The Extermination of the Stellar’s Sea Cow

The Steller’s Sea Cow was the largest member of the Manatee and Dugong family, reaching the incredible length of 30 feet and weighing over ten tons. It wasn’t discovered by science until 1741. And by 1768, in the space of less than 30 years, it had been utterly exterminated.


Steller’s Sea Cow. A contemporary engraving.

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Tenerife: The Deadliest Aircraft Accident

On March 27, 1977, two 747 jumbo jets collided on the runway at an airport on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco. Of the 644 people on board the two planes, 583 were killed. The Tenerife collision still remains the deadliest aircraft accident in history.


A KLM Airlines Boeing 747.                        photo from WikiCommons

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The East India Company: A History

The British East India Company was one of the world’s first “corporations”. Chartered by the English Crown, it had its own Army, installed its own Governments, minted its own coins, and ruled entire countries. And it played a direct role in sparking the American Revolution.


One-rupee coin issued by the British East India Company          photo from WikiCommons

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Florida’s Invaders: The Walking Catfish

Florida is the land of invasive species. Because of our status as a center for the importing of exotic pets and houseplants from overseas, and our neo-tropical climate, we have been invaded by everything from kudzu plants to Burmese pythons. And one of our invaders is a seeming impossibility–a fish that breathes air and walks on land.


Walking Catfish                                                    Photo from US Geological Survey

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Massive Retaliation: A History of US Plans for Nuclear War

At the end of the Second World War, the United States possessed one complete atomic bomb ready for use and was making enough plutonium to potentially produce two more bombs per month. But, President Truman thought, there was no need for that number—no country, he thought, could withstand an attack by more than five or six atomic bombs without being forced to surrender. One year after Hiroshima, the entire US nuclear stockpile stood at 9 weapons, and by July 1947 this had grown to only 13 bombs and 34 specially-modified B-29 bombers to deliver them.

In 1949, however, the Soviet Union test-detonated its own atomic weapon (a virtual copy of the Nagasaki bomb). The US, in a panic, ordered increased production of its own nuclear weapons, and a crash program to develop bigger and better bombs and delivery systems, eventually culminating in the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of delivering  hydrogen thermonuclear weapons halfway around the world with over one-million tons of explosive power. The next forty years would see a nuclear arms race on a massive scale, which drained treasuries, hobbled economies, and threatened the entire planet with instant nuclear annihilation.

An iconic image of the Cold War–a Minuteman III nuclear missile in its silo.

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The Nation’s First Capitols

Most of us know that Washington DC was not the first Capitol of the US; indeed the city did not even exist until after George Washington’s term of office. Some people know that the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, but at that time the colonies had no formal government. It was not until the Articles of Confederation were written in 1778 that the colonies had an actual written constitution–but they were not ratified until 1781, and the US did not actually win its independence until 1783. During this time, the US actually had nine different capitol cities.


The original brick Capitol Building, Washington DC, 1800

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Niihau Island: How a Lone Shot-Down Pilot Led to the Wartime Imprisonment of Japanese-Americans

In February 1942, President Franklin D Roosevelt issued Executive Order 1066, authorizing the forcible relocation to detention camps of all people of Japanese descent who lived along the Pacific Coast. It was a shameful event in US history. But few people today remember the incident that sparked the internment policy, which involved a Japanese pilot who had been shot down during the Pearl Harbor attack.


Crashed Zero on Niihau Island.                                         US Army Photo

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Cicciolina: The Porn Star in Parliament

Ilona Staller, better-known under her stage name Cicciolina, is surely the most colorful political figure from any country. An actress who found her fame in porn films, she was elected to the Italian Parliament for a four-year term, delivered her campaign speeches topless, and after taking office she continued to make hardcore films while serving as an MP.


Italian Parliament Building.                                    Photo from Wiki Commons

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The Baghdad Battery

The story of the “Baghdad Battery” is a staple on many paranormal, “alternative history” and “ancient astronaut” websites. According to the lore, the “battery” indicates that ancient people in the Middle East knew about and used electricity some 2,000 years before the Europeans supposedly discovered it. But how solid is the evidence for this?

baghdad battery 1

The pieces of the “Baghdad Battery”.

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Forgotten mysteries, oddities and unknown stories from history, nature and science.