With the uncertain economy, lingering wars, and the ever-present threats of everything from bird flu to Bieber Fever, it’s tempting to long for the “good old days.” But just how good were they?
Buckle up for a bumpy ride down memory lane (and try not to get trampled) as these 665 funny history facts and terrifying truths reveal the unfortunate reality of life for your ancestors during the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Inside you’ll find tragically ridiculous facts about:
- Patents and inventions
- Diet and food
- Fashion, style and beauty
- Crime and punishment
- Medical procedures and medications
- Sanitation and hygiene
- Ordinary domestic life
- Employment and labor practices
- Money and economics
- Fads, fallacies and holidays
- Natural and man-made disasters
From the Book:
The elaborate, towering coiffures of the 18th century took so long to create that weeks went by between stylings. Over time, the mixture of lard, starch and powder, applied over cage frames or horsehair pads, attracted rats and other vermin, who found these high hairdos not only handy for nesting materials but for actual nesting. Some women wore cages over their heads while they slept to keep the critters away.
Moustaches were a constant dinnertime challenge for men in the 19th century. Among the many inventions designed to keep facial hair out of your soup (and vice versa) was a moustache shield patented in 1876 by Virgil A. Gates. The moustache-sized band was held in place by straps around the ears.
The demise of flea circuses may have been a relief to their human ringmasters, who had to feed the tiny performers with their own blood—typically, twice a day, for 15 to 30 minutes per feeding.
After the Vikings invaded Ireland, beginning in 795, they introduced coins—and taxes—to the Emerald Isle. In 9th century Ireland, those who refused to pay the Vikings’ “tax” got their noses slit, which is the origin of the phrase “pay through the nose.”
Once the Victorians finally discovered baths and showers, they went at it with a penitential fury. Cold baths—the colder, the better—were preferred, and shower heads were designed to deliver a needle-like pounding. Before you dared get into some showers, you had to don protective headgear to keep from being knocked unconscious by the force of the water.
The opulence of the “Gilded Age” led to some jaw-dropping extremes. One lavish New York dinner party took over the ballroom of the posh Sherry’s restaurant for a Wild West theme: Dinner guests, dressed in cowboy attire, ate on horseback—a peculiar indulgence made possible by leading several dozen horses into the restaurant, hooves padded to protect the floors, and tethering the mounts to tables.
Table of Contents:
- Introduction: Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be
- Chapter 1: Patents That Should Still Be Pending: Failed and foolish inventions, and the rocky road to progress
- Chapter 2: Are You Really Going to Eat That?: Food, not-so-glorious food
- Chapter 3: Rats and Other Fashion Accessories: Style and beauty back then
- Chapter 4: Hang ’em High or Drawn and Quartered?: Crime and punishment through the ages
- Chapter 5: First, Do No Harm—Oops!: Medicine’s painful past
- Chapter 6: Cleanliness Is Next to Impossible: Sanitation and hygiene
- Chapter 7: Home Is Where the Horror Is: The dirty truth about yesterday’s houses
- Chapter 8: Nice Work If You Can Survive It: Factories, farms and other death traps
- Chapter 9: No Wonder They Call It the “Dismal Science”: Money and economics, the rich and (mostly) the poor
- Chapter 10: Low Society: Fads, fallacies and fancies, holidays and living high on the hog.
- Chapter 11: We Are Not Amused: Sports, recreation and what our ancestors called “fun”
- Chapter 12: No-Go: Transportation flops and detours
- Chapter 13: Life in a State of Nature: Wild things and natural (and unnatural) disasters