12 Adventurous Facts About James Cook

James Cook's journeys took him to New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii.
James Cook's journeys took him to New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii.
National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom // Public Domain

James Cook is one of the most prominent figures of the Age of Exploration. The captain explored vast parts of the South Pacific that no European had ever set eyes on in the middle of the 18th century, before succumbing to a violent death in 1779. If you’re looking to dive deeper into the celebrated seaman’s history, check out these 12 adventurous facts about James Cook.

1. Despite joining the Navy later in life, James Cook quickly became a ship's master.

Cook discovered his love for the sea as a teenager, when he began working as a merchant navy apprentice. Though he was on track to become a captain, the young seaman made the surprising decision to leave his merchant days behind and enlist in the British Royal Navy in 1755. He may have entered the Royal Navy at the unusually late age of 26, but Cook was promoted from able seaman to ship’s master in just two years. His years as an apprentice in the merchant navy, as well as his time serving during the Seven Years’ War, allowed him to hone the navigation and cartographic skills that were so crucial to his success as an explorer. Later in his career, he was so well-respected that sailors from hostile countries were instructed to leave him be if they ran into him at sea.

2. James Cook’s first voyage was part of a secret government mission.

Cook never did find the Terra Australis—because it doesn't exist.Kattigara, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

In August 1768, Cook set sail on the HMS Endeavour. He and his crew were heading for Tahiti, where they were sent to observe Venus’s transit across the Sun. But this celestial event was just part of their mission. Cook had been instructed, via sealed message, to find the legendary “Great Southern Continent,” the Terra Australis, which was a hypothetical continent that was said to reach the equator.

3. James Cook was the first European to circumnavigate New Zealand.

James Cook first set foot on New Zealand soil in October 1769, in what is now Gisborne, and became the first European to sail around the two islands. The skilled cartographer also created accurate maps of the landmasses and recorded detailed accounts of the indigenous Māori.

4. James Cook also reached Australia's east coast before any other European.

Cook wasn’t the first European to spot Australia—Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon landed there in 1606. But he still made history on April 19, 1770, by becoming the first European to reach Australia’s east coast. Just 10 days later, he made landfall at Botany Bay, which would later become the site of Europe’s first Australian settlement.

5. The Endeavour nearly wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef.

It's beautiful to look at, but this reef doesn't make for an easy sail.Ayanadak123, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Exploring unmapped territories doesn’t always make for smooth sailing. On June 11, 1770, the HMS Endeavour ran aground on what’s now known as Endeavour Reef. Cook and his crew toiled for more than 20 hours, desperately attempting to plug holes in the ship and chucking ballast overboard. Fortunately, they were able to stop the vessel from sinking and save Cook’s invaluable charts and documents. After nearly two months of repairs, the crew were once again out to sea, where they continued to sail the length of the Great Barrier Reef.

6. James Cook came up with creative solutions to beat scurvy.

Scurvy took a heavy toll on sailors attempting long ocean voyages. And though the disease, which is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, did affect members of Cook’s crew, he is touted as having “conquered” the maritime malady. Some cure-alls that Cook and his surgeon claimed helped ward off the disease included fresh fruit (whenever Cook could get it), malt, soup, vinegar, mustard, and one particularly vitamin-packed, nonperishable food: sauerkraut. Cook convinced his crew to eat the fermented cabbage by having it served at the officer’s table, which led the lower-ranking men to assume it was a delicacy and desire it for themselves. His crew also brewed spruce beer to prevent scurvy, though the boiled beverage likely didn’t contain much vitamin C.

Cook was celebrated for his anti-scurvy skills at the time, with the Royal Society even awarding him the Copley Gold Medal in 1766 for his work toward improving his crew’s health. However, despite the fact that Cook’s surgeon reported no deaths from scurvy during his voyages, it’s now believed at least two of his men died from the disease.

7. James Cook almost discovered Antarctica.

Though Cook may not have found the fabled Great Southern Continent during his first mission, he came close to discovering Antarctica. He crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first recorded time in 1773, and later claimed South Georgia Island for the Crown. Cook and his crew wound up crossing the Antarctic Circle a total of four times. He came close to spotting Antarctica itself during one of his trips, but pack ice forced him to turn back before he could sail closer, the White Continent becoming his white whale.

8. James Cook explored the Arctic as well as the Antarctic.

Cook found polar bears, not polar passages.Internet Archive Book Images, Wikimedia Commons // No known copyright restrictions

In 1776, Cook turned his attention north. He had hoped to find the Northwest Passage, the ribbon of sea that weaves through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to connect the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Unfortunately, the Russian map he had been using was bunk, and he and his crew never found their watery portal through the ice. But the journey—which wound up being Cook’s third and final big voyage—did lead to one major discovery for Europeans: the Hawaiian Islands.

9. James Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to visit the Hawaiian Islands.

In 1788, Cook stepped ashore the Hawaiian Islands, which he christened the Sandwich Islands after the Earl of Sandwich. The indigenous Hawaiians welcomed the foreign men as gods—a treatment the Europeans took advantage of—and offered them priceless gifts. The relationship between the two groups soured when Cook and his crew returned in 1779, leading to devastating consequences.

10. James Cook was brutally murdered after a kidnapping plot went awry.

When one of the crew’s long boats went missing during their 1779 return to Hawaii, Cook suspected one of the native Hawaiians had stolen it. To seek revenge, according to most historians, Cook attempted to kidnap Kalaniʻōpuʻu, the chief of Hawaii. The locals crowded the beach to intervene, resulting in a bloody clash. On February 14, 1779, Cook was fatally stabbed in the neck, then repeatedly clobbered with rocks. Despite popular lore, he was not eaten by cannibals.

11. The site where James Cook died is still technically British territory.

The monument stands atop a tiny bit of Britain.dronepicr, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

A plaque marks the general area where Cook met his gruesome end, and a white obelisk stands on the shore. The tiny patch of earth the obelisk crowns is the only British territory to still exist within the United States. The monument is a bit hard to get to—you either have to arrive by kayak or boat, or hike a 2-mile trail. The nearby water is now a popular snorkeling spot.

12. You can visit James Cook’s parents’ cottage.

A quaint part of Cook family history stands in Melbourne, Australia’s Fitzroy Gardens. It’s unclear if James Cook ever lived in this cottage, which was once owned by his parents, but it’s believed he likely visited. In the 1930s, the 18th-century home was disassembled and shipped across the globe. Today, the historic house—which is the oldest building in Australia—is filled with period furnishings. The ivory crawling down the exterior walls grew from cuttings that were snipped from the building when it still stood in England.

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20


This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25


Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79


If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70


Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37


For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various


The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

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A Brief History of Mashed Potatoes

mphillips007/iStock via Getty Images Plus
mphillips007/iStock via Getty Images Plus

During the Seven Years War of the mid-1700s, a French army pharmacist named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was captured by Prussian soldiers. As a prisoner of war, he was forced to live on rations of potatoes. In mid-18th century France, this would practically qualify as cruel and unusual punishment: potatoes were thought of as feed for livestock, and they were believed to cause leprosy in humans. The fear was so widespread that the French passed a law against them in 1748.

But as Parmentier discovered in prison, potatoes weren’t deadly. In fact, they were pretty tasty. Following his release at the end of the war, the pharmacist began to proselytize to his countrymen about the wonders of the tuber. One way he did this was by demonstrating all the delicious ways it could be served, including mashed. By 1772, France had lifted its potato ban. Centuries later, you can order mashed potatoes in dozens of countries, in restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining.

The story of mashed potatoes takes 10,000 years and traverses the mountains of Peru and the Irish countryside; it features cameos from Thomas Jefferson and a food scientist who helped invent a ubiquitous snack food. Before we get to them, though, let’s go back to the beginning.

The Origins of the Potato

Potatoes aren’t native to Ireland—or anywhere in Europe, for that matter. They were most likely domesticated in the Andes mountains of Peru and northwest Bolivia, where they were being used for food at least as far back as 8000 BCE.

These early potatoes were very different from the potatoes we know today. They came in a variety of shapes and sizes and had a bitter taste that no amount of cooking could get rid of. They were also slightly poisonous. To combat this toxicity, wild relatives of the llama would lick clay before eating them. The toxins in the potatoes would stick to the clay particles, allowing the animals to consume them safely. People in the Andes noticed this and started dunking their potatoes in a mixture of clay and water—not the most appetizing gravy, perhaps, but an ingenious solution to their potato problem. Even today, when selective breeding has made most potato varieties safe to eat, some poisonous varieties can still be bought in Andean markets, where they're sold alongside digestion-aiding clay dust.

By the time Spanish explorers brought the first potatoes to Europe from South America in the 16th century, they had been bred into a fully edible plant. It took them a while to catch on overseas, though. By some accounts, European farmers were suspicious of plants that weren’t mentioned in the Bible; others say it was the fact that potatoes grow from tubers, rather than seeds.

Modern potato historians debate these points, though. Cabbage’s omission from the Bible didn’t seem to hurt its popularity, and tulip cultivation, using bulbs instead of seeds, was happening at the same time. It may have just been a horticultural problem. The South American climates potatoes thrived in were unlike those found in Europe, especially in terms of hours of daylight in a day. In Europe, potatoes grew leaves and flowers, which botanists readily studied, but the tubers they produced remained small even after months of growing. This particular problem began to be remedied when the Spanish started growing potatoes on the Canary Islands, which functioned as a sort of middle ground between equatorial South America and more northerly European climes.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that there is some evidence for the cultural concerns mentioned earlier. There are clear references to people in the Scottish Highlands disliking that potatoes weren’t mentioned in the Bible, and customs like planting potatoes on Good Friday and sometimes sprinkling them with holy water suggest some kind of fraught relationship to potato consumption. They were becoming increasingly common, but not without controversy. As time went on, concerns about potatoes causing leprosy severely damaged their reputation.

Early Mashed Potato Recipes

A handful of potato advocates, including Parmentier, were able to turn the potato's image around. In her 18th-century recipe book The Art of Cookery, English author Hannah Glasse instructed readers to boil potatoes, peel them, put them into a saucepan, and mash them well with milk, butter, and a little salt. In the United States, Mary Randolph published a recipe for mashed potatoes in her book, The Virginia Housewife, that called for half an ounce of butter and a tablespoon of milk for a pound of potatoes.

But no country embraced the potato like Ireland. The hardy, nutrient-dense food seemed tailor-made for the island’s harsh winters. And wars between England and Ireland likely accelerated its adaptation there; since the important part grows underground, it had a better chance of surviving military activity. Irish people also liked their potatoes mashed, often with cabbage or kale in a dish known as colcannon. Potatoes were more than just a staple food there; they became part of the Irish identity.

But the miracle crop came with a major flaw: It’s susceptible to disease, particularly potato late blight, or Phytophtora infestans. When the microorganism invaded Ireland in the 1840s, farmers lost their livelihoods and many families lost their primary food source. The Irish Potato Famine killed a million people, or an eighth of the country’s population. The British government, for its part, offered little support to its Irish subjects.

One unexpected legacy of the Potato Famine was an explosion in agricultural science. Charles Darwin became intrigued by the problem of potato blight on a humanitarian and scientific level; he even personally funded a potato breeding program in Ireland. His was just one of many endeavors. Using potatoes that had survived the blight and new South American stock, European agriculturists were eventually able to breed healthy, resilient potato strains and rebuild the crop’s numbers. This development spurred more research into plant genetics, and was part of a broader scientific movement that included Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking work with garden peas.

Tools of the Mashed Potato Trade

Around the beginning of the 20th century, a tool called a ricer started appearing in home kitchens. It’s a metal contraption that resembles an oversized garlic press, and it has nothing to do with making rice. When cooked potatoes get squeezed through the tiny holes in the bottom of the press, they’re transformed into fine, rice-sized pieces.

The process is a lot less cumbersome than using an old-fashioned masher, and it yields more appetizing results. Mashing your potatoes into oblivion releases gelatinized starches from the plant cells that glom together to form a paste-like consistency. If you’ve ever tasted “gluey” mashed potatoes, over-mashing was likely the culprit. With a ricer, you don’t need to abuse your potatoes to get a smooth, lump-free texture. Some purists argue that mashed potatoes made this way aren’t really mashed at all—they’re riced—but let's not let pedantry get in the way of delicious carbohydrates.

The Evolution of Instant Mashed Potatoes

If mashed potato pedants have opinions about ricers, they’ll definitely have something to say about this next development. In the 1950s, researchers at what is today called the Eastern Regional Research Center, a United States Department of Agriculture facility outside of Philadelphia, developed a new method for dehydrating potatoes that led to potato flakes that could be quickly rehydrated at home. Soon after, modern instant mashed potatoes were born.

It’s worth pointing out that this was far from the first time potatoes had been dehydrated. Dating back to at least the time of the Incas, chuño is essentially a freeze-dried potato created through a combination of manual labor and environmental conditions. The Incas gave it to soldiers and used it to guard against crop shortages.

Experiments with industrial drying were gearing up in the late 1700s, with one 1802 letter to Thomas Jefferson discussing a new invention where you grated the potato and pressed all the juices out, and the resulting cake could be kept for years. When rehydrated it was “like mashed potatoes” according to the letter. Sadly, the potatoes had a tendency to turn into purple, astringent-tasting cakes.

Interest in instant mashed potatoes resumed during the Second World War period, but those versions were a soggy mush or took forever. It wasn’t until the ERRC’s innovations in the 1950s that a palatable dried mashed potato could be produced. One of the key developments was finding a way to dry the cooked potatoes much faster, minimizing the amount of cell rupture and therefore the pastiness of the end-product. These potato flakes fit perfectly into the rise of so-called convenience foods at the time, and helped potato consumption rebound in the 1960s after a decline in prior years.

Instant mashed potatoes are a marvel of food science, but they’re not the only use scientists found for these new potato flakes. Miles Willard, one of the ERRC researchers, went on to work in the private sector, where his work helped contribute to new types of snacks using reconstituted potato flakes—including Pringles.