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History of the U.S.: Al Gore Really Did "Take the Initiative in Creating the Internet"
While it was a bold claim, “took the initiative in creating” is not the same as “invented.” The latter summons up images of Gore writing equations in a white lab coat, laying fiberoptic cable in a hardhat, and sharing a cup of tea with a house wife while explaining how to use e-mail; the former suggests that he played a key role in a broader congressional effort to formulate policies that enabled other people (engineers and computer scientists) to make the Internet what it is today. And that is... READ ON
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History of the World: Cable TV On, Women’s Shirts Off
Before the Internet became a limitless font of pornography just a mouse click away, late-night premium cable TV was pretty much the best thing ever invented, as far as teenage boys were concerned. And, okay, all those hundreds of other cable channels weren’t bad either. Cable TV started way back in the late 1940s as a way of getting television to rural areas: receiving towers picked up distant signals and distributed them to local subscribers via cable. Because the receiving towers could pick up... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: The Wizard of OSS
At FDR’s request, Major General William Joseph Donovan formed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) at the height of World War II. Prior to WWII, American intelligence work was conducted by a number of different organizations that didn’t coordinate their activities, including divisions of the State Department, Treasury, and the Navy and War departments.Beginning in July 1941, Donovan recruited spies, analysts, and code breakers for a new dedicated intelligence gathering and covert operations outfit.... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: A Chip Off of the Old Potato
In 1853, Saratoga Springs was a fashionable resort destination in upstate New York, providing recuperation and relaxation for rich folks fleeing the filthy, squalid city. Today, however, the Springs are equally famous for being the birthplace of the potato chip, invented by George Crum, a chef employed by the luxurious Moon Lake Lodge. Like many brilliant inventions, the first batch of potato chips resulted from a failed attempt to do something else. Crum’s specialties were French fries, usually... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: Libation Nation
The most popular drink in the nineteenth century was whiskey—an “all-American” liquor borrowed from Scotland and Ireland which replaced rum during the British blockades in the American Revolution and War of 1812. So how much alcohol did Americans actually consume? Reliable figures are scarce, but in 1790 the people of the United States consumed three gallons of hard liquor for every man, woman, and child (they didn’t even bother counting how much beer and wine was consumed). That equals about 750... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: A Ridiculously Long and Incomplete List of Things Ben Franklin Invented
We all remember Ben Franklin as a pretty bright guy who discovered some pretty important stuff. The real question is, what didn’t this polymath genius... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: Benedict Arnold: He Coulda Been a Contender
His name instantly summons images of betrayal by candlelight. But what exactly did Benedict Arnold... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: Abraham Lincoln, Psychic Friend
Some of the most famous séances took place in the White House in 1863, when Mary Todd Lincoln invited the female medium Nettie Colburn Maynard to help her contact the spirit of her dead son Willie. Colburn’s stories from the Lincoln séances include some fantastic occurrences: supposedly a grand piano began levitating when she played it, and another time a bench levitated with the president still sitting on it. Historians disagree on whether Lincoln actually took part in these séances, but it seems... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: $ymbol Minded
How did the word “dollar” come to be represented by “$”— a symbol with no apparent connection to any of the letters in dollar?After the Revolution, the Founding Fathers were determined to dump the vestiges of British rule, including currency based on pounds, shillings, and pence. Instead of inventing a whole new system, however, they sensibly modeled their currency on that of another European power, Spain— partly because no one could confuse it with Britain’s, and partly because gold and... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: Ladies Love George Washington
Washington wasn’t always the old, white-haired patriarchal Founding Father we know and love. At six feet three inches, the young Washington had the ladies of pre-Revolutionary Virginia swooning. On closer introduction, they were enchanted by his magnetic gray-blue eyes and auburn... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: Rum Punch
Rum wasn’t invented in America, but it proved so popular in the colonies that it should qualify as an all- American... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: The Not-so-microwave
The same year that saw the invention of the atomic bomb also gave the world another hot device: the microwave oven. The principle behind microwave cooking was discovered by Percy Spencer, an engineer who worked for defense contractor Raytheon. After noticing a chocolate bar melted after accidentally being placed in front of a new “magnetron” vacuum tube, Spencer experimented with other foods, including popcorn (yes!) and an egg (not exactly). After these experiments, Spencer deduced that the food was... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: Thomas Edison Gets Enlightened
In 1862, at the age of 15, Thomas Edison’s first job was selling newspapers at a train station near his home in Mount Clemens, Michigan. While hawking papers one day, Edison saved a three- year-old boy, Jimmy Mackenzie, from a runaway freight car. The boy’s father, the train station’s telegraph operator, was so grateful that he trained Edison in telegraphy, beginning his lifelong love affair with technology (and especially electricity). Later, at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison went... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: Matthew Perry Causes Chaos in Japan
Matthew Perry - the Commodore, not the Friend, caused a bit of a ruckus when he visited Japan in 1853. Prior to that, Japan's seclusion laws kept them pretty much sealed off from the rest of the world. Perry had instructions from President Millard Fillmore, though, and he wasn't about to be scared off by some samurai. His demand was fairly simple: he wanted to drop off a letter from Fillmore requesting that Americans be allowed to trade in Japan and that the Japanese help rescue and return American... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: In Your Face, King George II
Salem Village sent a request to Britain for permission to incorporate as a town, but it was returned with the rejecting message “The King Unwilling.” In 1757, the determined residents ignored His Majesty, calling the new town Danvers, and added the king’s three-word message to the bottom of the town seal. Looking for more fabulous content like this? You’re in luck - The Mental Floss History of the United States hits bookshelves near you on October 5th! If you pre-order, you’ll get three... READ ON
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History of the U.S.: The Republic of Madawaska
Our History of the World book was so popular, we decided to narrow it down a bit and concentrate on the U.S. The Mental Floss History of the United States hits bookshelves near you on October 5th, and until then, we thought we'd share some of our favorite bits of trivia from its pages.... READ ON

Oddly enough, the very first high heels were made for soldiers in the 1500s who needed a way to keep their feet snugly tucked into their stirrups while riding on horseback.

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