We are used to basing our decisions on certain facts about history that we learned in school or from books. But there are a lot of facts that few people know about that break the stereotypical knowledge about the past. For example, who would have thought that in the beginning of the 20th century children were medically treated with cocaine and that at first no one wanted to buy toilet paper in the USSR but then it became so popular that stores actually ran out of it?
We have collected several unexpected and very interesting historical facts that nobody will tell you about in school.
1. Dangerous medicine
Cocaine was incredibly popular at the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century as a medicine and as a stimulant. Even Freud himself was amazed by cocaine and recommended it for many disorders. Cocaine was added to foods and beverages (for example, the first recipe of Coca-Cola included a little cocaine), and it was used as a base for the production of many kinds of medicine, including medicine for children. Society only noticed the bad side effects of taking cocaine much later. It took until 1963 for the UN to include cocaine in their list of prohibited drugs.
In addition to cocaine, drugs based on morphine and heroin were also very popular. They were addedto cough syrups and used to treat psychological disorders. Another interesting fact: 7UP contained lithium citrate in its first recipe. This lemonade first appeared in 1929 and was advertised as a great cure for depression and hangovers. It took until 1948 for the manufacturer to stop adding this dangerous ingredient.
A Lucky Strike advertisement.
This might seem strange but in the first half of the 20th century even cigarettes were believed to be a type of medicine. Tobacco companies enlisted doctors to advertise their products. The commercials said that “smoking is better than a diet,” that smoking helps with a sore throat, a cough, and even asthma. A cigarette became a fashionable accessory.
2. Iranian Shah and his harem
There is a pretty controversial story about the harem of Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar who ruled in Iran in the late 19th century. Many people were shocked when they saw the photos of his women. Some of the women were beautiful… in an unconventional way. They had mustaches!
There are people who believe that these are the real photos of Nasser al-Din’s harem. They claim that he loved photography and tried to break the prohibition of taking pictures of faces, and especially faces of women.
However, there is an opposing theory suggesting that the “women” we see in the photos are actually not women at all! According to this idea, because of the photo prohibition, men from the first State Theater were invited to take part in the photoshoot and dress as women!
3. Your own garden hermit
A garden hermit in Germany in the 18th century by Johann Schmitt, 1795.
At the end of the 18th century, it was very fashionable to have not only a beautiful garden but also a wild one. In this type of garden, there was a hut for a garden hermit where one could have some alone time. But it was especially cool when there was a real hermit living in the hut so the owner could proudly show off the hermit to their guests.
Rich landlords often hired homeless people who were supposed to do certain things. English poet Charles Hamilton had these requirements for his hermit: “(A hermit must) continue on the Hermitage for 7 years, where he shall be provided with a Bible, optical glasses, a mat for his feet, a hassock for his pillow, an hourglass for timepiece, water for his beverage, and food from the house. He must wear a camlet robe, and never, under any circumstances, must he cut his hair, beard, or nails, stray beyond the limits of Mr. Hamilton’s grounds, or exchange one word with the servants.”
Of course, this job is not for everyone. That’s why instead of real hermits, a dummy was used. According to one version of the story, this why garden gnomes are still so popular.
4. Treatment of children
A postman carrying a boy in his bag. The U.S., 1910.
This is a weird fact that will terrify modern parents: in the U.S. in the 1910s, you could send children via mail. In those years, the mail law made the lives of farmers easier, so they could send chickens via mail. But some citizens decided to use this law and started sending their children to their relatives.
It cost less than a dollar and the cargo was delivered right to the doorstep. This was much easier and cheaper than sending a child by train. It took until 1920 to make this illegal.
5. Selfie fashion
The first selfie in the world made by photographer Robert Cornelius in 1839.
It seems that selfies have only appeared recently, but in fact, people started taking them almost right after photography appeared. The first known selfie was made in 1839. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy to take a selfie: because of the long exposure, one had to freeze for a little bit of time and not move, otherwise, the photo would look terrible. And the first photo that was made using a tripod was taken in 1925.
A selfie of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia that was made in 1914 using a mirror and a Kodak Brownie camera.
6. Unusual first cars
Amphibious steam-powered carriage by American inventor Oliver Evans, 1798.
The first car patent in the U.S. was given in 1789. It was a steam machine with paddles so it could move not only on the land but also in the water. In the first half of the 18th century, electric cars appeared. French electric car La Jamais Contente moved at 100 km per hour which was the record speed back then.
In 1870, in Vienna, inventor Siegfried Marcus put an internal combustion engine in a regular carriage. It was the first gas car in the world. In the beginning of the 20th century, internal combustion engines replaced electric engines completely so they were forgotten for almost a century.
La Jamais Contente (English: The Never Satisfied) was the first road vehicle to go over 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph).
Another funny thing is the Kégresse track system that was the base of the car/sleigh on Nicolas II, 1917.
7. Funny gas masks
A mother and 3 children, one of whom is in an air-tight baby carriage.
The mass production of gas masks started during World War I. Along for the gas masks for soldiers, there were also special masks for horses and dogs. An interesting fact: according to writer Alexander Moritz Frey who served with Hitler during World War I, Hitler wore the toothbrush moustache in the trenches after he was ordered to trim his mustache to facilitate the wearing of a gas mask. This is how Hitler got his famous toothbrush mustache.
A single gas mask for a mother and a child, 1939.
Later, gas masks for civilians were produced. For example, there were special gas rooms where you could hide and even baby carriages that were air-tight gas masks. During World War II, in order not to scare kids with creepy gas masks and to not make it look like torture, there was even a Mickey Mouse-shaped gas mask in the U.S.
8. A useless invention
The first mentions of toilet paper are found in China in the 6th century. Europeans used other methods for many centuries: wool, leaves, sand, rags, moss, and even shells. Printing in the 19th century led to people using cheap books and newspapers as toilet paper.
The toilet paper we know today — toilet paper rolls — appeared at the end of the 19th century. In the USSR, the production of toilet paper started only in 1969. At first, it wasn’t widely popular. The citizens thought that it was a waste of money to buy special paper when they could use regular newspaper.
A campaign sponsored by the government influenced the population, so they actively started buying this new product which soon led to its scarcity.
9. New beauty products
At the beginning of the 20th century, the beauty industry started developing really rapidly offering ladies new devices for improving their appearance. The devices, by the way, looked really weird with some of them even looking more like torture devices than beauty products. However, women weren’t really scared of experimenting and they used the new inventions: devices for freezing freckles, removing acne, changing the shape of the nose, and many other things.
A client at the beauty salon of Helena Rubinstein having a milk bath with air bubbles and a special anti-aging facial mask, 1937.
In the 1910s, in Eastern Europe and America, beauty salons became popular. The founder of a famous chain of beauty salons where the first professional cosmetologists worked was Helena Rubinstein. She was the one who invented waterproof mascara and separated the 3 types of skin: normal, dry, and oily, also recommending a special skin care regimen for them.
10. Strange entertainment
There were a lot of really wild kinds of entertainment in the past. In the picture above, you can see one of them — the “diving horse.” William Carver was going over a half-destroyed bridge and his horse fell into the water. The image of a falling horse inspired Carver so much that he created a show where trained horses jumped into the water. The show became really popular, very quickly.
It took animal rights defenders until the 1970s to shut this show down, but even now horse diving exists in one place in New York. The owners claim that they don’t use brute force on the horses and they jump from only 3 meters high, so there is no danger to them.
Mr. Egbert taking his 5-year-old lion for a ride on the wall of death at Mitcham fair. January 1, 1935.
Another wild kind of entertainment from the recent past is the so-called Lion Drome. It appeared in the 20s when regular car racing was boring for viewers. Then, organizers started putting a real lion right next to the racer. The racer reached a very high speed and rode on the vertical “wall of death.”
But even this wasn’t enough for viewers. Then, a new extreme element appeared: trained lions were freed from their cages and chased moving motorcyclists trying to catch them. The last Lion Drome was closed in 1964 when a lion tore off a drunk trainer’s hand.