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The Mammoth Book of Useless Information
An Official Useless Information Society Publication
By Noel Botham
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2012 Noel Botham
All rights reserved.
Benjamin Franklin invented swim fins.
The abacus was invented in Egypt in 2000 BC.
The Greek mathematician Archimedes invented the screw.
The parachute was invented 120 years before the airplane. It was intended to save people who had to jump from burning buildings.
The first pull-top can was invented by Ermal Cleon Fraze in 1959, after he had to resort to using his car bumper to open a can of drink.
Kleenex tissues were originally invented to remove make-up. Maybe that's why they're still called 'facial tissues'.
Roulette was invented by Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician and scientist.
In 1916, Jones Wister of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, invented a rifle for shooting around corners. It had a curved barrel and periscopic sights.
At the turn of the 19th century, most light bulbs were hand-blown, and the cost of one was equivalent to half a day's pay for the average US worker.
The first brassiere was invented in 1913 by teenage debutante Mary Phelps Jacob.
The same man who led the attack on the Alamo, Mexican military general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, is also credited with the invention of chewing gum.
The guillotine was originally called a louisette, after Antoine Louis, the French surgeon who invented it. It became known as the guillotine after Joseph Ignace Guillotin, the French physician who advocated it as a more merciful means of execution than the noose or axe.
Benjamin Franklin invented the rocking chair.
The modern zipper, the Talon Slide Fastener, was invented in 1913 but didn't catch on until after World War I. The first dresses incorporating the zipper appeared in the 1930s.
Western Electric invented the loudspeaker, which was initially called a 'loud-speaking telephone'.
The first VCR, made in 1956, was the size of a piano.
The Chinese invented eyeglasses. Marco Polo reported seeing many pairs worn by the Chinese as early as 1275, 500 years before lens grinding became an art in the West.
The first commercial vacuum cleaner was so large it was mounted on a wagon. People threw parties in their homes so guests could watch the new device do its job.
It has been determined that less than one patented invention in a hundred makes any money for the inventor.
The rickshaw was invented by the Reverend Jonathan Scobie, an American Baptist minister living in Yokohama, Japan, who built the first model in 1869 in order to transport his wife, who was an invalid. Today it remains a common mode of transportation in the Orient.
The Ancient Romans invented the arch.
The shoestring was invented in England in 1790. Prior to this time, all shoes were fastened with buckles.
The state of Maine was once known as the 'earmuff capital of the world', as earmuffs were invented there by Chester Greenwood in 1873.
The man who invented shorthand, John Gregg, was deaf.
Because he felt such an important tool should be public property, English chemist John Walker never patented his invention – matches.
In 1896, Herman Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company. Twenty-eight years later, in 1924 and after several take-overs, the company became known as International Business Machines (IBM).
The first mobile car phones were located in the car's boot, taking up nearly half of the space.
The Nobel Prize resulted from a late change in the will of Alfred Nobel, who did not want to be remembered after his death as a propagator of violence – he invented dynamite.
Sylvan N. Goldman of Humpty Dumpty Stores and Standard Food Markets developed the shopping trolley so that people could buy more in a single visit to the grocery store. He unveiled his creation in Oklahoma City on 4 June 1937.
The City and South London Railway opened the world's first deep-level electric railway on 18 December 1890, running from King William Street in the City of London under the River Thames to Stockwell.
The safety pin was patented in 1849 by Walter Hunt. He sold the patent rights for $400.
The windmill originated in Iran in AD 644 and was used to grind grain.
In 1832, the Scottish surgeon Neil Arnott devised waterbeds as a way of improving patients' comfort.
American Jim Bristoe invented a 30ft-long (9.1m), 2 -ton (2.03-tonne) pumpkin cannon that could fire pumpkins up to 5 miles (8 km) at a time.
Alexander Graham Bell applied for a patent for the telephone three days before he had got it to work. Had Bell waited until he had a working model, Elisha Gray, who filed a patent application the same day, would have been awarded the patent. But the telephone system we use is technically more like that described in Gray's patent.CHAPTER 2
The World and its People
Twenty-five per cent of women think money makes a man sexier.
Pablo Picasso was born dead. His midwife abandoned him on a table, leaving Picasso's uncle to bring him to life with a lungful of cigar smoke.
Tchaikovsky was financed by a wealthy widow for thirteen years. At her request, they never met.
The great lover and adventurer Casanova was earning his living as a librarian for a count in Bohemia when he died at the age of 73.
Today, 6.7 billion people live on the Earth.
The first person other than royalty to be portrayed on a British stamp was William Shakespeare, in 1964.
Offered a new pen to write with, 97 per cent of all people will write their own name.
There are 106 boys born for every 100 girls.
When Errol Flynn appeared as a contestant on the mid-1950s TV quiz show The Big Surprise, he was questioned about sailing and won $30,000.
The world's population grows by 100 million each year.
In all, 950 million people in the world are malnourished.
Actor Montgomery Clift is said to haunt room number 928 of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, which was home to him for three months while filming From Here to Eternity (1953). Hotel guests and employees have reported sensing the actor's presence, or have heard him reciting his lines and playing the trumpet. One guest felt a hand patting her shoulder, while others claim to feel cold spots in the room.
After Frank Lahainer died in March 1995, in Palm Beach, Florida, his widow Gianna had him embalmed and stored for forty days at a funeral home. It seemed that Frank, worth $300 million, died at an inconvenient time: it was the middle of Palm Beach's social season and Gianna didn't want to miss any of the parties.
Nuns in the United States have an average life expectancy of seventy-seven years, the longest of any group in the country.
The men who served as guards along the Great Wall of China in the Middle Ages were often born on the wall, grew up there, married there, died there and were buried within it. Many of these guards never left the wall in their entire lives.
St George, the patron saint of England, never actually visited England.
To help create her signature sexy walk, actress Marilyn Monroe sawed off part of the heel of one shoe.
After his death, the body of Pope Formosus was dug up and tried for various crimes.
As the official taste-tester for Edy's Grand Ice Cream, John Harrison had his taste buds insured for $1 million.
Prompted by their immense public appeal, Ancient Roman gladiators performed product endorsements.
Cleopatra was part Macedonian, part Greek and part Iranian. She was not an Egyptian.
There are currently six reigning queens in Europe. They are: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom; Queen Sofia of Spain; Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands; Queen Margrethe II of Denmark; Queen Silvia of Sweden; and Queen Fabiola of Belgium.
A man hit by a car in New York in 1977 got up uninjured, but lay back down in front of the car when a bystander told him to pretend he was hurt so he could collect insurance money. The car rolled forward and crushed him to death.
Julius Caesar, Martin Luther King and Jonathan Swift all suffered from Ménière's disease. It is a disorder of the hearing and balance senses, causing progressive deafness and attacks of tinnitus and vertigo.
King Mithridates VI was so afraid of assassination by poisoning that he gave himself small doses of poison each day in the hope that he would naturally build up a resistance to poisons. When the Romans invaded in 63 BC, to avoid being captured he tried to commit suicide, but he had built up such an immunity that the poison he took had no effect on him. Eventually the king ordered a slave to kill him with his sword.
Johann Sebastian Bach once walked 230 miles (370km) to hear the organist at Lübeck in Germany.
Adolf Hitler was fascinated by hands. In his library there was a well-thumbed book containing pictures and drawings of hands belonging to famous people throughout history. He particularly liked to show his guests how closely his own hands resembled those of Frederick the Great, one of his heroes.
Handel wrote the score of his Messiah in just over three weeks.
US actor Larry Hagman didn't allow smoking on the set of TV series Dallas.
St John was the only one of the twelve apostles to die a natural death.
The pioneering scientist Marie Curie was not allowed to become a member of the prestigious French Academy because she was a woman.
In 1994, Los Angeles police arrested a man for dressing as the Grim Reaper – complete with scythe – and standing outside the windows of old people's homes, staring in.
The composer Richard Wagner was vegetarian, and once published a diatribe against 'the abominable practice of flesh eating'.
Nazi Adolf Eichmann was originally a travelling salesman for the Vacuum Oil Company of Austria.
During the 17th century, the Sultan of Turkey ordered that his entire harem of women be drowned and replaced with a new one.
Henry VII was the only British king to be crowned on the field of battle.
Ludwig van Beethoven was once arrested for vagrancy.
In 1759, Emmanuel Swedenborg, speaking to a reception full of local notables in Gothenburg, described in vivid detail the progress of a disastrous fire that was sweeping through Stockholm, 300 miles (483km) away. At six o'clock he told them the fire had just broken out; at eight he told them it had been extinguished only three doors from his home. Two days later, a messenger from Stockholm confirmed every detail.
When Richard II died, in 1400, a hole was left in the side of his tomb so that people could touch his royal head. However, 376 years later, a schoolboy reportedly took advantage of this and stole his jawbone.
Julius Caesar wore a laurel wreath to cover the onset of baldness.
Blackbird, Chief of the Omaha Indians, was buried sitting on his favourite horse.
Prime Minister William Gladstone, a man of strong Puritan impulses, kept a selection of whips in his cellar with which he regularly chastised himself.
Irving Berlin composed 3,000 songs in his lifetime but couldn't read music.
China uses 45 billion chopsticks per year, using 25 million trees to make them.
President Kaunda of Zambia once threatened to resign if his fellow countrymen didn't stop drinking so much alcohol.
The Winchester Mansion, in San José, California, was built by Sara Winchester, the widow of gun manufacturer William Winchester. She had been told by a psychic to build a house large enough to house the souls of all those who had been killed by Winchester guns. With stairways and doors that go nowhere, secret rooms and passages, and elevators that only go up one floor, some believe that Sara had the house built in a confusing way so that the spirits wouldn't be able to find her and seek revenge. Obsessed with the number thirteen, every night at the stroke of midnight she would sit down to dinner at a table set for thirteen people, even though she was alone. The house also had thirteen bathrooms, stairways with thirteen steps and so on. Her superstitions meant that she would never give her workmen the day off, afraid that the day she stopped building she would die. One day, however, after many complaints, she finally gave her staff a day off – and that is the day she died.
It is believed that Handel haunts his former London home. Many who have entered Handel's bedroom, where he died in 1759, have reported seeing a tall, dark shape and sensing a strong smell of perfume. Roman Catholic priests have performed exorcisms in their bid to clear the house of all spirits before it becomes a museum that will be open to the public.
There are more than 150 million sheep in Australia but only 17 million people, while in New Zealand there are only 4 million people compared with 70 million sheep.
In Holland, you can be fined for not using a shopping basket at a grocery store.
On every continent there is a city called Rome.
The oldest inhabited city is Damascus, Syria.
The first city in the world to have a population of more than 1 million was London, which today is the thirteenth most populated city.
The Atlantic Ocean is saltier than the Pacific Ocean.
Kilts are not native to Scotland. They originated in France.
One-third of Taiwanese funeral processions include a stripper.
It is illegal to own a red car in Shanghai, China.
Antarctica is the only land on our planet that is not owned by any country.
There is now a cash machine at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, which has a winter population of 200 people. It is the only ATM machine on the continent.
Major earthquakes have hit Japan on 1 September AD 827, 1 September AD 859, 1 September 1185, 1 September 1649 and 1 September 1923.
There are ninety-two known cases of nuclear bombs lost at sea.
In Nepal, cow dung is used for medicinal purposes.
All the Earth's continents, except Antarctica, are wider at the north than at the south.
There are no rental cars in Bermuda.
The richest country in the world is Switzerland, while Mozambique is the poorest.
Until 1920, Canada was planning on invading the United States.
In 1956, only 8 per cent of British households had a refrigerator.
In India, people are legally allowed to marry a dog.
The Ancient Egyptians trained baboons to wait on tables.
One day in 1892, residents of Paderborn, Germany, witnessed the appearance of an odd-looking yellow cloud. Out of it fell not only a fierce rain, but also mussels.
Mount Everest is 1ft (30.5cm) higher today than it was a century ago, and is believed to be still growing.
Greenland has more ice on it than Iceland does, while Iceland has more grass and trees than Greenland.
The country of Tanzania has an island called Mafia.
Panama is the only place in the world where someone can see the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean and set over the Atlantic.
In Poland, a brewery developed a plumbing problem in which beer was accidentally pumped into the incoming water supply. It meant that residents of the town got free beer on tap for one day.
The Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific, once issued a stamp shaped like a banana.
Japanese children can buy a toy in the shape of a small plastic atom bomb.
Mount Athos, in northern Greece, calls itself an independent country and has a male-only population of about 4,000. No females of any kind, including animals, are allowed. There are twenty monasteries within a space of 20 miles (32km).
In Cyprus, there is one cinema per every eight people.
Two hundred and thirty people died when Moradabad, India, was bombed with giant balls of hail more than 2in (5cm) in diameter on 30 April 1888.
A church steeple in Germany was struck by lightning and destroyed on 18 April 1599. The members of the church rebuilt it, but it was hit by lightning three more times between then and 1783, and rebuilt again and again. Every time it was hit, the date was 18 April.
Monaco issued a postage stamp honouring Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the picture on the stamp showed six fingers on his left hand.
The most common place name in Britain is Newton, which occurs 150 times.
China has more English speakers than the United States.
The Toltecs, 7th-century native Mexicans, went into battle with wooden swords so as not to kill their enemies.
In 1821, stones fell on a house in Truro, Cornwall. So remarkable was the event that the local mayor visited the house, though he was unnerved by the rattling of the walls and roof due to the falling stones. Called in to help, the military was unable to determine the source of the stones, and five days later the fall was still going on.
Belgium is the only country that has never imposed censorship laws on adult films.
Excerpted from The Mammoth Book of Useless Information by Noel Botham. Copyright © 2012 Noel Botham. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
2. The World and its People,
4. Arts and Entertainment,
5. The Things People Say,
8. The Romans,
10. The Universe,
12. Sayings and Omens,
13. Science and Nature,
14. The Wit and Wisdom of Oscar Wilde,
17. Assassinated Presidents,
19. Sports and Games,
22. The Underground,
23. About the Sexes,
24. Ways to Go,
25. Language and Literature,
26. The Beatles,
27. Food and Drink,
28. Crime and Criminals,
29. Doctors' Notes,
31. Last Words,