9 Common Misconceptions About Modern History


There’s a reason you shouldn’t believe everything you hear. 

Through the decades, many facts about history have been exaggerated, distorted or just made up.  

Now, we’re putting some of the most popular misconceptions to bed. 

Napoleon Bonaparte was not short

The French emperor stood at 5 feet, 6 inches, which was actually an average height for that period.

Witches were not burned at the stake in Salem

Although the Salem witch trials of 1692 were gruelling affairs, none of the 20 people put to death were burned at the stake.

Nineteen of the accused witches were hanged and one man was crushed with stones.

Abraham Lincoln did not free slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln's 1863 decree didn't technically free anyone because it only applied to the areas under control of the Confederacy, who even then, didn't obey.

It wasn't until 1865, with the passage of the 13th amendment, that slavery was officially abolished in the United States.

Mrs. O'Leary's cow probably didn't start The Great Chicago Fire

There are many theories about what started the massive blaze that burned down Chicago in 1871, but chances are it wasn't ignited by Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern -- though historians agree that it did start in her barn.

40 years after the great conflagration, a reporter for the Chicago Republican admitted that he and two other people invented the cow story.

Thomas Edison didn't invent the first lightbulb

At least 50 years before Thomas Edison patented the electric lightbulb in 1880, chemists were using electricity to make light.

Where Edison succeeded was in making the first incandescent bulb, which burned long enough to light a home for many hours.

Benito Mussolini did not make the trains run on time

Although rail service did improve during Mussolini's rule, much of the work was done before the dictator came to power in 1922.

The popular notion was mostly Fascist propoganda.

Albert Einstein did not fail mathematics in school

According to Time magazine, the influential physicist laughed at this grossly inaccurate allegation saying, 'Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.'

Charles Lindbergh was not the first person to fly across the Atlantic in an aeroplane

Many people crossed the Atlantic in an aeroplane before Lindbergh. The American aviator's claim to fame was being the first to fly solo non-stop between New York and Paris in 1927.

When John F. Kennedy incorrectly said 'Ich bin ein Berliner' instead of 'Ich bin Berliner' (I am a citizen of Berlin) during a speech in Berlin, it was not interpreted as 'I am a jelly doughnut' by the German crowd (Although a Berliner is a type of jelly doughnut made in Germany).

According to a German instructor, JFK actually said, 'I am one with the people of Berlin.'

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