Oddball History Facts

– Thomas Jefferson was incredibly sloppy in many ways. His clothes were usually out of style, too small, and often threadbare. Instead of sitting properly in a chair, he was known for throwing his legs over one arm and reclining comfortably. His office and study often had massive piles of books and papers lying about in huge stacks. In other ways, though, Jefferson was amazingly meticulous. He recorded the weather and temperature every day of his adult life, and he faithfully recorded every penny he ever spent. His notes were so voluminous that Jefferson even felt the need to create a 650 page index of them! But his most amazing precision was saved for architecture. On his plans for Monticello, his home in Virginia, he specified a measurement of 1.8991666 inches. Even today, with the best computer-guided saws, it’s extremely difficult to cut any piece of wood to a millionth of an inch. Why Jefferson bothered is a mystery to this day.

– Worcestershire sauce was created by accident. Sort of. As the story goes, an English aristocrat returned from overseas with a burning desire to recreate a particular sauce he’d had in India. He approached two noted apothecaries, John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins of Worcester, to see if they could reproduce the sauce. Based on the man’s description, Lea and Perrins mixed malt vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract, onions, garlic, cloves, soy sauce, lemons, pickles, peppers and other ingredients in a barrel. By all accounts, the new sauce was positively awful. However, instead of throwing the foul mixture away, the apothecaries decided to keep it for reasons unknown, and so the barrel was rolled into a basement corner. The barrel was rediscovered a couple of years later, and the men tasted the sauce again on a whim. Aging was the key, as the sauce had turned from awful to delicious.

– The first written record in the English language of someone drinking tea comes from the famous diary of Samuel Pepys. Pepys mentions that he drank tea for the first time on September 25, 1660. Oddly, he doesn’t say anything else about it, including whether or not he enjoyed it. What’s interesting about this whole thing is that Pepys’ comments were mentioned in an 1812 book by Scottish historian David Macpherson called History of the European Commerce with India. The thing is, although Pepys’ diaries were available for viewing at Oxford University at the time, no one ever had before. And the reason for that was because the diaries were written in an obscure form of shorthand that had fallen out of use. Pepys’ diaries were, for all intents and purposes, written in an unknown language. They were not translated into standard English until 1822. How Macpherson managed to find and translate a single line of text out of six volumes of Pepy’s diary is unknown.

– The first music ever broadcast over radio was probably “Ombra mai fù”, an aria from Georg Friedrich Händel’s opera Xerxes. I say “probably” because many people in many places were experimenting with radio at the time. However, the airing of “Ombra mai fù”, on December 24, 1906, is the first musical broadcast we know of for certain.

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