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11 Misconceptions About Ancient Rome, Debunked

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Released in 1959, Charlton Heston's Ben-Hur is considered one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Unfortunately, the film helped perpetuate a few mistaken beliefs concerning Rome and her citizenry. With the Ben-Hur remake set to hit theaters on August 19, now seems like a good time to bust some myths.

1. ROMANS DIDN’T WEAR TOGAS 24-7.

In his epic poem The Aeneid, Jupiter talks about the future of the Romans as the “masters of the world, the race that wears the toga.” No article of clothing has ever been more synonymous with this ancient culture. Only a Roman citizen could legally wear one, and as years went by, different styles came to be used as a way of displaying the wearer’s socioeconomic status. But for most of Rome’s history, togas were not considered everyday attire.

At first, the toga emphasized function over form. During the Republic’s early days, men, women, and children alike wore these accessories as a kind of durable outerwear. Underneath, they’d don a tunic, which was a sleeved, t-shaped garment that extended from the collar to the knees. Inevitably, though, the region’s fashion standards evolved. By the 2nd century BCE, it became taboo for adult women to put on a toga (prostitutes and adulteresses notwithstanding). Within the next hundred years, the toga turned into a bulky, impractical article of clothing that was mostly reserved for formal occasions like religious services and funerals. In casual environments, the average male Roman citizen would instead wear one of his tunics, sans toga.

Because togas were made with large quantities of costly wool, they were also quite expensive. The Roman poet Juvenal once observed that “there are many parts of Italy, to tell the truth, in which no man puts on the toga until he is dead.” Toward the dawn of the 4th century CE, the toga was more or less replaced by a kind of cloak called the paenula.

2. CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, IT LOOKS LIKE THE “NAZI SALUTE” WASN’T INVENTED IN ROME.

You’ll often hear it said that the Romans created this now-infamous gesture. Supposedly, it was then copied by Adolf Hitler’s devotees many centuries later. The whole myth is so widespread that the motion is sometimes referred to as the “Roman salute.” And yet there’s no historical evidence to suggest that such a greeting was ever used in ancient Rome.

Instead, the salute can probably be traced back to a 1784 painting called The Oath of the Horatii. Created by French Neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David, it shows three Roman brothers pledging to defend their homeland. While the men do so, we see that they’ve raised their right arms and extended the fingers. Over the next century, other artists started to portray Romans in this pose and playwrights began writing it into their historical drama scripts.

Mussolini’s Italian Fascist Party later claimed the salutation as its own and celebrated the gesture’s allegedly Roman origins. Inspired by il Duce, Hitler created a German variant for his own fascist organization. “I introduced the salute into the Party at our first meeting in Weimar,” he recalled in 1942. “The S.S. at once gave it a soldierly style.”

3. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT JULIUS CAESAR’S LAST WORDS WERE.

But they probably weren’t “Et tu, Brute?” On March 15 in the year 44 BCE, Julius Caesar was murdered by a group of over 60 co-conspirators, one of whom was Marcus Junius Brutus, the son of the dictator’s longtime mistress. The Roman historian Suetonius later wrote that, according to bystanders, Caesar’s dying utterance was “Kai su, teknon?” which means “You too, child?” in Greek. For the record, however, both Suetonius and another scholar named Plutarch believed that when he was slain, the dictator didn’t say anything at all. The world-famous “Et tu, Brute?” line was made up by William Shakespeare.

4. NOT ALL GLADIATORS WERE SLAVES OR PRISONERS … OR MEN.

While it’s true that most gladiators were captives who’d been forced into this dangerous occupation, the lifestyle attracted plenty of freeborn citizens as well—including women. The appeal was plain to see: Like modern wrestlers, successful gladiators frequently became celebrities. A few of them even amassed small fortunes, since winning a big fight could mean taking home a cash prize.

Those who willingly became gladiators were usually impoverished people who sought the financial security that the profession offered. A good number of ex-Roman soldiers signed up as well. To receive training, they’d join what was known as a ludus—gladiator troupes that doubled as rigorous combat schools. The typical ludus was owned by a wealthy politician or former gladiator, who’d rent out his fighters for use in organized shows. Julius Caesar himself once ran a troupe which may have contained up to 1000 gladiators.

Eventually, the government cracked down on freeborn combatants. To help keep young aristocrats out of the fighting pits, the Senate issued an age requirement in 11 CE. This made it illegal for free men who were younger than 25 and free women who hadn’t yet turned 20 from joining a ludus. A subsequent ruling enacted in 19 CE barred all upper-class ladies from becoming gladiators. Then, in 200 CE, Emperor Septimus Severus officially turned this into an all-male sport.

5. MANY—IF NOT, MOST—GLADIATOR FIGHTS WEREN’T TO THE DEATH.

Historian Georges Ville has calculated that during the first century CE, out of 100 fights (and 200 gladiators), 19 gladiators died, giving a death rate of around 10 percent (approximately 20 percent for the loser). By the year 300 CE, however, these confrontations became deadlier. In Ville’s estimation, half of all the man-to-man gladiator fights around that time ended with the loser’s demise.

Even so, those odds still might seem low to contemporary movie fans—after all, in “sword and sandal” flicks, gladiator fights almost always result in at least one fatality. However, Ville’s numbers make a lot more sense when you consider the real-life economics involved. Gladiators were expensive, and if one died in combat or was permanently disabled, the venue paid a steep fine to the owner of his ludus. To help keep the body count down, fighters might receive first-rate medical attention after leaving the arena.

But with that said, the crowd often demanded death. Throughout Roman history, most gladiator duels concluded when one party was rendered too weak or injured to keep fighting. Defeated athletes could surrender by throwing down their weapon or shield, or the loser would extend one arm and point upward. At that point, the bested fighter’s fate would be decided by the presiding event chairman, or editor. Generally, his verdict could be expected to appease the audience, whose cheers and jeers helped determine if the fallen warrior lived to fight another day.

6. THE ROMANS DIDN’T MAKE SLAVES ROW THEIR WAR VESSELS.

In an iconic sequence from Ben-Hur, we see a group of slaves being forced to row a Roman galley ship at increasingly demanding speeds. While a war beating drum sets the relentless tempo, wandering soldiers mercilessly flog those poor souls who collapse from fatigue. Though the scene is definitely compelling, it’s also inaccurate. Roman galleys were actually powered by paid and well-trained freemen unless absolutely necessary. Frankly, handing this job over to slaves would have been foolish—if a ship were captured, enslaved oarsmen might well side with the enemy and attack their masters.

7. CALIGULA’S HORSE NEVER BECAME A GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL.

Posterity remembers Rome’s third emperor as a sadistic, incestuous lunatic and a testament to the dangers of absolute power—but claims about his madness may have been grossly exaggerated. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus—better known by his nickname, Caligula—began a brief stint as Rome’s supreme leader in 37 CE. His own guards assassinated him just four years later.

Eighty years after the Emperor’s death, our old pal Suetonius published some truly depraved anecdotes about him in an ambitious set of biographies called The Twelve Caesars. At certain points, Suetonius’s Caligula chapter reads like an excerpt from a particularly vile Game of Thrones screenplay. (Among other things, he accuses the dictator of fornicating with his sisters—sometimes, while his dinner guests looked on.)

One often-quoted passage concerns Caligula’s beloved horse, Incitatus. According to Suetonius, the prized steed was kept in a marble stable, given precious jewelry, and waited upon by its very own slaves. Weirder still, the historian writes that Caligula “planned to make him a consul.” If true, this would have been a really strange power move because the consulship was one of the most prestigious offices in Rome.

But Caligula didn’t actually go through with the appointment, and today, some scholars dismiss the whole story as a myth. (Others, however, think the story has some truth, but it wasn’t because Caligula was crazy. As historian Aloys Winterling writes in Caligula: A Biography, “Besides symbolically devaluing the Roman consulars, Caligula’s designation of Incitatus as a consul sent a further message: The emperor can appoint anyone he likes to the consulship.”) Still, it’s often erroneously said that Incitatus became a genuine consul or, at the very least, joined the senate. This misconception was spread by Robert Graves’ classic novel I, Claudius and the wildly successful BBC television series it inspired, both of which depict Incitatus as crazy Caligula’s favorite senator.

8. THE ROMANS PROBABLY DIDN’T HAVE BRITISH ACCENTS.

It’s hard to find a film or TV show about ancient Rome in which the actors don’t sound like Royal Shakespearean players. The idea that all Romans spoke with an English accent was popularized by such Hollywood classics as 1959’s Ben-Hur and Quo Vadis (1951). A generation later, the aforementioned I, Claudius television series helped reinforce the trope.

So what sort of accent did the ancient Romans really have? The answer might be several. At its height, the Roman empire stretched from Portugal to Persia. Within this vast area, Latin (and Greek) was no doubt spoken through many different accents. As linguistic historian J.N. Adams has argued, “The combination of lexical and phonetic evidence establishes the existence (in e.g. Gaul, Africa, and Italy) of genuine regional varieties.” We also know that some Romans weren’t above snickering at those who pronounced certain words in a non-typical way. The Emperor Hadrian’s noticeable Spanish accent once triggered a chorus of audible laughter when he read an announcement before the senate. Poor guy.

9. ROMAN ELITES DIDN’T HAVE REGULAR ORGIES.

Gratuitous sex scenes filled with writhing masses of toga-clad aristocrats are a standard fixture in movies and TV shows set in ancient Rome. But firsthand accounts of orgies are fairly rare in the annals of Roman texts. As classics professor Alastair Blanshard contends, “There have been more orgies in Hollywood films than there ever were in Rome.” It would appear that—at least to some extent—religious propaganda begat our misapprehensions about the prevalence of wild, Roman sex parties. Medieval Christian writers would often peddle embellished stories of lecherous get-togethers in an attempt to paint the Empire as a morally-bankrupt cesspool.

Still, no modern person would mistake the Romans for prudes. Inside a typical household, married men would regularly have sexual affairs with numerous slaves. On the other hand, public displays of affection were frowned upon—particularly in the days of the old Republic. One senator was even expelled after word got out that he’d kissed his own wife in front of their daughter.

10. ROME’S FAMOUS MARBLE STATUES WEREN’T ALWAYS MONOCHROMATIC.

Today, the marble sculptures left behind by the Romans look bone white. Yet, archaeologists have known for over a century that when these sculptures were first created, they received vibrant, multicolored paint jobs. Using a technique known as multispectral imaging, historians can identify the pigments left behind by various paints on ancient statues. With this information, they can tentatively reconstruct an original coat in all its polychromatic glory.

Of course, the ancient paints were mostly washed away by time. Thus, future civilizations assumed that Rome’s wonderful sculptures had always been devoid of color. By and large, Hollywood has followed suit. Virtually all movies that take place in classical Rome are (anachronistically) filled with drab, white statues.

11. ROME’S PRE-CHRISTIAN GODS WEREN’T JUST GREEK IMPORTS.

Conventional wisdom holds that Rome simply adopted the Greek gods and gave them new names. What actually happened is a bit more complicated. As Rome grew increasingly enamored with Greek society, comparisons were deliberately made between Greece’s gods and some of the native Italian deities that many Romans already worshiped.

Early Roman religion had its own divine beings, each of whom came with a name and a role. For instance, the supreme god was Jupiter, an impersonal, ambiguously-defined entity that (among other things) controlled the weather. Over time, Rome’s size and influence grew. This expansion put the rising city into regular contact with the Greeks and, by extension, their gods. Gradually, Romans began to equate Italy’s existing deities with their Greek counterparts. Thus, by the third century BCE, Jupiter had transformed into a hybrid of his original Italian self and Zeus, the leader of Mount Olympus. Legends that Greeks traditionally associated with good old Zeus were now repeated as part of Jupiter’s backstory.

Despite this theological interchange, major differences between the Greek and Roman gods persisted. Many scholars have pointed out that the Greek deities were viewed as being more human-like, both in terms of appearance and behavior. Also, some Roman gods occupied slightly different roles than their Olympian equivalents did. Juno is a perfect example. As Jupiter’s wife, the goddess is seen as Rome’s answer to Hera. However, she was also considered the protector of women and childbirth. In Greek tradition, that job was more associated with Artemis (whose Roman analogue was called Diana) and not with Hera.

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Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
14 Facts About Mathew Brady
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images

When you think of the Civil War, the images you think of are most likely the work of Mathew Brady and his associates. One of the most successful early photographers in American history, Brady was responsible for bringing images of the Civil War to a nation split in two—a project that would ultimately be his undoing. Here are some camera-ready facts about Mathew Brady.

1. HIS EARLY LIFE MIGHT BE AN INTENTIONAL MYSTERY.

Most details of Brady’s early life are unknown. He was born in either 1822 or 1823 to Andrew and Julia Brady, who were Irish. On pre-war census records and 1863 draft forms Brady stated that he was born in Ireland, but some historians speculate he changed his birthplace to Johnsburg, New York, after he became famous due to anti-Irish sentiment.

Brady had no children, and though he is believed to have married a woman named Julia Handy in 1851, there is no official record of the marriage.

2. HE TOOK PHOTOGRAPHY CLASSES FROM THE INVENTOR OF MORSE CODE.

When he was 16 or 17, Brady followed artist William Page to New York City after Page had given him some drawing lessons. But that potential career was derailed when he got work as a clerk in the A.T. Stewart department store [PDF] and began manufacturing leather (and sometimes paper) cases for local photographers, including Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of Morse Code.

Morse, who had learned the early photographic method of creating Daguerreotypes from Parisian inventor Louis Daguerre in 1839, brought the method back to the United States and opened a studio in 1840. Brady was one of his early students.

3. HE SET UP SHOP IN NEW YORK AND BECAME THE GO-TO PHOTOGRAPHER.

Brady eventually took what he learned from Morse and opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York in 1844, earning the nickname “Brady of Broadway.” His renown grew due to a mix of his knack for enticing celebrities to sit for his camera—James Knox Polk and a young Henry James (with his father, Henry James Sr.) both sat for him—as well as a flair for the dramatic: In 1856, he placed an ad in the New York Daily Tribune urging readers to sit for a portrait that warned, “You cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”

His rapidly-expanding operation forced him to open a branch of his studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in 1849, and then move his New York studio uptown to 785 Broadway in 1860.

4. HE ACHIEVED WORLDWIDE FAME.

In 1850, Brady published The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a collection of lithographs based on his daguerreotypes of a dozen famous Americans (he had intended to do 24, but due to costs, that never happened). The volume, and a feature profile [PDF] in the inaugural 1851 issue of the Photographic Art-Journal that described Brady as the “fountain-head” of a new artistic movement, made him a celebrity even outside of America. “We are not aware that any man has devoted himself to [the Daguerreotype art] with so much earnestness, or expended upon its development so much time and expense," the profile opined. "He has merited the eminence he has acquired; for, from the time he first began to devote himself to it, he has adhered to his early purpose with the firmest resolution, and the most unyielding tenacity.” Later that year, at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, Brady was awarded one of three gold medals for his daguerreotypes.

5. HE PHOTOGRAPHED EVERY PRESIDENT FROM JOHN QUINCY ADAMS TO WILLIAM MCKINLEY ... WITH ONE EXCEPTION.

The one that got away was William Henry Harrison—he died only a month after his inauguration in 1841.

6. ONE OF HIS PORTRAITS INTRODUCED HONEST ABE TO THE COUNTRY.

When Abraham Lincoln campaigned for president in 1860, he was dismissed as an odd-looking country bumpkin. But Brady’s stately portrait of the candidate, snapped after he addressed a Republican audience at Cooper Union in New York, effectively solidified Lincoln as a legitimate candidate in the minds of the American populace. (After he was elected, Lincoln supposedly told a friend, “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president.”) It was one of the first times such widespread campaign photography was used to support a presidential candidate.

7. HIS STUDIO’S WORK ENDED UP ON TWO VERSIONS OF THE $5 BILL.

A researcher holding one of America's most priceless negatives, the glass plate made by famous civil war photographer Mathew Brady of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 just before he was assassinated.
Three Lions, Getty Images

On February 9, 1864, Lincoln sat for a portrait session with Anthony Berger, the manager of Brady’s Washington studio. The session yielded both images of Lincoln that would go on the modern iterations of the $5 bill.

The first, from a three-quarter length portrait featuring Lincoln seated and facing right, was used on the bill design from 1914 to 2000. When U.S. currency was redesigned that year, government officials chose another image Berger took at Brady’s studio of Lincoln. This time, the president is seen facing left with his head turned more to the left.

According to Lincoln historian Lloyd Ostendorf, when the president was sitting for portraits, “Whenever Lincoln posed, a dark melancholy settled over his features. He put on what Mrs. Lincoln called his ‘photographer’s face.’ There is no camera study which shows him laughing, for such an attitude, unfortunately, was impossible when long exposures were required.”

8. OTHER PEOPLE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SOME OF HIS BEST-KNOWN WORK.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Brady decided to use his many employees and his own money to attempt to make a complete photographic record of the conflict, dispatching 20 photographers to capture images in different war zones. Alexander Gardner and Timothy H. O’Sullivan were both in the field for Brady. Both of them eventually quit because Brady didn’t give individual credit.

Brady likely did take photos himself on battlefields like Bull Run and Gettysburg (although not necessarily during the actual battle). The photographer later boasted, “I had men in all parts of the army, like a rich newspaper.”

9. HE HAD BAD EYESIGHT.

Brady's eyes had plagued him since childhood—in his youth, he was reportedly nearly blind, and he wore thick, blue-tinted glasses as an adult. Brady's real reason for relying less and less on his own expertise might have been because of his failing eyesight, which had started to deteriorate in the 1850s.

10. HE HELPED REVOLUTIONIZE COMBAT PHOTOGRAPHY.

War photographer Mathew Brady's buggy was converted into a mobile darkroom and travelling studio, or, Whatizzit Wagon, during the American Civil War.
Mathew B Brady, Getty Images

The group of Brady photographers that scoured the American north and south to capture images of the Civil War traveled in what became known as “Whatizzit Wagons,” which were horse-drawn wagons filled with chemicals and mobile darkrooms so they could get close to battles and develop photographs as quickly as possible.

Brady’s 1862 New York gallery exhibit, "The Dead of Antietam,” featured then-unseen photographs of some of the 23,000 victims of the war’s bloodiest day, which shocked American society. “Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war," a New York Times reviewer wrote. "If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

11. HE USED A FREEBIE TO CONVINCE GENERALS TO LET HIM PHOTOGRAPH THE WAR.

Brady and his associates couldn't just wander out onto the battlefield with cameras—the photographer needed to obtain permission. So he set up a portrait session with Winfield Scott, the Union general in charge of the Army. The story goes that as he photographed the general—who was posed shirtless as a Roman warrior—Brady laid out his plan to send his fleet of photographers to tell the visual story of the war unlike any previous attempts in history. Then the photographer gifted the general some ducks. Scott was finally convinced, and he approved Brady’s plan in a letter to General Irvin McDowell. (Scott's Roman warrior portrait is, unfortunately, now lost.)

12. HE WAS BLAMED FOR UNION BATTLE LOSSES.

Brady’s first foray into documenting the Civil War was the First Battle of Bull Run. Though he had approved of Brady's plan, General McDowell did not appreciate the photographers' presence during the battle.

Brady himself was supposedly near the front lines when the fighting began, and quickly became separated from his companions. During the battle, he was forced to take shelter in nearby woods, and slept there overnight on a bag of oats. He eventually met back up with the Army and made his way to Washington, where rumors swelled that his equipment caused a panic that was responsible for the Union’s defeat at the battle. “Some pretend, indeed, that it was the mysterious and formidable-looking instrument that produced the panic!” one observer noted. “The runaways, it is said, mistook it for the great steam gun discharging 500 balls a minute, and took to their heels when they got within its focus!”

13. HE DIDN’T JUST PHOTOGRAPH THE UNION SIDE.

Before, after, and occasionally during the Civil War, Brady and Co. also photographed members of the Confederate side, such as Jefferson Davis, P. G. T. Beauregard, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Pike, James Longstreet, James Henry Hammond, and Robert E. Lee after he returned to Richmond following his surrender at Appomattox Court House. “It was supposed that after his defeat it would be preposterous to ask him to sit,” Brady said later. “I thought that to be the time for the historical picture.”

14. HIS CIVIL WAR PHOTOS ALSO MADE HIM POOR.

Union troops with a field gun during the American Civil War.
Mathew Brady, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“My wife and my most conservative friends had looked unfavorably upon this departure from commercial business to pictorial war correspondence,” Brady told an interviewer in 1891. Their instincts were right.

Brady invested nearly $100,000 of his own money in the Civil War project in hopes that the government would buy his photo record of the war after it was all said and done. But once the Union prevailed, a public reeling from years of grueling conflict showed no interest in Brady's grim photos.

After the financial panic of 1873 he declared bankruptcy, and he lost his New York studio. The War Department eventually bought over 6000 negatives from Brady’s collection—which are now housed in the National Archives—for only $2840 total.

Despite being responsible for some of the most iconic images of the era, Brady never regained his financial footing, and he died alone in New York Presbyterian Hospital in 1896 after being hit by a streetcar.

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General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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