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25 Things Turning 25 This Year

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The year 1988 was a quarter-century ago. If you're turning 25 this year, good news—you can now rent a car in the US without paying a weird fee, and you're as old as the California Raisins. Read on, before your quarter-life crisis hits.

1. Zack Morris, Screech, Lisa Turtle, and Mr. Belding

Before Saved by the Bell, a little show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss introduced us to the gang from Bayside High School...except it was called John F. Kennedy Junior High, and it was in Indianapolis, not California.

Miss Bliss starred Hayley Mills as the eponymous teacher, and it ran on the Disney Channel for one 13-episode season. The cast of characters was impressive, including the core of the later Saved by the Bell group. Jaleel White, who would play Steve Urkel in 1989's Family Matters, and Brian Austin Green, who starred in Beverly Hills, 90210, also appeared in the pilot. The Disney Channel dropped Miss Bliss after its first season, NBC picked it up and re-tooled it, and Saved by the Bell became a Saturday morning mainstay starting in 1989.

2. A Brief History of Time

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On September 1, 1988, physicist Stephen Hawking unleashed the bestseller A Brief History of Time, exploring great questions about the universe in easily understandable language. While working on an early draft, Hawking was warned that for each equation in the text, the book's readership would be halved. So he compromised, including just one equation: Einstein's E = mc2.

The book went on to sell more than 10 million copies. In the tenth anniversary edition, Hawking wrote: "Nathan Myhrvold of Microsoft (a former post-doc of mine) remarked: I have sold more books on physics than Madonna has on sex." (To be fair, Madonna's Sex wasn't released until 1992.)

3. Photoshop

YouTube / j0han1

Before "Photoshop" became a verb, it was a piece of software designed by John Knoll to display grayscale images on a Macintosh computer's black-and-white screen. Knoll's brother John (who worked for Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm) suggested that the program could be an image editor, not just a viewer. So Knoll dutifully built Photoshop. The first 200-ish copies shipped in 1988, bundled with Barneyscan slide scanners. Adobe bought the rights, put the Knoll brothers to work, and the rest is history.

4. Sega Genesis

Sega ad courtesy of Fors Yard. See a larger version here.

Sega's two-year headstart on Nintendo in the 16-bit gaming wars began on October 29, 1988, when the Sega Genesis launched in the US and Japan. Though sales were initially dicey, the Genesis went on to become Sega's most successful console, largely thanks to a branding rework in 1991 that exchanged the original bundle game, Altered Beast, with the critically acclaimed new game Sonic the Hedgehog.

By the time Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in 1991, the Genesis had already formed a solid reputation as "the cool console," and Nintendo had to compete against a lower price point, a much larger game library, and a Sega ad campaign claiming "Genesis does what Nintendon't." The two battled through the entire 16-bit era, with Sega inching out Nintendo for the lead (in hardware sales, at least) most years, excluding 1994, when Donkey Kong Country released.

5. Girl Talk

Not even Jewel Staite escaped childhood without playing Girl Talk, the very pink, all-girl version of Truth or Dare that launched in 1988. (That's the Firefly and Stargate Atlantis actress in 1995, kissing and telling.) Thanks to Girl Talk's overwhelming popularity, girl-only spin-offs popped up over the next several years, including Milton Bradley's Mall Madness, 1989's Barbie Just Us Girls ("a game of style and challenge," but mostly just spinning and collecting cards), 1990's Pretty, Pretty Princess, and 1991's Electric Dream Phone.

6. The Morris Worm (Computer Virus)

Wikipedia

On November 2, 1988, the first large-scale worm (a form of computer virus) struck the Internet. Written by Robert Tappan Morris (or RTM for short), the Morris worm was designed to figure out the size of the internet by aggressively spreading to Internet-connected computers. The worm had a design problem that made it overzealous in its attacks; the net effect was that the worm ran rampant over systems across the Internet, often repeatedly infecting the same computer until it slowed to a crawl. Sysadmins disconnected from the Internet, cleaned up the worm's damage, and RTM became the first man convicted under 1984's Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

RTM later sold a startup to Yahoo! for tens of millions, received a Ph.D. from Harvard, and ultimately became a professor at MIT. So he's doing all right.

7. Dunk-a-Roos

How do you Dunk-a-Roos? The cookie-and-icing snack debuted in 1988, hot on the heels of Handi-Snacks (the cheese-and-pretzel version offered by Kraft) and remains on (most) supermarket shelves in the US. Though the cookies were all originally cinnamon-flavored and the icing only came in chocolate or vanilla, newer iterations include vanillla, graham or chocolate cookies with chocolate chip, rainbow sprinkle and various other limited-time icing flavors. The mascot was originally a Crocodile Dundee-esque kangaroo named Sydney, who was voiced by John Cameron Mitchell, the director of 2010's Rabbit Hole, for which Nicole Kidman scored an Oscar nomination. After a 1996 contest, the mascot became a different roo named Duncan.

8. Matilda

Roald Dahl's 1988 book introduced us to Matilda, the precocious daughter of sleazy car salesman Harry Wormwood and his unnamed wife, who find Matilda lacking in both charm and intelligence even though she's a genius and secret telekinetic. Matilda uses her powers (spoiler alert) to save beloved teacher Miss Honey from her overbearing aunt and tyrranical headmaster, Miss Trunchbull.

Dahl's story has been adapted for the screen (the 1996 film starred Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman and Mrs. Doubtfire's Mara Wilson), the stage (in a musical written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin), and the radio (by way of a two-part BBC broadcast). If you'd like to relive part of Matilda at home but think building your own Pokey is probably a bad idea (it is), then consider making a real-life version of the Trunchbull's chocolate cake — you'll find instructions in Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes.

9. Prozac

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Eli Lilly & Co. introduced Prozac to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia, and a host of other psychiatric ills. It became one of the best-selling drugs in history, racking up tens of billions of sales by 2001, the year that generic versions hit the market in the US. It was such a commonly prescribed drug that references to popping Prozac flooded pop culture in the 90s, including the books Prozac Diary and Prozac Nation.

Prozac's possible side effects include nausea, insomnia, anorexia, and anorgasmia. On the bright side, recent research indicates that it might also be an antiviral.

10. Don't Panic

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Neil Gaiman was not a household name in 1988, when he released the book Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Gaiman had previously written a biography of Duran Duran in 1984, a sort of joke book in 1985 featuring bad sci-fi quotes, and some early comics and short stories in 1987. But 1988 was Gaiman's year—Don't Panic was a biography of author Douglas Adams as well as a companion to Adams's work, and it marked the beginning of Gaiman's massive success as a writer (1989 would see his first Sandman comics).

Douglas Adams blurbed the book, saying "It's all devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies."

11. Music - The Traveling Wilburys

1988 saw the formation of a bunch of bands that would go on to rule the 90s: Boyz II Men, Barenaked Ladies, Blur, House of Pain, Mother Love Bone (featuring future members of Pearl Jam), Mudhoney, and Nine Inch Nails. But the biggest new group of the year was The Traveling Wilburys, a supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. Tragically, Orbison died two months after the Wilburys released their first album, and their second video (for "End of the Line") featured Orbison's lonely guitar in a rocking chair (he did live to participate in the "Handle With Care" video).

The term "Wilbury" came from George Harrison's recording sessions for Cloud Nine—he joked to the recording engineer that "we'll bury" recording mistakes in the mix. (To their credit, the Wilburys buried most of Dylan's vocals in the mix.)

Honorable mentions in the music category: Milli Vanilli, Mr. Big, and Crash Test Dummies were also formed in 1988. Rick Astley's single "Never Gonna Give You Up" was still topping American charts, despite being released the year before. (Nobody got the idea to perform a Rickroll until two decades later.) Guns 'n Roses had a string of hits, most notably "Sweet Child o' Mine." And as we mention elsewhere in this list, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was a major hit.

12. Batman: The Killing Joke

Wikipedia

1988 brought us Batman: The Killing Joke, a graphic novel written by Alan Moore explaining the dark origin story of The Joker. Although Tim Burton didn't use Moore's story for his now-classic 1989 film Batman, the graphic novel was a huge motivator for the movie focusing on The Joker as Batman's primary enemy. Burton said:

"I was never a giant comic book fan, but I've always loved the image of Batman and the Joker. The reason I've never been a comic book fan—and I think it started when I was a child—is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read. I don't know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that's why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read. It's my favorite. It's the first comic I've ever loved. And the success of those graphic novels made our ideas more acceptable."

Heath Ledger was also given a copy of The Killing Joke as a character reference for his performance of The Joker in The Dark Knight.

13. Movies (Mostly Rain Man)


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Rain Man ruled the box office and the Academy Awards for 1988, winning four Oscars, including Best Picture. The film started shooting just before the 1988 Writers Guild of America Strike, so screenwriters Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass couldn't visit the set during production (they won Best Original Screenplay anyway).

But while Raymond Babbitt was watching Wapner on The People's Court, the rest of us were enjoying a string of 80s-tastic movies, including Beaches, Beetlejuice, Big, Big Top Pee-Wee, Coming to America, Die Hard, The Land Before Time, My Neighbor Totoro, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

An honorable mention for best 1988 film goes to The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, which featured a memorable (if slightly embellished) interview in which Ozzy Osbourne cooked breakfast and gave career advice to future rockers.

14. TV Shows

It was a great year for television... but not for criminals. America's Most Wanted aired for the first time on 7 FOX stations in February, 1988. Within 4 days, profiled fugitive David James Roberts was captured thanks to tips from sharp-eyed viewers. A few weeks later the show was picked up on all FOX stations, and in 2008 the AMW team announced their 1000th captured criminal: a New York realtor named Dwight Smith.

While Americans were on the lookout for wayward baddies, Kevin Arnold was crushing hard on Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, which debuted in January. To set the record straight, again: "Paul Pfeiffer" actor Josh Saviano is not Marilyn Manson. He's a merger and acquisitions lawyer in New York.

Other memorable shows that debuted in 1988: Roseanne, Murphy Brown, The Gong Show (syndicated weekday revival), Garfield and Friends, C.O.P.S., China Beach, and Yo! MTV Raps.

15. Oh, and MST3K!

In November, the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 aired on the Twin Cities UHF station KTMA-TV. The Satellite of Love (the name of the ship on which the show is set, inspired by a Lou Reed song) and the robots were all constructed in one night by the show's creator, Joel Hodgson, who built everything entirely of toys and Goodwill finds. The premise of the show changed quite a lot between the first and last episodes, but originally, Joel Robinson (played by Hodgson) was a janitor for Gizmonic Institute who was part of an evil experiment by mad scientists Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt. Their diabolical plan was to force as many terrible B movies on Joel as possible until he finally snapped. The torture took a while, though, because Joel didn't escape until season 5, when he was replaced by unwitting successor Mike Nelson. Joel (and later Mike) and the bots made an average of 700 comments during each movie.

16. He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper

RON WOLFSON/Landov

Speaking of rap, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released their second studio album in March. He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper was the first-ever double-vinyl hip hop album, the first to win a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance (in 1989 for "Parents Just Don't Understand"), and led to Jeff Townes and Will Smith's first "serious" movie offers: they declined the lead roles in House Party, which were taken by Kid & Play.

It seems everyone loved "Parents Just Don't Understand," even Will's future wife, Jada Pinkett. Here she is in 1988 with fellow Baltimore School of the Arts alum and friend, Tupac Shakur:

(That clip is from the short-lived Keenan Ivory Wayans Show, which ran from August 1997 to March 1998.)

17. Koosh

Flickr user K Tempest Bradford/Wikimedia Commons

Developed in 1986 by Scott Stillinger for his kids, the Koosh ball was soon picked up by Hasbro. The rubbery toy took off when it was released in 1988, making its way onto the Christmas lists of thousands of kids in 1988. Each ball contains around 2,000 rubber filaments, and the name comes from the sound it makes when it lands.

18. Wild Cherry Pepsi

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In 1988, Pepsi decided to tinker with their Cherry Cola Slice formula. The result was good, but too different from the original product to continue selling it under the same name. Goodbye, Cherry Cola Slice—hello Wild Cherry Pepsi (which was rebranded Pepsi Wild Cherry in 1995).

19. The Flowbee

While Flowbee's website has been updated at least once since 1988, the haircutting/vacuum cleaner apparatus remains largely unchanged at 25 years old. Your desire for feathered bangs may have, however.

20. Battle Chess

Tired of playing the game of kings using physical pieces and your boring old "imagination"? In 1988, Battle Chess changed the game, adding animated battle sequences (several referencing Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Raiders of the Lost Ark), along with sound effects and artificial intelligence, so you could match wits with your Amiga. Of course, those of us who'd seen Star Wars still yearned for Holochess.

21. Shamu One

Southwest Airlines

Few aviation gimmicks are as exciting to children as Southwest Airlines and Sea World San Antonio's collaboration, a Boeing 737 Classic painted to look like Shamu, Sea World's main attraction. Within the next decade, two more aircraft would receive the orca paint job and then all three would be replaced with newer model planes. In December 2012, Shamu took off and landed for the last time. (Sea World's "Shamu" is actually many killer whales; currently there are six different orca in the rotation.)

22. World AIDS Day

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World AIDS Day was first held on December 1, 1988. Supporters wore the now-familiar red ribbon, and world leaders (including Pope John Paul II) marked the occasion with messages of support. In 2007, the Bush administration hung a two-story red ribbon from the North Portico of the White House to draw attention to the cause.

Each year, World AIDS Day has a theme, often focusing on a certain population, like men, women, or children living with AIDS. For the years 2011 to 2015, the theme is clear and aggressive: "Getting to Zero."

23. Pi Day

The first Pi Day was organized by physicist Larry Shaw of the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988. On March 14, his colleagues and Exploratorium-goers were invited to march in circles and eat lots of pie. These days Pi Day is a somewhat bigger deal: In 2009, the House of Representatives passed HRES 224 recognizing March 14 as National Pi Day. (Get your 2014 Pi Day shopping done early in our store!)

24. Kids' Choice Awards

In 1988, Tony Danza hosted the first ever Kids' Choice Awards on Nickelodeon. Guest appearances included Debbie Gibson, Wil Wheaton, Marc Summers, Charles Barkley and Jeremy Miller, who played Ben Seaver on Growing Pains.

The first year's notable wins went to Beverly Hills Cop 2 (Favorite Movie) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (for Favorite Cartoon). Les Lye of You Can't Do That on Television was the celebrity slime recipient.

{You can watch the 1988 show in full on YouTube.)

25. Michael Cera

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1988 was a good year for young actors: Michael Cera was born in Ontario, and went on to win our hearts in Arrested Development, Superbad, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. His birthday is June 7, so you still have time to get him a sweet card.

Other notable births in 1988:

  • Rupert Grint, aka Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films
  • Haley Joel Osment, who famously saw dead people, but also played Forrest Gump's son in 1994
  • Sonny John Moore (aka Skrillex), who won three Grammys in 2011
  • Adele, whose age-themed albums (19 and 21) have led to record-breaking success in the music world (her full name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins)

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See Also

30 Things Turning 30 This Year

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The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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History
13 Incredible Facts About Frederick Douglass
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock

The list of Frederick Douglass's accomplishments is astonishing—respected orator, famous writer, abolitionist, civil rights leader, presidential consultant—even without considering that he was a former slave with no formal education. In honor of his birth 200 years ago, here are 13 incredible facts about the life of Frederick Douglass.

1. HE BARTERED BREAD FOR KNOWLEDGE.

Because Douglass was a slave, he wasn't allowed to learn to read or write. A wife of a Baltimore slave owner did teach him the alphabet when he was around 12, but she stopped after her husband interfered. Young Douglass took matters into his own hands, cleverly fitting in a reading lesson whenever he was on the street running errands for his owner. As he detailed in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he'd carry a book with him while out and about and trade small pieces of bread to the white kids in his neighborhood, asking them to help him learn to read the book in exchange.

2. HE CREDITED A SCHOOLBOOK FOR SHAPING HIS VIEWS ON HUMAN RIGHTS.

Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

During his youth, Douglass obtained a copy of The Columbian Orator, a collection of essays, dialogues, and speeches on a range of subjects, including slavery. Published in 1797, the Orator was required reading for most schoolchildren in the 1800s and featured 84 selections from authors like Cicero and Milton. Abraham Lincoln was also influenced by the collection when he was first starting in politics.

3. HE TAUGHT OTHER SLAVES TO READ.

While he was hired out to a farmer named William Freeland, a teenaged Douglass taught fellow slaves to read the New Testament—but a mob of locals soon broke up the classes. Undeterred, Douglas began the classes again, sometimes teaching as many as 40 people.

4. HIS FIRST WIFE HELPED HIM ESCAPE FROM SLAVERY.

Portrait of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass's first wife.
First published in Rosetta Douglass Sprague's book My Mother As I Recall Her, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Anna Murray was an independent laundress in Baltimore and met Douglass at some point in the mid-1830s. Together they hatched a plan, and one night in 1838, Douglass took a northbound train clothed in a sailor's uniform procured by Anna, with money from her savings in his pocket alongside papers from a sailor friend. About 24 hours later, he arrived in Manhattan a free man. Anna soon joined him, and they married on September 15, 1838.

5. HE CALLED OUT HIS FORMER OWNER.

In an 1848 open letter in the newspaper he owned and published, The North Star, Douglass wrote passionately about the evils of slavery to his former owner, Thomas Auld, saying "I am your fellow man, but not your slave." He also inquired after his family members who were still enslaved a decade after his escape.

6. HE TOOK HIS NAME FROM A POEM.

He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but after escaping slavery, Douglass used assumed names to avoid detection. Arriving in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass, then using the surname "Johnson," felt there were too many other Johnsons in the area to distinguish himself. He asked his host (ironically named Nathan Johnson) to suggest a new name, and Mr. Johnson came up with Douglas, a character in Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake.

7. HE'S CALLED THE 19TH CENTURY'S MOST PHOTOGRAPHED AMERICAN.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are 160 separate portraits of Douglass, more than Abraham Lincoln or Walt Whitman, two other heroes of the 19th century. Douglass wrote extensively on the subject during the Civil War, calling photography a "democratic art" that could finally represent black people as humans rather than "things." He gave his portraits away at talks and lectures, hoping his image could change the common perceptions of black men.

8. HE REFUSED TO CELEBRATE THE 4TH OF JULY.

Douglass was well-known as a powerful orator, and his July 5, 1852 speech to a group of hundreds of abolitionists in Rochester, New York, is considered a masterwork. Entitled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," the speech ridiculed the audience for inviting a former slave to speak at a celebration of the country who enslaved him. "This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine," he famously said to those in attendance. "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?" Douglass refused to celebrate the holiday until all slaves were emancipated and laws like the Compromise of 1850, which required citizens (including northerners) to return runaway slaves to their owners, were negated.

9. HE RECRUITED BLACK SOLDIERS FOR THE CIVIL WAR.

The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Douglass was a famous abolitionist by the time the war began in 1861. He actively petitioned President Lincoln to allow black troops in the Union army, writing in his newspaper: "Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves." After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass worked tirelessly to enlist black soldiers, and two of his sons would join the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, famous for its contributions in the brutal battle of Fort Wagner.

10. HE SERVED UNDER FIVE PRESIDENTS.

Later in life, Douglass became more of a statesman, serving in highly appointed federal positions, including U.S. Marshal for D.C., Recorder of Deeds for D.C., and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first to appoint Douglass to a position in 1877, and Presidents Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison each sought his counsel in various positions as well.

11. HE WAS NOMINATED FOR VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

As part of the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872, Douglass was nominated as a VP candidate, with Victoria Woodhull as the Presidential candidate. (Woodhull was the first-ever female presidential candidate, which is why Hillary Clinton was called "the first female presidential candidate from a major party" during the 2016 election.) However, the nomination was made without his consent, and Douglass never acknowledged it (and Woodhull's candidacy itself is controversial because she wouldn't have been old enough to be president on Inauguration Day). Also, though he was never a presidential candidate, he did receive one vote at each of two nomination conventions.

12. HIS SECOND MARRIAGE STIRRED UP CONTROVERSY.

Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.
Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.

Two years after his first wife, Anna, died of a stroke in 1882, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white abolitionist and feminist who was 20 years younger than him. Even though she was the daughter of an abolitionist, Pitts's family (which had ancestral ties directly to the Mayflower) disapproved and disowned her—showing just how taboo interracial marriage was at the time. The black community also questioned why their most prominent spokesperson chose to marry a white woman, regardless of her politics. But despite the public's and their families' reaction, the Douglasses had a happy marriage and were together until his death in 1895 of a heart attack.

13. AFTER EARLY SUCCESS, HIS NARRATIVE WENT OUT OF PRINT.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, his seminal autobiography, was heralded a success when it came out in 1845, with some estimating that 5000 copies sold in the first few months; the book was also popular in Ireland and Britain. But post-Civil War, as the country moved toward reconciliation and slave narratives fell out favor, the book went out of print. The first modern publication appeared in 1960—during another important era for the fight for civil rights. It is now available for free online.

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