Henry Heinz’s Crystal Clear Idea

HOW HE PROVED SEEING IS BELIEVING

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1890s-grocery-store-wagonHenry Heinz had a sharp eye. He paid close attention to what people around him were doing – and what they were not doing. One simple observation in the late 1800s forever changed the way Americans buy food products, revolutionized the entire food industry and made him a rich man to boot.

In fact, you still use the change he introduced every time you go to the grocery.

And it all started with horseradish. Really. Continue reading

Milton’s Mishap

WHEN CANDY CHANGED AT THE DROP OF A HAT

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farming-2Milton didn’t like farm work. It was just that simple. Farming is a hard life filled with hard work from sunrise to sundown; it was doubly hard in the 19th Century before today’s modern conveniences.

Milton wasn’t lazy. Quite the opposite. He just wanted to do something different. (That was common among young people in the late 1800s. Click here to read about another youth who used his talent to escape the family farm.) Continue reading

The Most Amazing Cannon Shot Ever

HOW ONE BLAST CHANGED HISTORY

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the-fortOf all the forgotten tales I bring to life in this column, this may be the most obscure. You must dig mighty deep in the history books to find it. Forgotten today, it played a key role in determining which nation would control what’s now the southeastern United States.

And just one cannon shot settled it.

It all started during the tangled international knot that was the War of 1812. While we were battling Britain, Britain was also battling pesky Napoleon on the Continent. The Brits needed all the men they could get for their military. So in 1814 they revived the Corps of Colonial Marines. Continue reading

Open War Aboard the “Peace Ship”

HENRY FORD SAILED INTO A SEA OF HEADACHES

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ford-and-carBlessed are the peacemakers, the Good Book tells us, for they shall see God. But Scripture says nothing about the attempted peacemakers, for they shall see spectacular failure.

Exactly 101 years ago a famous American tried (in John Lennon’s later words) to give peace a chance. And all he got in return was ridicule and a huge hit to his bank account.

Let me tell you about Henry Ford and his disastrous Peace Ship. Continue reading

The World’s Littlest Skyscraper

HOW A SWINDLER PULLED A FAST ONE ON A TEXAS TOWN

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tiny-houseTiny houses are all the rage these days. A growing number of Americans are selling their grownup homes and cramming their belongings into ludicrously teeny structures the size of hamster cages. To each their own, I reckon.

Nearly 100 years ago, folks in one Texas town decided to build something very big. But they got something very little instead. And nobody was amused by it.

Here’s the story of how a swindler built the world’s littlest skyscraper. Continue reading

Teddy’s Close Call

HOW WE NEARLY LOST 2 PRESIDENTS IN 12 MONTHS

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flagLosing a president in office is a national tragedy. Losing two presidents within twelve months would be almost too much to bear.

Yet in the early days of the 20th Century that came dangerously close to happening. How, you wonder?

I’m glad you asked. Sit back and prepare to learn the details of Teddy’s close call. Continue reading

Abe Lincoln’s Forgotten Duel

HOW HE TURNED IT INTO A BIG LAUGH 

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lincoln-pinPresident Lincoln was conferring one day with Union officers during the Civil War. One asked, “Is is true you once went out to fight a duel for the sake of the lady by your side?” Lincoln answered, “I do not deny it. But if you desire my friendship, you will never mention it again.” The conversation swiftly shifted to another topic.

Nearly 20 years before he reached the White House, Lincoln was indeed involved in an “affair of honor.” Given the response you just read, it’s no surprise you’ve probably never heard of it.

So here’s what happened when Abe Lincoln fought a duel. Continue reading

Levi’s Unlucky Choice

HOW SAYING “NO THANKS” KEPT HIM OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE

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vp-sealThis week’s column begins with a confession. The name Levi P. Morton doesn’t leap to mind, even for certifiable history nuts like me. You’ll only recognize it if you’ve ever memorized all the vice presidents of the United States. (Don’t laugh; I met a woman in college who actually had to do that once. It remains the weirdest homework assignment I’ve ever heard of.)

Yes, Levi was vice president #22. And he very likely might have had the Big Job himself, if a single decision hadn’t denied him his one chance to live in the White House.

Here’s the story of how he made the wrong call. Continue reading

Anna’s Odd Odyssey

HOW SHE BECAME MOTHERHOOD’S ICON

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[Spoiler Alert: The payoff to this tale is at the very end. Please stick with it for the surprise conclusion.]

anna-cuAnna’s life was remarkable. Never in Holy Cow! History’s long and fabled existence have I shared a tale involving (in no particular order) bohemian artists, a Russian czar, a Confederate surgeon, a railroad found on the Monopoly board … oh, and one of the world’s most famous works of art, too.

Let me tell you how she wove all those diverse threads into a single amazing tapestry. Continue reading

Ready, Set – Surrender!

THE STORY BEHIND HISTORY’S SHORTEST WAR

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warWars can drag on forever. History tells of the Hundred Years’ War, the Eighty Years’ War and the Thirty Years’ War. For us, the 2001-2014 Afghanistan War was America’s longest conflict. (Although it’s often hard to tell when a war is really a “war”; click here to learn about some of Uncle Sam’s undeclared wars.)

Yet sometimes wars wrap up with surprising swiftness. Take history’s shortest war. How long do you think it lasted? A year? A month? A week? Not even close. Continue reading