Behind every achievement is a stupid mistake…and another stupid mistake…and even one before that. The history books you studied in school were not always 100% truthful about the most impressive moments in our past. It shouldn’t come as a shock that most of history’s crowning achievements were actually surrounded by gigantic failures.
As it turns out, some of the greatest musicians of our times were nearly flops; world leaders were frequently humiliated and often proved to be in over their heads. The most defining events in history want to be remembered, but others? Not so much.
1. During World War II, German scientists thought it would be brilliant to disguise a deadly bomb as a delicious chocolate bar. Their hope? That the “chocolate” would end up in Winston Churchill’s lap. Obviously, British forces figured it all out before disaster struck.
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2. Need further proof that Roman emperor Caligula was crazy? After declaring himself to be a god, he forced his army to “defeat” the sea god Neptune by fighting with the waves and “stealing” seashells. Sounds like a fun beach day to us!
3. In 1849, Walter Hunt made a rookie mistake: He sold his patent for what he thought was a “fad” for a mere $400. The catch? His invention was the safety pin, and by the time he died, millions were using his product every day.
4. When it comes to impressing the ladies, James II of Scotland learned what not to do. He’d hoped a fiery cannonball launch would amaze his crush, but in his excitement he got too close to the weapon…and promptly shot his own leg off.
5. Henry I was a harsh leader…and a stupid eater. During a banquet, he scarfed down an appalling amount of lampreys — AKA, bloodsucking eels — against his doctor’s orders, and the resulting food poisoning brought him to his death bed.
The Private Life of Henry VIII/London Film Productions/United Artists
6. George Washington had a darker past than many people know. When he was a young, inexperienced colonel, he ambushed a French military camp without provocation. This inadvertently kicked off the Seven Years’ War, as well as Washington’s first defeat in battle.
7. In 1788, Austrian horsemen mixed alcohol with guns…with predictably stupid results. When the drunken horsemen were joined by drunken Austrian footmen, they mistook them for the enemy. Friendly fire ensued, and it wasn’t until 10,000 lives had been lost that they noticed their mistake.
8. Chairman Mao wasn’t exactly known for being flaky, but his early years suggested otherwise. He dropped out of the police academy, law school, and a school of economics. He even quit soap making school in search of something a little more challenging.
9. Before he was Ulysses S. Grant, intrepid Civil War general and President of the United States, he was a 17-year-old student at West Point nicknamed “Useless.” The reason? His constantly sloppy uniform and disheveled appearance.
10. The quest for immortality is pointless, as China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang would tell you…if he were still alive. His dogged attempts to invent the elixir for immortality was cut short when a frustrated alchemist gave him a pill filled with poison.
11. King George IV was known for his excessive, egotistical ways, especially in 1820. When he falsely accused his wife Carolinex of adultery, their high-profile divorce went to trial. To George’s embarrassment, his subjects sided with Caroline, and the divorce fell apart.
12. When Joseph Stalin demanded that he never be disturbed, his guards knew to obey him…even when he failed to emerge from his bedroom one morning. It wasn’t until hours later that they found him on the floor, barely alive after suffering a stroke.
The Death of Stalin/IFC Films
13. In 1812, American troops fled Canada after hearing that native tribes were on their tail. Back at their fort, they were greeted by British troops, who warned that the natives were still coming. The Americans fled again, and the British claimed victory over the fort!
Library of Congress
14. There’s evidence to suggest that the Egyptians who built the pyramids weren’t slaves, but workers…paid in beer! Needless to say, perpetually tipsy laborers hauling heavy bricks in the blazing heat didn’t exactly make the job any easier.
15. This one isn’t as “dumb” as it is “truly disgusting”: Back in the 1600s, before medicine made much sense, apothecaries told sick patients to drink “medications” that were really just ground-up human remains. Thank goodness for modern medicine!
Kate Silver/The Washington Post
16. We know Henry VIII as the cruel king who beheaded his many wives…that is, except for Anne of Cleves. Their marriage was quickly annulled, all because Henry found Anne to be extremely ugly. She escaped from Henry with a hefty wallet and her life.
The Private Life of Henry VIII/London Film Productions/United Artists
17. Charles II loved his dogs so much that their breed was eventually named after him. His King Charles Cavalier spaniels were so beloved, that they were allowed to do “their business” all over the court, much to the consternation of the King’s staff.
18. Andrew Jackson loved his pet parrot so much that it attended his funeral…with some spectacular results. Before the sermon even began, the parrot started screaming some of Jackson’s favorite expletives at the crowd of mourners. What a touching send-off!
19. In the 1500s, Spain thought taking down Dutch rebels would be easy…until they were greeted by frozen waters in the Netherlands. That’s when the Dutch emerged on ice skates and glided their way to victory while the Spanish troops slipped and slid back home.
20. Need proof that greed gets you nowhere? Look to Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager. In order to illegally profit off of Elvis, Parker released an album of nothing but Elvis’ banter between songs. It was a failure, and Parker lost money in the long run.
21. British intelligence tried to hide it, but in 1957, the truth came out: The already disgraced ex-king Edward VIII and his wife, Wallis Simpson, were buddies with Adolf Hitler. When word got out that they were Nazi sympathizers, they were (once again) exiled from the U.K.
Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
22. 19th-century aristocrat Henry Cyril Paget had a lot of money…and many strange habits. He built a home theater for himself and hired actors to perform with him without an audience. He even had the biggest collection of walking sticks in the world!
23. Caligula was a cruel Roman king…and one of the weirdest. He loved his horse, Incitatus, so much that he vied to get him the highest position the Roman Senate had to offer, that of Consul. Maybe horses are man’s best friend, and not dogs!
Caligula/Penthouse Film International
24. Caligula was brutal, but Nero was downright insane. Rumor has it that he started the Great Fire of Rome that destroyed half the city, all so he could build himself a lavish palace and/or prove his leadership qualities. Makes total sense!
25. Lyndon B. Johnson wasn’t only the President who oversaw the height of the Vietnam War. As those close to him knew, he was also the President who often took meetings while he was on the toilet! He truly dedicated every moment to the American people.
Yoichi Okamoto/National Archives/Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
26. Rasputin, one of history’s strangest and most confounding people, was reportedly poisoned, shot, and stabbed numerous times before he finally died by drowning. Maybe it was his rumored magical abilities that kept him alive?
27. Pope Stephen VI was the weirdest of the weird: He hated his predecessor, Pope Formosus, so much that he exhumed Formosus’ corpse, dressed him in his Papal uniform, and put him on trial to answer for his “crimes.” Stephen wasn’t very popular after that!
28. Pope Gregory IX had a pretty weird belief: That cats were directly linked to devil worship. Because of this, he ordered that all cats be exterminated…which some experts think led to the bubonic plague. He was definitely a dog person!
29. Charles Dickens clearly wasn’t your average literary genius. He would allegedly speak in a language of his own creation, and run up to random strangers on the street and scream gibberish into their faces. Definitely an odd bloke!
30. A lot of historical figures really loved their horses! Omaha Indian Chief Blackbird is rumored to have loved his horse so much that he put a peculiar request in his will: that he be buried sitting on top of his beloved steed.
31. Francis Egerton, the 8th Earl of Bridgewater, threw the most unusual dinner parties: For starters, you had to have four legs and tail in order to attend. Yes, the Earl hosted dinner parties for dogs, and they were all dressed in the finest fashions…including shoes!
32. Philosophers are known for overthinking, but it’s safe to say that Diogenes the Cynic didn’t have that problem. This influential figure in Greek philosophy routinely ate off the floor, defecated wherever he was standing, and barked at passersby!
33. Hetty Green was one of the richest women in the 19th century, and it’s partly because of her budgeting skills. She refused to pay for an office of her own, preferring instead to conduct her business on the floor of the bank.
34. Green’s cheap ways finally caught up to her when, after her son broke his leg, she went to a free clinic instead of providing him with the best care money could buy. Years later, his leg got infected and had to be amputated!
35. Sawney Bean was one of Scotland’s most infamous figures. Legend has it that he and his 14 children lived in a cave for 25 years. Over time, the family had no choice but to procreate, and their family grew from 16 to 48.
36. Alexander Graham Bell was all about communication…just not for everybody. He believed that those born with disabilities such as deafness should, horrifically, be sterilized. He even tried to outlaw sign language, and was in several eugenics organizations.
37. As one of the world’s most celebrated writers, it’s no surprise that William Shakespeare felt the need to protect himself from crooks…before and after his death. He composed his own epitaph, which cursed any grave robbers who tried to steal his remains.
38. Lord Byron was a poet and a prankster: He wasn’t allowed to bring his dog to school, so instead he brought…a bear! He insisted that his pet bear didn’t break any school rules, but he probably wasn’t the most popular kid on campus after that.
39. William Buckland was a zoologist famous for the unique menagerie of animals that lived in his house. Unfortunately, the animals didn’t live for long. Buckland claimed that he ate every single one, from a panther to a crocodile to a mole.
Wellcome Library, London/CC by 4.0
40. Tarrare, an 18th-century French peasant, had such a voracious appetite that he could eat 15-course meals without getting full. He eventually left home because his family couldn’t keep up with his appetite, and he turned his “skill” into an entertainment career.
41. In order to impress audiences, Tarrare went from eating drumsticks to boulders to stray cats. It came to a head during one of his hospital stays, where he was accused of cannibalism! He unsurprisingly died at the young age of 27.
42. A multi-Guinness World Record holder, Iseo Machii is arguably the deftest swordsman on Earth. He owes his katana skills to an innate perceptive ability that allows him to anticipate and react to movement three times faster than the average human.
43. Years before her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Joy Milne noticed he gave off a particularly “musky” scent. She soon learned she had a sensitivity to certain compounds contained in the skin of Parkinson’s patients, allowing her to literally smell the disease.
44. Dubbed “The Iceman,” Wim Hof possesses the uncanny ability to withstand prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures. While he attributes this ability to a meditation technique that allows him suppress his immune responses, his genetic makeup indicates a near superhuman tolerance to the cold.
45. Also known as “Monsieur Mangetout,” or “Mr. Eat-All,” Michel Lotito was renown for his ability to eat materials like metal, glass, and rubber. Compelled by the eating disorder Pica, Lotito also possessed a thick stomach lining and highly acidic digestive juices that made his “diet” possible.
46. Thanks to the development of four types of cone cells in her retinas, Concetta Antico has the ability to view nearly a million colors, most of which are invisible to the average person. Unsurprisingly, Antico works as an artist.
47. That’s right — Ozzy Osbourne, the “Prince of Darkness,” is superhuman! According to a gene sequence taken from the rock legend back in 2010, Ozzy possesses several never-before-seen gene variants that allow his body to withstand fatally high doses of drugs and alcohol.
48. A former circus performer, Eskil Rønningsbakken has ridiculous balance, though his abilities don’t stop there. The Norwegian native also has significantly lower adrenaline levels than the average human, allowing him to stay calm, cool, and collected while performing death-defying stunts.
Sons of Norway
49. When Antonio Alfonseca made his MLB debut in 1997, fans and players alike couldn’t help but notice the tiny sixth digit on each of the relief pitcher’s hands. Unfortunately, those extra fingers didn’t give him the ability to throw any crazy new pitches.
50. Whether it was scraping her knee or giving birth, Jo Cameron has never felt pain. She’s one of just two people in the world with a unique genetic mutation that blocks her pain receptors, preventing her from feeling discomfort and even anxiety.
51. After losing his retinas to cancer as a child, Ben Underwood became a real-life superhero by teaching himself to echo-locate. Using a series of clicks, Underwood could navigate a room, play basketball, and even ride a bike — all without seeing a thing.
52. One of the greatest cross-country skiers in Finnish history, Eero Mäntyranta was later found to have a competitive edge. A 1993 DNA study revealed a mutation that allowed Mäntyranta to store more oxygen in his blood, a trait especially useful for endurance sports.
53. The long, full lashes that made Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes pop on screen were actually the result of a mutation. The legendary actress had distichia, which gave her a second set of eyelashes that made the first appear longer and fuller.
54. If you’re a horror movie fan, chances are you’ve seen Javier Botet’s work. A sufferer of Marfan syndrome, Botet boasts long, lanky limbs and incredible flexibility, allowing him to play a variety of horrifying, human-like monsters.
55. The former competitive eating superstar of the world, Takeru Kobeyashi owes his incredible stomach to his genes. Kobeyashi was born with a stomach that sits far lower in his body than that of an average human, allowing it to expand upward as he eats.
Yahoo Finance / CTV News
56. At age three, Liam Hoekstra possessed the strength of a seven-year-old and 40 percent more muscle mass than children his age. That’s because Hoekstra was born lacking the muscle-regulating protein myostatin, allowing his body to grow at a Hulk-like rate.
57. An ultra-marathon legend, Dean Karnazes has completed several unbelievable endurance feats, including running 350 miles without stopping to rest or sleep. He owes this superhuman skill to his body’s ability to stay beneath its lactate threshold, thus preventing his muscles from fatiguing.
58. Best remembered for her breakout role in Taxi, Marilu Henner had no problem memorizing her lines — or anything at all. That’s because the actress has hyperthymesia, a condition that allows her to remember minor details of nearly every day of her life.
59. An autistic savant, Daniel Tammet possesses a genius intellect and superhuman memory, with the ability to recall pi to the 22,514th digit. This is primarily due to synaesthesia, a condition that allows Tammet to assign physical sensations such as touch to numbers and memories.
60. Also known as “The Rubberboy,” Daniel Browning Smith’s hypermobile Ehlers–Danlos syndrome allows him to bend and contort his body into all manner of unnatural shapes. He currently owns seven Guinness World Records for his flexibility, making him the most flexible person in history.
61. After grabbing a power line as a child, Raj Mohan Nair discovered that he could withstand electric shocks. Not only that, but his body is capable of absorbing electricity 30 times the amount that could kill an average person.