Now, some of us simply like to travel to get away. To lounge on a beach for a week or two, simply garishly-coloured drinks with little umbrellas on them and forgetting to re-apply our sunblock until it’s too late.
Is there anything wrong with that? Oh, heckola no. Well, maybe the sunblock thing (you always get burnt somewhere odd, don’t you, like your elbow or something), but otherwise, that sounds like a fantastic trip to me.
Others prefer to travel for the cultural and educational possibilities. You know, to dive right in there with a foreign nation, get to know the locals, ditch that handy little tourist guide and experience the authenticity of it all.
The thing is, there are lots of misconceptions about places. Take the United States, for instance. Even if you’re from America yourself, there are all kinds of things about your country that you took for granted. Things that are intrinsically USA, which you might well have boasted about to visitors and foreign friends.
But what if they’re false? What if I told you that Independence day shouldn’t REALLY be the fourth of July? That Seattle isn’t technically as rainy as you think it is? Or that the Wild West wasn’t the gun-slingin’ lawless mess that you see in Clint Eastwood’s movies? Buckle up for 25 USA Myths That People Still Somehow Believe.
25 MYTH: Subway Is A Healthier Fast Food Alternative
As our hectic and high-pressure lives become ever busier, we’re struggling more and more to fit things into our schedules. Things like… you know, eating. Breakfast bars and such are a huge deal nowadays, as we rush to consume something during our morning commute.
This also goes to explain the enduring popularity of fast food. We all have those nuts to it, let’s get takeout days. Some of us like to try and balance that need for something quick and easy with the desire to be a little waistline-conscious, which is where Subway comes in.
Lots of us think that Subway is a healthy fast food choice. It can be, if you’re selective with your veg-tastic choices and forego the sauce, but generally speaking, you’d be surprised. As The Week reports, in one 2013 study:
“Scientists found the average Subway sandwich purchased came to 784 calories, compared to the average burger order, which came in at 582 calories.”
24 MYTH: Walt Disney Drew Mickey Mouse
Now, there’s no denying that Walt Disney was the creator of… well, Disney. He’s the figurehead, the inspiration, the father of Mickey Mouse and all those other beloved characters.
He voiced Mickey, yes. But did he draw him? You probably think so, but it turns out that this isn’t the case. The truth, as reported by Best Life Online, is this:
“Sure, Mickey Mouse was his idea… but everything iconic about Mickey Mouse—the pancake ears, the red shorts—are the creation of Ub Iwerks, Disney’s favorite animator.”
This isn’t to say that Walt himself never drew his most famous creation at all, but it was lifelong friend Ub Iwerks who developed Mickey into the character we know today.
23 MYTH: Seattle Is One Of The Rainiest Cities In America
If you live in Seattle, you’ve visited, or you watch old reruns of Frasier (characters on the show often bemoans the weather), you’ll have heard that the Emerald City is one darn rainy place.
Is it one of the rainiest in the country, though? Despite what you may think, it actually isn’t.
In another interesting technicality, WMC Action News explains, “while the Olympic Mountains to the west of Seattle act as a rain shadow, the city of Seattle picks up less precipitation each year compared to New York or even Miami.”
Here’s what’s happening: Seattle sees more days of rain than these cities, but very light rainfall much of the time. As a result, the total average rainfall remains low.
22 MYTH: The Fourth Of July Is Independence Day
Well, no, let me rephrase that. The fourth of July clearly is Independence Day. Just ask any American on that day (if they can hear you over their barbecues and fireworks), they’ll tell you.
Should it be the fourth, though? That’s the real question here. The answer? Actually, no, no it shouldn’t.
Many people don’t know that the Declaration of Independence was not signed on this day. Best Life Online explains the true order of things:
“The Continental Congress voted for independence and drafted the Declaration on the 2nd of July, a revision was approved on the 4th, It was read aloud for the first time on the 8th, and the final document wasn’t signed until August 2nd.”
The second president of the United States, John Adams, fully expected that July 2nd would become the holiday.
21 MYTH: The Salem Witch Trials Were Brought About By Ergot Poisoning
In the very late 1600s, as you probably know, the notorious Salem Witch Trials took place. These events were not unique in their time (similar accusations and trials took place around Europe during this period), but are some of the best-known and most violent examples of mass hysteria on record.
What caused the townsfolk to turn against each other so? One common theory surrounds ergot poisoning (a fungus that can have hallucinogenic effects when consumed), which is said to have found its way into the peoples’ bread.
As TIME reports, one historian has stated that, “This has proved to be a popular and enduring explanation for the 1692 accusations, so much so that whenever I give a talk about the Salem episode I am asked about the theory.”
Popular as it is, it’s easily refuted. For one thing, ergot poisoning would cause gangrene, and there’s no record of the people of Salem struggling from such. The historian goes on to say that only some people from each family were affected, which would not have been the case if they’d all eaten the same food.
20 MYTH: One Of The Apollo 13 Astronauts Said, “Houston, We Have A Problem”
Now, nobody’s to blame for this one (except Tom Hanks, if I’m honest). The line’s just become so iconic that you can’t possibly argue with it, inaccurate or not.
Still, I’m nothing if not pedantic, so let’s take a look-see here. For the uninitiated, the line “Houston, we have a problem” comes from the movie Apollo 13, which follows the events of the 1970 lunar mission that never made it to the moon’s surface.
At one stage, as things go awry, Hanks’ character utters the now-legendary line, despite the fact that this was not actually what the real astronauts said. The real words were delivered in past tense, “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”
19 MYTH: Christopher Columbus Discovered America
Well, technically, yes, Columbus did discover America, in the sense that he arrived there (albeit by accident) and became the catalyst of everything that followed.
Was he really the first to do so, though? Heckles no. As reported by Best Life Online, the Icelandic explorer Leif Erikson was the first European to land on the continent, five centuries before Columbus’s famous voyage.
Even if that hadn’t been the case, let’s not forget the Natives themselves, who had already discovered their homeland a long, long time before any explorer did, thank you very much. Still, the second Monday of October is celebrated as Columbus Day in America.
18 MYTH: The First Settlers Were Disenfranchised Brits
So, yes. The most rudimentary knowledge of the history of the United States will probably take you as far as the Mayflower, the ship that brought the Pilgrims to US shores.
These brave travellers, their journey, their arrival and their ship have all become intrinsic parts of the country’s cultural heritage. Have you ever heard of a little holiday called Thanksgiving?
What you may not know, however, is that the Pilgrims were not the first to these shores.
TIME laments the fact that “U.S. history textbooks typically give only a passing glance to Spanish-speaking settlements, such as St. Augustine (1565), Santa Fe (1610), San Antonio (1718) and latecomer Los Angeles (1781),” reminding us that “The first European language spoken in the area that would become the United States was Spanish, not English.”
17 MYTH: Washington Had Wooden Teeth
Needless to say, George Washington has become a bit of a mythical figure in the country’s history. The heroic Father of the Nation, who, legend has it, had pretty darn questionable teeth.
Now, this wasn’t anything unusual. Dental hygiene was hardly a big priority back then, after all. You’ve probably heard that Washington had wooden false teeth, a ‘fact’ that’s repeated in all kinds of sources. While he did indeed struggle with his teeth for most of his adult life, this was never the case. As Mount Vernon explains:
“It’s quite possible that some of his dentures, particularly after they had been stained, took on a wooden complexion, but wood was never used in the construction of any of his dental fittings.
Throughout his life Washington employed numerous full and partial dentures that were constructed of materials including human, and probably cow and horse teeth, ivory (possibly elephant), lead-tin alloy, copper alloy (possibly brass), and silver alloy.”
16 MYTH: Washington And The Cherry Tree Story
So, there it is. Washington had all kinds of dental issues and all kinds of dentures (copper teeth, lead/tin teeth, possibly horse teeth), but never any that were truly made of wood. If one of the most famous stories about him is a myth, then what else isn’t true?
Well, one of the other most famous stories about him, that’s what. That business with the six-year-old George chopping down the cherry tree, confessing to his father with the famous ‘I cannot tell a lie’ line?
As it turns out, this was just an adorable piece of fiction. The tale first appeared in a biography of Washington, written in 1806. The writer apparently confessed that he’d invented it, as a way of demonstrating that Washington’s “unparalleled rise and elevation were due to his Great Virtues.”
15 MYTH: Betsy Ross Created The Stars And Stripes
The story goes that Betsy Ross designed the star-spangled banner, under instruction by Washington himself. She’s even said to have suggested the inclusion of the now-iconic stars.
This is the story as schools around the country tell it, but is it true? Probably not. Grunge reports that while Ross was a famous flag designer, it was her grandson that told the story of her designing the US flag, around a century later.
In the end, “his only evidence were testimonials from family members. Most likely, the Betsy Ross story was simply an attention-grabbing family legend that somehow made it into American history books.”
14 MYTH: Benjamin Franklin Wanted The Turkey To Be The National Bird Of The United States
Now, there’s certainly no denying that the people of the United States can appreciate a turkey like no other. As a Brit, I’ve visited the country and been treated to a Thanksgiving meal, and I can confirm that the only word to describe the feast is turkeytastic.
Just how far did they take their turkey appreciation, though? Did Benjamin Franklin really want turkeys to be made the national bird? It’s true that he did write a famous letter to his daughter, in which he questions the choice of the bald eagle and extols the virtues of the humble turkey. However, as Grunge points out,
“It's obvious that Franklin is being facetious in this letter, employing the signature wit that made him famous. Regardless, he never explicitly states that the turkey should replace the bald eagle.”
13 MYTH: Cowboys Wore Cowboy Hats
Well, again, there’s a bit of a technicality here. Cowboys did wear hats, which means that they wore cowboy hats by extension (in the sense that they were hats that cowboys wore). Cowboy hats were not the hats you’re thinking of, though.
Just watch any Western, and you’ll come away with a certain impression of the kind of headgear they favoured. However, this wasn’t the case in reality, as Ripley’s Believe It Or Not explains:
“The iconic Stetson came onto the market in 1865, and it wasn’t popular until the end of the 19th century. A cowboy’s preferred choice of hat? The derby—also known as the bowler. Photos of the Wild Bunch from 1892 and 1900 clearly show the gang—Harry A. Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid), Ben Kilpatrick (the Tall Texan), Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy), Harvey Logan (Kid Curry), and Will Carver—donning derby hats.”
12 MYTH: Washington, D.C. Was Always The Capital City
Washington, D.C., as we all know, is one of the most culturally significant cities in the United States. It was named after Founding Father George Washington himself, after all, and designated the home of the government after the American Revolution.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t always the capital city. Originally, that honour belonged to Philadelphia, an important hub for the new nation which was “equally accessible from north and south.” As reported by Constitution Center, though, the Residence Act of July 16, 1790 moved the capital to Washington.
Why? “The City of Brotherly Love became the ex-capital for several reasons: the machinations of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson; the compromise over slavery; a concern about public health; and a grudge against the Pennsylvania state government were all factors in the move.”
11 MYTH: Paul Revere Famously Rode From Boston To Concord
It’s a fantastic story, for sure. The desperate, feverish ride, the famous cry of “the British are coming!”… it’s the sort of thing great poems could be written about. Which one was, and that’s exactly the problem.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote Paul Revere’s Ride in 1775, and exaggerated the whole business for excitement’s sake. In reality, Business Insider reports, “the American patriot rode mostly in silence, to avoid army patrols while spreading the word. When speaking to people along his route to Concord, he used the much less catchy "The regulars are coming out" as a warning.”
Besides, many of the colonists considered themselves British too, so that part wouldn’t really work out. Most importantly, though, a patrol soon stopped Revere on his journey and sent him back the way he’d came, leaving another rider to complete the trip.
10 MYTH: The Wild West Was A Lawless, Desperate Place
Again, this one’s a bit of a half-truth inspired by overzealous movie-makers. There’s no doubt that times were super, super tough for some on the frontier, and they resorted to desperate measures at times to survive.
With that said, the Wild West was no gunslingin’ free-for-all either. As reported by Business Insider, firearms of the time tended to be so primitive and inaccurate that this was hardly the most effective route to take. There were only an estimated twelve bank robberies in the 1859-1900 period across the whole Wild West, and when all’s said and done,
“Though the idea of dueling cowboys and revolver-toting criminals in the plains has been popular since the gold rush, these stories were usually anecdotal and greatly exaggerated -- more about building legend than reporting fact.”
9 MYTH: The Liberty Bell Was… Called The Liberty Bell
Here in Britain, where I live, we have a rather famous bell ourselves. It’s called Big Ben (the name of the bell itself, not the tower as many believe), and you might well have visited it if you’ve been to London.
In terms of iconic United States bells, however, the beloved Liberty Bell is right up there. The curious thing is, it wasn’t known as such during the American Revolution. Located in the Pennsylvania State House, it was simply called the State House Bell (which really doesn’t have the same RING to it at all). It wasn’t until the 1800s that abolitionists dubbed the iconic piece the Liberty Bell.
8 MYTH: The Liberty Bell Cracked On Independence Day, 1776
So, there we go. The Liberty Bell was once known by a far more mundane and practical name. Would it have become the United States icon it is now, if it had never received its famous nickname? Well, possibly not. State House Bell doesn’t quite roll off the tongue in the same way, after all.
There’s something else you may not have known about it, too. That famous story about it becoming cracked on July 4, 1776, after being rung too hard by joyful USA folk? Yep, that’s not true either.
“It probably didn't ring at all on that famous day,” Grunge reports, “mainly because the bell began to crack years earlier, starting in 1752, and required constant maintenance during its run in the Pennsylvania State House. The crack that you see today when visiting the bell in Philadelphia likely occurred in the 1840s.”
7 MYTH: The Gettysburg Address Was Written On The Back Of An Envelope
The Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous speeches in American history. It was given by President Lincoln on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
You might know that Edward Everett’s two-hour speech at the dedication was intended to be the real address, but Lincoln’s supposedly off-the-cuff remarks were to overshadow it. You’ve almost certainly heard the story that Lincoln’s speech was quickly crafted on an envelope, but that was not the case.
According to Constitution Center, “Lincoln started working on his remarks shortly after the battle was fought in July 1863, according to Lincoln experts. Several drafts of the speech also exist that were written before November 19, 1863.”
6 MYTH: War Of The Worlds Caused National Panic
H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is a fascinating case study. Originally published in 1898, it’s gone on to inspire all kinds of science fiction. It practically created the whole ‘alien invasion’ genre in the public consciousness.
In 1938, Orson Welles adapted the book into a radio show, an episode of The Mercury Theatre on the Air that has become infamous for causing panic among the people (who thought that the alien invasion was actually happening).
As All That’s Interesting explains, though, the scale of this panic has been grossly exaggerated. For one thing, the show had very few listeners, as it was being broadcast at a very competitive time. There were also commercial breaks, during which listeners were assured that the events portrayed are fictional.
In short, “very few people were actually fooled, but the event still received a ton of coverage and the myth is widely believed to this day. Why? Because of newspapers. Back then there was a fierce rivalry between newspapers and radio (old and new) and many journalists jumped at the opportunity to make radio seem foolish, even dangerous.”