (the famous statue of Walt and Mickey in several different parks), Walt has "STR" on his tie. This stands for Smoke Tree Ranch, where Walt used to have a vacation home.

THE LOST PARKS

After Disneyland opened in 1955, every city in the world wanted one. Walt refused the offers, but he was continually thinking of where he could go next.

28. One of the first places Walt looked to expand his park was in the Northeast. In the late 1950s, Disney’s relationship with ABC (which had financed a large part of the original Disneyland) was falling apart, ultimately resulting in Disney’s Wonderful World of Color airing on NBC. As this was happening, the president of NBC decided that they wanted to get involved in a park and proposed a location in the New Jersey Meadows. According to Roy Disney, the proposal never went very far: “Walt gave the Meadows proposal a careful look, but he finally decided that there would have to be some method of controlling the weather—a vast dome or some such thing. When the financial backers looked into the cost of such an undertaking they lost their courage pretty fast.”

29. After the New Jersey failure, Disney decided to look into St. Louis for the “Riverfront Square” park (which was actually going to be entirely indoors). The company created blueprints and was ready to go until something happened and Disney canceled it in 1965. It’s unclear why the project didn’t go forward, but the most common explanation is that the Busch family insisted it sell beer, and Disney refused. Still, most Disney historians think that the beer issue had been worked out fairly quickly, and that the real cause was St. Louis’s refusal to help pay for construction.

30. The canceled St. Louis project might also have something to do with the fact that on November 15, 1965, Walt announced that he had purchased a huge area of land near Orlando, Florida. There were a couple of issues with buying the land in Florida, chief among them the mineral rights. Under American law, a land owner is allowed to separate out the surface rights from the mineral rights for the same plot of land and sell them separately. Tufts University used to own large areas of Central Florida, but retained the mineral rights when they sold the surface rights. This meant, in theory, they could come in and dig up any building in the area to get at underlying resources. Thankfully, Disney found this out and was able to negotiate a sale for $15,000.

31. In 1993, Disney announced Disney’s America, a new park in Virginia. The idea was basically a giant Frontierland that tracked American history from the Colonial Era through the Civil War and into World War II. Less than a year after the announcement, protests and concern about the proximity to the Manassas Battlefield  (at only 3.5 miles away, the National Park Service was worried the site would be threatened by the development around the battlefield) forced the abandonment of the idea, with several of the elements moving to California Adventure when it opened in 2001, such as the whitewater raft ride (Grizzly River Run), Paradise Pier, and the original Condor Flats.

32. In the 1960s, the Mineral King area of the Sequoia National Forest was opened to private recreational development for a new ski resort. Walt Disney Enterprises decided to put in a bid, and won. They were going to build a destination that could be used for skiing in the winter and other outdoor pursuits in the summer. But soon after the announcement, environmentalists turned on the idea and lawsuits relating to the project went all the way to the Supreme Court. Eventually, the area was added to Sequoia National Park, ending all plans of development. Probably the most famous thing to come out of this was a show Disney had planned for the development called Country Bear Jamboree.

33. Albuquerque, New Mexico nearly got a Disney park as well. While Mineral King was being held up in courts, the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce offered Sandia Peak to Disney, who seriously considered it. Ultimately, the company concluded that the weather wasn't right. 

THE FILMS

34. Any Disney fan can name the Disney Animated Classics (the feature-length animated movies), but a European and American would have different lists. In the U.K., The Wild is included as a classic, while Dinosaur isn’t.

35. All 10 of the highest grossing G movies are either Disney or Pixar, and of the top 15, only Gone With the Wind interrupts Disney’s streak. But not everyone appreciates the family friendliness of these movies; English children were required to bring a parent along to see Snow White because it was deemed too scary.

36. It’s actually kind of amazing that Snow White was created at all. Walt originally budgeted $250,000 for the movie (around $4 million today), but he knew that this was a wild understatement, later saying, “we were spending about that much on every three Symphonies. Walt estimated that it ultimately cost around $2 million.

37. One person who didn’t take this budget increase well was Walt’s brother, Roy. According to Walt, “Roy was very brave and manly until the costs passed $1 million. He wasn’t used to figures of over $100,000 at that time. The extra cipher threw him. When costs passed the one and one-half million mark, Roy didn’t even bat an eye. He couldn’t; he was paralyzed.” (Roy hated debt. After Walt’s death, Roy took it upon himself to go through with the Disney World project by building an East Coast Disneyland. Through creative financing methods, he was able to build Magic Kingdom virtually debt-free.)

38. During the filming of Snow White, Walt was very clear that no matter how much was spent on the movie, if the final product wasn’t up to his standards, it would be destroyed.

39. It was a good gamble though, because Snow White became the then-highest grossing film of all time. Sadly, Disney’s next movie, Pinocchio, failed to do as well. Walt commented that it was actually the second highest grossing film of the year (after Gone With the Wind, which had been released in December of the previous year). But due to soaring costs ($3 million) and World War II removing most of their markets, Disney failed to recoup their investment in the original release.

40. Other Disney films from this time that failed to turn a profit on their initial releases included Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Bambi, and Fantasia.

41. Dumbo was set to appear on the cover of TIME in December of 1941. It was kicked off the cover following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

42. In 1994, Warner Bros. did test screenings of their new animated movie, Thumbelina.The audience reaction was so-so—but when they replaced the WB logo with Disney’s in test screenings, audience scores skyrocketed.

43. In the original Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie wrote that “[Captain Hook] has an iron hook instead of a right hand,” but in the cartoon, Captain Hook has the hook on his left hand. This was because the animators wanted him to be able to write and do other activities with his right hand.

THE ANIMAL CHARACTERS

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44. Pluto was introduced in 1930 in The Chain Gang as a bloodhound. In The Picnic, he was introduced as Minnie's dog Rover, and then became Mickey's in 1931’s The Moose Hunt.

45. Disney’s first named animated character, Julius the Cat, appeared in 1924. The next year, Pete was introduced. Originally a bear in the Alice Comedies (a collection of cartoons that featured animated characters interacting with a live action girl), Pegleg Pete would go on to fight Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and then, after a species change, became a cat who first appeared as Mickey’s antagonist in Steamboat Willie. Ninety years after debuting, Pete is still one of Disney’s main villains.

46. Steamboat Willie premiered at New York's Colony Theater before the movie Gang War, a completely forgotten (and violent) mob movie. But that's not Gang War's only Disney connection: Some of the music for the movie was written by Al Sherman, father of the Sherman Brothers, who did the music for Mary Poppins and many other Disney projects.

47. Why was Mickey called Willie? The short version is that it’s a reference to Steamboat Bill, Jr., which was both a popular song and a recently released Buster Keaton movie (but Willie was not, as many people claim, a parody. There’s almost no connection between the two). Walt didn't call the film Steamboat Mickey because he felt that Mickey Mouse was an actor, not a character. In the same way that Bogart played the role of Rick in Casablanca, Mickey Mouse is playing the character of Steamboat Willie for the short.

48. For the first several decades of Mickey’s existence, his birthday was celebrated September 30, when the soundtrack for Steamboat Willie was recorded. It wasn’t until later that Steamboat Willie’s release date of November 18 was chosen as the character's birthday.

49. There’s a debate about when Mickey debuted. On May 15, 1928—six months before Steamboat Willie—Walt showed a then-silent Plane Crazy, which stars Mickey as a wannabe Charles Lindbergh, to a test audience in an attempt to get a distributor. He didn’t get one, so most Disney fans agree the real birthday is the wide release debut.

50. The animation of Plane Crazy was a remarkable feat in and of itself. Walt had just been robbed of his Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons by his distributor, and many of his animators were about to leave with Oswald. But there were still three Oswald cartoons left on the Disney contract before most of the animators left. So while the soon-to-leave animators were finishing those up, Disney legend Ub Iwerks worked in secret (supposedly with Oswald drawings on hand if an unexpected visitor arrived) and single-handedly animated all of Plane Crazy in two weeks, producing 700 drawings a day.

51. Despite Mickey’s great success, Disney never made much money off of the cartoons. According to a 1934 article in The New York Times, one of the original Mickey Mouse cartoons only just came out of the red, about six years later. Even Three Little Pigs, which the same article says was “the most successful short subject produced by any studio,” grossed $64,000 (it cost $60,000 to make). From day one, Disney made most of its money from merchandising.

52. Donald may get all the nephew credit, but Mickey and Minnie each have nephews and nieces, respectively. Mickey’s nephews are Morty and Ferdie, and Minnie’s nieces are Millie and Melody. Daisy has nieces as well: April, May, and June.

MISCELLANEOUS FACTS

53. The 1942 short Food Will Win the War (about how amazing American food production is) is a masterclass in mixed units (using as many units as possible). For instance, “Milk! 125 billion pounds of it. If all this flowed over Niagara Falls in a steady stream, it would generate enough electricity to light every factory in New York for one month.”

54. Phil Simms was the first Super Bowl MVP to say, "I'm going to Disney World.” He was actually instructed to say Disney World and Disneyland three times each; he got $50,000 (and a free vacation) for his troubles.

55. "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," the theme song to the miniseries Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, was a huge hit, spending several weeks at number one on the Hit Parade and selling seven million copies in six months. But its origins are a bit more practical: It was written because the show was running short.

56. Davy Crockett mania reached such a fever pitch that one department store advertised that with every major appliance sold, they’d give away a free Davy Crockett play tent. They were inundated with orders and estimated they’d give away 35,000 tents during the promotion.

57. It’s a myth (albeit a pervasive one) that the name WALL•E is an homage to Walter Elias Disney. According to Pixar, “Nope. Sorr-e.” WALL•E just means Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class.

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
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When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
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The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
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People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

Pages of a calendar
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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
iStock

The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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