50 Surprising Facts About Bubble Wrap

iStock.com/kutaytanir
iStock.com/kutaytanir

Outside of cats making their home in empty shipping boxes, no packaging tool has brought more joy to consumers than Bubble Wrap, which has been protecting fragile goods—and relieving stress—with its air-filled chambers since 1960. Here are 50 things you might not know about this shipping institution.

1. It was originally supposed to be wallpaper.

Bubble Wrap on a ceiling with blue lighting.
Mr. Michael Phams, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Wallpaper may have lost some of cachet (though it's making a comeback), but in the 1950s, gluing patterned rolls to your living room was a decorating win. In 1957, an engineer named Al Fielding and a Swiss inventor named Marc Chavannes wanted to bring a wallpaper to market with a raised texture. As an experiment, they glued two shower curtains together, sealing them so tightly that air bubbles were created. But few consumers wanted to cocoon themselves in a padded room, and the wrap-as-wallpaper idea never took off.

2. It was used as greenhouse insulation.

Boxes of plants near a wall of Bubble Wrap.
iStock

With their wallpaper dreams dashed, Fielding and Chavannes decided to take their glued-curtain idea and transfer it to greenhouses, where the material could be used to insulate buildings and retain heat. This worked, but it was still hard to convince buyers to enclose their environment in plastic. For a time, it seemed like Bubble Wrap would remain a good idea without much of a purpose.

3. IBM changed everything.

Vintage IBM 1401 computers from the Computer History Museum.
Sandy Kemsley, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By 1959, Fielding and Chavannes had incorporated Sealed Air, a business umbrella for marketing their Bubble Wrap product. Their marketing expert, Frederick W. Bowers, learned that IBM was preparing to ship their 1401 decimal computer to buyers. Realizing the item was both expensive and fragile, Bowers pitched the company on the idea of shipping them wrapped in Sealed Air’s trademark product. (Previously, shippers used newspaper, sawdust, or horse hair to protect delicate items.) Impressed, IBM soon began using Bubble Wrap to protect delicate electronics from damage during transit. By the mid-1960s, Bubble Wrap had become a shipping institution.

4. "Bubble wrap" is trademarked.

Close-up of Bubble Wrap
iStock

Like Xerox, Kleenex, Coke, and other brand names that became so ubiquitous that they began to slip into day-to-day vocabularies, Bubble Wrap is actually a trademarked product of Sealed Air. No competing air-cushioning company can use the term.

5. Bubble Wrap comes in handy on film sets.

Three women wearing backpacks.
iStock

The next time you watch a movie or television show set in a high school, it's possible you’re looking at a bunch of extras toting Bubble Wrap around campus. Actors sometimes carry backpacks stuffed with the product so they're not forced to lug around heavy books during a long shooting day.

6. Bubble Wrap could (maybe) save your life.

Feet on the edge of a building.
iStock

Could Bubble Wrap cushion a fall? While we would never recommend you put it to the test, one theory says maybe. In 2011, WIRED contributor Rhett Allain crunched the numbers and estimated that one might need 39 layers of Bubble Wrap in order to survive a fall out of a sixth-story window.

7. An air force base once mistook its pops for gunshots.

Bubble wrap with a blue tint.
iStock

In December 2015, security officials were called to the Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after reports of gunshots were heard. High-powered weapons and Humvees were assembled before officials determined that the “threat” had been someone on base popping Bubble Wrap.

8. The boy scouts set a popping world record.

Close-up of a Boy Scout uniform.
iStock

In 2015, Boy Scouts in Elbert, Colorado succeeded in setting a Guinness World Record for the most number of people popping Bubble Wrap simultaneously: 2681 Scouts participated.

9. An artist uses bubble wrap to create "pop art."

Artist Bradley Hart attends the opening reception for The Masters Interpreted at Cavalier Gallery on May 7, 2014 in New York City.
Andrew Toth, Getty Images

Artist Bradley Hart has a unique approach to modern art. Using a syringe, he injects paint into individual air cylinders of Bubble Wrap, creating pixelated-looking landscapes and portraits. Hart also displays the reverse side of these works, which feature running paint from the injections and serve as a counterpoint to the more disciplined image on the front.

10. Some bubble wrap doesn't pop.

Rolls of bubble wrap and shipping boxes.
iStock

Sacrificing fun for practicality, in 2015 Sealed Air began offering iBubble Wrap, a product that ships flat and uninflated so it takes up less space in warehouses. (Customers can inflate it when it’s ready to be used.) It's as effective as regular Bubble Wrap, with one caveat: once filled, it doesn't make any satisfying noise when popped.

11. Bubble Wrap once kept a giant pumpkin from disaster.

Close-up of a giant pumpkin.
iStock

What happens when you drop an 815-pound pumpkin from a 35-foot crane? Normally, a crime scene. But in October 2000, a pumpkin-dropping contest in Iowa decided to see if a Bubble Wrap landing pad could protect "Gourdzilla" from harm [PDF]. Landing on the product, the mammoth squash was completely intact.

12. Popping Bubble Wrap may have health benefits.

Woman popping Bubble Wrap on a table with coffee nearby.
iStock

Popping Bubble Wrap ranks among life’s greatest small pleasures. Some have theorized it may have to do with our ancestral habit of crushing ticks or other insects that plagued us—although the truth may be a little less morbid. In 1992, psychology professor Kathleen Dillon conducted a study in which she found that subjects were more relaxed and less tired after a popping session. One possible reason: Humans are soothed by tactile sensations of touch, which is why some cultures favor smooth stones or "worry beads" to manipulate for comfort. That might explain why virtual popping on cell phones or screens doesn't have quite the same effect.

13. Bubble Wrap was a Toy Hall of Fame finalist in 2016.

Child popping Bubble Wrap.
iStock

Popping Bubble Wrap has become such a beloved pastime that the National Toy Hall of Fame once considered it for inclusion. In 2016, the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York nominated Bubble Wrap along with Care Bears, Dungeons & Dragons, and other playthings for induction. Bubble Wrap didn't make the cut, but for a "toy" that is essentially nothing but air, it must have been an honor just to be considered.

14. You can opt for fancy versions of Bubble Wrap.

Bubble Wrap with heart shapes.
Aimee Ray, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bored with conventional Bubble Wrap? Sealed Air also manufactures sheets with air cushions shaped like letters that spell out "happy holidays" and chambers shaped like hearts or smiley faces.

15. Sealed air once made golden wrap.

Gold Bubble Wrap.
Delyth Angharad, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Bubble Wrap's debut as a shipping staple, Sealed Air released a special commemorative golden Bubble Wrap in 2010.

16. One bride wore a bubble wrap wedding dress.

Woman laying down, wearing bubble wrap.
Felipe Neves, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

With an eye on a sustainable gown for her wedding, England native Rachael Robinson decided to opt for a Bubble Wrap-crafted dress in May 2010. The dress was made at the school Robinson taught at for a fashion show of recyclable materials. It featured a three-foot Bubble Wrap train. (She wore a more conventional dress at a second ceremony.)

17. Norway uses Bubble Wrap to prevent hypothermia.

Emergency responders carrying a stretcher in the snow.
iStock

When transporting critically ill patients, Norwegian emergency medicine technicians sometimes use Bubble Wrap to prevent hypothermia in the frigid climate. In 2009, a study was conducted to determine Bubble Wrap's efficacy in heat retention in mannequins. It was found to be only 69 percent as effective as blankets, or about the equivalent of a sleeping bag.

18. Bubble Wrap made the cover of Playboy in 1997.

Portrait of Farrah Fawcett.
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

Proving that Bubble Wrap has unlimited uses, actress Farrah Fawcett posed wearing only a run of the see-through material for a 1997 Playboy cover and interior photo spread. Because the Wrap left nothing to the imagination, Fawcett's cover was shipped only to subscribers.

19. The Bubble Wrap factory is like an oven.

Sheet of Bubble Wrap
iStock

To churn out the miles of Bubble Wrap produced yearly, Sealed Air’s factory in Elmwood Park, New Jersey can be a bit stifling. The machines use resin to create the sheets at temperatures of 560 degrees, making the air around it "sweat-inducing."

20. Bubble Wrap is in the Museum Of Modern Art.

Close-up of Bubble Wrap.
iStock

In 2004, the Museum of Modern Art accepted a donation from Sealed Air of a nearly 12-inch by 12-inch square of Bubble Wrap into their Architecture and Design collection. It went on display as part of their Humble Masterpieces collection, which also featured chopsticks and the Band-Aid.

21. Amazon may ship your bubble wrap in protective packaging.

Curl of brown paper over Bubble Wrap.
iStock

A bizarre photo of a Bubble Wrap order covered in shipping paper made the viral rounds in 2015, with people puzzled why Amazon would need to protect protective packaging material. One possible answer: because the roll didn't take up the entire box, shippers reinforced the empty space with additional packing material so the cardboard wouldn't collapse and send stacked boxes above it tumbling.

22. Bubble Wrap has inspired young inventors.

Young girl with a
iStock

Back in 2007, Sealed Air sponsored a Bubble Wrap Competition for Young Inventors, encouraging grade school students to find alternative uses for their celebrated product. Among the ideas: using a layer of Wrap as a building material to absorb shock on floors; as a rest pad for carpal tunnel sufferers; and as a wallpaper designed to stimulate children with autism. The annual contest ran through 2010.

23. Bubble Wrap inspired a book.

Published in the 1998, The Bubble Wrap Book took a novel look at alternative uses for Bubble Wrap. Some were clearly intended for satirical purposes—like stuffing your wallet with the stuff to impress dates—while others may find some practical use. Making a mat out of Bubble Wrap could, in theory, alert you to a burglar.

24. You can buy a Bubble Wrap calendar.

Bored with marking off days with a big red X? Sealed Air licenses day calendars that allow consumers to punctuate dates by popping a giant bubble instead.

25. You can still use Bubble Wrap as insulation.

Globe wrapped in Bubble Wrap.
iStock

Sealed Air doesn't officially endorse its use as insulation, but Bubble Wrap can indeed do what its inventors aspired toward back in the 1950s. Using the packaging material around windows can help retain heat indoors and help keep homes cool during summer, with the trapped air in the bubbles having a thermal retention effect. This assumes you can keep from popping them.

26. Bubble Wrap appreciation day comes every january.

A man and a woman jump on a pile of Bubble Wrap in their living room
Paul Bradbury iStock via Getty Images

Mark it on your Bubble Wrap calendar. The “holiday” was invented by an Indiana radio station that inadvertently broadcast ASMR-like sounds when they opened a shipment of new microphones wrapped in the stuff.

27. Bubble Wrap had a noisy cameo in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective ...

28. ... a Touching cameo in WALL·E ...

29. ... and a hilarious cameo in Naked Gun 33 1/3.

30. Bubble Wrap goes great with chocolate.

Bars of chocolate piled on a gray table.
serezniy iStock via Getty Images

Spreading melted chocolate on a piece of Bubble Wrap and letting it harden creates a honeycomb-like pattern when the wrap is peeled off. Chocolatiers and bakers use this technique to create luxurious and impressive-looking treats and garnishes with very little time and effort.

31. Not all Bubble Wrap is created equally.

A swirl of colored light behind Bubble Wrap.
Helen Davies iStock via Getty Images

It comes in bubble sizes that range from 1/8” to 3/16”. When it comes to shipping, smaller bubbles keep items protected from scratches and scrapes, while larger bubbles are more effective for preventing damage from impact.

32. Bubble Wrap is made in 52 countries, and there's a lot of it.

Rolls of Bubble Wrap stacked
Valerii Maksimov iStock via Getty Images

Bubble Wrap is made in 52 countries. Every year, enough of the poppable stuff is made that it could wrap around the equator 10 times, or make it to the moon and back.

33. Bubble Wrap is hardly the only product that Sealed Air makes.

Bubble Wrap sheet in front of a black background
Kichigin iStock via Getty Images

Still, today, Bubble Wrap makes up just 2 percent of the Sealed Air’s sales. They’ve diversified their portfolio to include products like medical packaging solutions and a diverse array of food packaging products.

34. Bubble Wrap is Cryovac's cousin.

Yellow containers in front of an industrial machine for sealing things in plastic
sergeyryzhov iStock via Getty Images

Among other things, the Sealed Air company also owns Cryovac, a thin plastic that is shrink-wrapped around food and other items. They claim to be the company that invented vacuum sealing.

35. Bubble Wrap might be as good as a massage.

A woman with her eyes closed getting a neck massage.
Prostock-Studio iStock via Getty Images

You’re not imagining the psychological, stress-relieving benefits that come with popping Bubble Wrap. In 2012, the Bubble Wrap® Brand “Pop” Poll surveyed respondents and found that one minute of bubble-popping provides the stress relief equivalent to a 33-minute massage.

36. There are Bubble Wrap apps.

A man touches his finger to his smart phone screen.
Chainarong Prasertthai iStock via Getty Images

Both iPhone and Android offer Bubble Wrap apps. (No, they’re not as good as the real thing.)

37. The inventor's son was the first non-adult to pop it.

A teen girl in a yellow shirt pops Bubble Wrap
Maria Casinos iStock via Getty Images

The first person to pop bubble wrap: Howard Fielding, the inventor’s son. OK, maybe not, but he was close. “I remember looking at the stuff and my instinct was to squeeze it,” Fielding told Smithsonian Magazine. “I say I’m the first person to pop Bubble Wrap, but I’m sure it’s not true. The adults at my father’s firm likely did so for quality assurance. But I was probably the first kid. The bubbles were a lot bigger then, so they made a loud noise.”

38. Bubble Wrap popped big in the 1970s.

A pink piggy bank wrapped in Bubble Wrap
sqback iStock via Getty Images

Until 1971, Sealed Air was a relatively modest company, turning a profit of just $5 million. That’s when T.J. Dermot Dunphy was named CEO, and under his direction, the firm grew to $3 billion in sales by the time he left in 2000.

39. Bubble Wrap's inventors are in the New Jersey inventors Hall of Fame.

A man in suspenders and a hat writing the solution to a complex math problem on a large chalkboard.
francescoch iStock via Getty Images

In 1993, inventors Marc Chavannes and Alfred Fielding received a coveted spot in the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame for their Bubble Wrap contributions. Other honorees include Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.

40. Sealed Air employees know the value of Bubble Wrap's stress relief.

A man holds a sheet of Bubble Wrap tightly.
dekru iStock via Getty Images

According to The New York Times, at one point, employees at Sealed Air each received a small box of individual squares of Bubble Wrap to keep at their desks for emergency stress relief. (No word on whether this is still standard practice.)

41. Higher learning institutions recognize Bubble Wrap's mental health benefits, too.

Hands pop Bubble Wrap at a table with coffee.
alexeys iStock via Getty Images

The Bubble Wrap manufacturer isn’t the only organization to see the value in stress-popping. In 2019, The University of Bristol in England provided students with squares of Bubble Wrap to help relieve anxiety. In response to concerns about sustainability, the university issued a statement saying that the stunt was a clever way to reuse packing material that university furniture had come in.

42. Bubble Wrap has a massive online following.

A woman pops Bubble Wrap in front of her laptop computer.
IPGGutenbergUKLtd iStock via Getty Images

The “Popping Bubble Wrap” Facebook group has 460,000 members.

43. There's (fictional) lethal bubble wrap.

'Kerblam!' episode of 'Doctor Who'
BBC America

Kerblam!,” an episode of Doctor Who that aired in November 2018, introduced viewers to lethal Bubble Wrap.

44. Bubble Wrap has been used as a murder weapon.

The end of a sheet of Bubble Wrap
Paket iStock via Getty Images

But seriously, it really can kill. In 2017, a South Carolina man used Bubble Wrap as a murder weapon. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

45. You can buy a Bubble Wrap suit

A mother putting a helmet on a young son who is wrapped in Bubble Wrap.
D. Anschutz iStock via Getty Images

You can purchase a “bubble wrap suit.” After Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott donned bubble wrap suits in the cult movie Dude, Where’s My Car?, demand for bubble wrap suits skyrocketed. (Or at least, demand for bubble wrap suits suddenly existed.) If you can’t live without one, you can purchase the poppable attire for the surprisingly affordable price of $24.99.

46. You can make JELL-O shots with it.

If you’re very patient. Morena DIY uses a syringe to inject liquid Jell-O into a piece of Bubble Wrap with a large bubble size. After the dessert has set, she pops each one out of the makeshift mold to create dozens of dome-shaped shots.

47. Some people use Bubble Wrap to play Twister

Hands on a Twister game mat.
LIgorko iStock via Getty Images

Place some Bubble Wrap under your Twister mat for an added dimension to the party game

48. You can use Bubble Wrap to keep your pet warm.

Do not wrap your dog or cat in Bubble Wrap! But you can install it into an outdoor pet home to keep out the cold. You'll just want to keep it behind the paneling so your pooch doesn't pop it all.

49. Elon Musk thinks non-poppable Bubble Wrap is a sign of the end times.

Elon Musk called non-poppable Bubble Wrap “Clearly a sign of the apocalypse!” In 2019, four years after Sealed Air announced their non-poppable packing product iBubble, the news cycle once again picked up the story. Upon seeing the news of non-poppable Bubble Wrap on Twitter, Elon Musk professed his horror by announcing that it must be a bad omen. Fortunately for Musk and other stress poppers out there, Sealed Air continues to make traditional Bubble Wrap in addition to iBubble.

50. Bubble Wrap can help your freezer work better.

Bubble Wrap can be used to improve freezer efficiency. By filling any unused freezer space with wads of Bubble Wrap, you’ll prevent warm air from circulating, which makes your freezer work harder.

7 Quick Tips for Disinfecting Your Home the Smart Way

Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
BrianAJackson/iStock via Getty Images

With many people spending more time—or virtually all of their time—indoors, it’s natural for thoughts to turn to how to best clean surfaces that might help minimize the risk of spreading illness. Although researchers believe respiratory droplets are the primary way coronavirus is transmitted, preliminary data, which is not yet peer-reviewed, suggests the virus may remain on some surfaces for hours or days.

While scrubbing isn't a complex process, there are nonetheless some areas of your home you might be neglecting. Here’s how to best approach a household scrub, as well as identify and disinfect some common germ hot spots.

1. Pay attention to high-touch surfaces and clean them frequently.

High-touch surfaces are exactly what they sound like: Areas in the home that get handled and touched regularly. Think doorknobs, light switches, appliance handles, toilet handles, faucets, and remotes. And don’t forget laptops, keyboards, desks, and phones.

2. Don't just do a quick wipe down. Get the entire surface.

Taking a disinfecting wipe to the keyhole of a doorknob isn’t going to do you much good—it's important to really scrub all high-touch surfaces. Make sure you get every available surface area, including the plate behind the knob where fingers and hands often brush against it. When cleaning remotes, make sure you don't just scrub the buttons, but the space between them as well.

3. You can use soap and water.

While products claiming to kill 99.9 percent of germs are best in this scenario, there's another option if you're having a hard time tracking down those supplies—simply mix some dish soap in water. It won’t kill organisms, but it can remove them from the surface. (And while soap and water can work for high-touch surfaces throughout the home, you shouldn't use the solution on electronics like your remote or keyboard.)

If you’re looking to kill germs, diluted bleach (four teaspoons to one quart of water) and 70 percent alcohol solutions work well. But it's important to note that bleach and other cleaners can harm certain surfaces. So be sure to do your research and make sure the product you're using won't cause any damage before you start scrubbing.

4. Take laundry precautions.

If you’re trying to be extra-vigilant about the spread of germs in the house, you should consider washing clothes at the highest possible temperature and disinfecting laundry bins. It’s also advisable to use disposable laundry bags.

5. Remove your shoes before entering the house.

This step is more preventative, but it’s a simple way to keep from tracking in contaminants. Remove your shoes before going inside and leave them near the door. It's also a good idea to clean floor surfaces with disinfecting mop cloths, but be sure anything you use is safe for the finished surface. Cleaners like bleach can discolor certain materials.

6. Don't forget to clean your car.

Even people vigilant about cleaning their home can neglect their car interior. Since you’re constantly touching virtually every surface, be sure to wipe everything down regularly, including the steering wheel and door handles. If you have a leather interior, there are auto wipes available for those surfaces. And before you go wipe down any touchscreens, be sure to check your owner’s manual to see if they require any special microfiber cloth.

7. Give your debit cards a wipe.

It’s a good idea to disinfect credit or debit cards that follow you around on shopping excursions. As with all high-touch objects, be sure to wipe them down every day.

[h/t New York Times]

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER