During my career as an educator, I have found that there certain facts and historical events people both young and old consistently get wrong. Why do they get it wrong? Awesome question. They get it wrong for a variety of reasons: inaccurate facts in movies movies and books, wrong stuff on television shows, believing legends, not digesting all the facts accurately, believing every dumb Facebook post, or someone taught them that wrong information.
My student usually know that Columbus sailed to find a shorter route to Asia rather than he was trying to prove the earth was round. They also understand why Pluto lost its classification as a planet and can easily explain why dolphins and whales are mammals and not fish. However, they often have some “areas of refinement” as far as history and science are concerned…
#5 Henry Ford invented the car.
Many times misconceptions are started with some sort of misinterpretation in science or history. Take this false fact. This statement is just plain wrong. I’m not sure how or why it started, but Ford flat out did not invent the automobile. Some will even argue that Ford did not invent the assembly line either.
So, Ford didn’t invent automobile. What he did do was still pretty revolutionary; Ford manufactured the gas-powered automobile in a way that made it affordable to the Average Joe, and that’s nothing to scoff at! I’m going to call it car from now on because automobile is too old timey for me.
Who deserves credit for the invention of the car? Well, that is a matter of historical record and your opinion if the steam, electrical, or gas powered car deserves the credit.
Three wheels, no steering wheel, and no doors? Death Trap!
Let’s get the hard stuff out of the way first. Karl Benz, of Mercedes-Benz, gets credit in the history books for inventing the car. The gasoline-powered car to be precise. The car was actually invented before that, but it was just terrible.
Benz, inventor of the gasoline powered car and owner of an epic mustache.
Leonardo Da Vinci had sketches of a horseless cart, but he lacked the technological know how to engineer his vision. In the late 1700s, early cars had steam engines, and good grief were those things crazy slow and cumbersome and broke down a lot. That’s not how inventions are supposed to roll! Inventions are supposed to improve life. Make things like transportation faster and easier. The steam car was not practical because riding a horse and walking were faster. Q: Who’s got time for that? A: Nobody.
Then came the electric car. That invention wasn’t awesome either at first, but they later became pretty popular in the early 1900s. There were many inventors and engineers who designed and engineered cars, but Benz’s gasoline-powered car was the first time the car was practical. He gets credit for inventing the gasoline-powered car as we know it in 1885 which just happens to be the year Gottlieb Daimler patented the first motorcycle. It was called a Reitwagen or riding car, and it was a beautifully amazing two-wheeled machine.
This thing was a speed demon topping of at about 7 mph (12 kph).
#4 Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Lightning is a natural phenomena of a giant spark of static electricity with high voltage. Lightning can happen between clouds, within a cloud, or between a cloud and the ground. Lightning strikes the same place all the time. The Empire State Building can get struck over 100 times in a year. It is not possible to have thunder without lightning. The sound of thunder is produced as a direct result of lightning.
On the other hand, you can see lightning without hearing the thunder. That’s because the lightning was too far away for the sound to travel to your ears. Other facts you need to know about lightning:
- Ben Franklin did not discover electricity. Most of the story about Franklin’s kite experiment is an embellishment too. However, what Franklin actually did was a little more awesome than a dangerous kite experiment. He did experiment with electricity, that part is true. Franklin invented lightning rods to control the flow of electrical energy when lightning struck in the 13 colonies. He made a safe path for the electricity to flow. This invention helped many buildings from burning and people from dying.
- Fleetwood Mac was wrong. Thunder does not only happen when it’s raining.
Behold! The Snow Lightning!
#3 Earth moves farther away from the sun during winter, and that’s why it is cold in winter.
This statement is wrong for a couple of reasons. Reason #1, seasons are not directly related to Earth’s distance from the sun; it’s all about the earth’s tilt on its axis. Reason #2, depending upon which hemisphere you live, you may actually be having winter when the earth is closest to the sun. For example, the earth is closest to the sun in January. Many of us in North America, Europe, and most of Asia are slapdab in the middle of winter.
We have day and night because the earth spins on its axis. Earth’s axis is not completely straight up and down; it has a tilt to it. As the earth turns on its tilted axis, it orbits the sun. Note: the earth’s tilt is fixed as it revolves around the sun; it doesn’t go all wibbly wobbly timey wimey. Because of the tilt of Earth’s axis and the earth orbiting the sun, not all parts of the earth get the same amount of the sun’s direct energy at the same time. That’s why we have seasons.
For most areas above the equator- winter beings in December when the sun is tilted away from the sun. Summer beings in June when the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun. The opposite is true for my Dear Readers in the southern part of the world. For most areas below the equator- winter begins in June and summer begins in December. Areas closest to the equator, tropical areas, are usually warm all year round so the four seasons mean a totally different thing.
Seasons are caused because of the earth’s tilt on its axis; not because of the distance from the sun. When the northern hemisphere is tilted completely toward the sun, it will get more of the sun’s direct rays. Therefore, the northern hemisphere will have summer while the southern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun and have winter. That’s why Australia and other countries in the southern hemisphere have Christmas during the summer. The tropics always get most of the sun’s direct rays so they are usually warm all year long.
#2 The Dust Bowl was a natural disaster.
This is mostly untrue. The Dust Bowl was a man-made disaster exacerbated by natural disasters. Sometimes in history, there are moments where everything goes wrong all at once. That, Dear Reader, is what happened to much of the Great Plains and Southwest regions of the United States in the 1930s.
The Homestead Acts of the late 1800s and early 1900s encouraged many settlers to come to the Southwest and the Great Plains regions to farm. During that time the Great Plains, unbeknownst to most, was having an unusually long, wet period that only encouraged farming. A lot of it. And those crops, mostly wheat, drank up the nutrients from the soil just like Daniel Day Louis drank all of that kid’s milkshake in that movie from a while back. He got a big straw and drank up all that kid’s milkshake.
The land in both regions was over-grazed and over-cultivated. This poor agricultural practice robbed the topsoil of precious nutrients, and the soil became loose, dry, and bare. Everything that held the soil together was either dried up or plowed away. This made the topsoil vulnerable to wind erosion and set the stage for the upcoming ecological disaster.
Fast forward to October 29, 1929, The Great Depression. Yeah, losing all your money and demand for the few crops you could grow in the ever drying soil was a tough blow to many of the farmers in the Great Plains and Southwest, but at least they had their farmland right? Wrong. The beginning of the 1930s introduced a series of droughts that would kick many farmers right in their gluteus maximuses. These regions had a long history of droughts, but this time the topsoil was all loose and dried up which changed the whole game. The droughts hit the regions hard, but the farmers kept farming even though pretty much nothing would grow.
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgement, we thought it was our doom…
It covered up our fences, it covered up our barns,
It covered up our tractors in this wild and dusty storm.
–The Great Dust Storm by Woodie Guthrie
After that the dust storms started, thanks to the loose, dry topsoil. The wind easily picked up the topsoil to create massive clouds of dust that would stretch for miles. Then, the grasshoppers and jackrabbits, fearing few predators due to the dust storms, came in droves and ate what little crops were left. So, the grasshoppers and jackrabbits didn’t really help.
Then there were the tornadoes, temperatures of extremes, blizzards, and even some earthquakes! After visiting the affected areas, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “I shall never forget the fields of wheat so blasted by heat that they cannot be harvested. I shall never forget field after field of corn stunted, earless and stripped of leaves, for what the sun left the grasshoppers took“.
But the story was not about the crazy weather, swarming grasshoppers, or rabid jackrabbits. It was about the dust. The blankets and blankets of dust. Dust that caused the brown plague and darkened the sky. Dust that was present because the soil was much too weak after decades of misuse to withstand drought and wind erosion.
Red Cross volunteers wearing dust masks, Liberal, Kansas. Sometimes the dust would get so bad the air was unsafe to breathe; dust pneumonia was no fun.
#1 There is a dark side of the moon.
There is no dark side of the moon. Earth only sees one side of the moon all the time. The moon rotates and the sun shines on all parts; we just don’t see the opposite side. Just because we don’t see it does not mean it is completely dark. Also, there is no such thing as moonlight.
Books image from Banner:
Hermann from Pixabay
K. Renae P. Approved Trade Books for the Classroom:
Moonshot, How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning, Out of the Dust, Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World, and Grapes of Wrath– I will not lie and say I enjoyed reading Grapes of Wrath, but I will acknowledge its literary importance. You can also pull a lot of good passages for history discussions as well as English language arts.