April 19, 2014
When a historical fact isn’t PDF Print E-mail

Everyone knows that Benjamin Franklin invented the Franklin stove, and everyone is wrong.
This is just one example of the many things we accept as historical truths, but are in fact, erroneous.
Many a young student will tell you that Marco Polo was the first European to visit China. This mistaken notion springs from Polo’s popular book, “Description of the World” (now called “The Travels of Marco Polo”).
The identity of the first European to visit China is unknown, but we do know that Polo’s father, Maffeo, and his uncle, Niccolo, first visited China in 1266 AD. Young Marco Polo made his first trip at the age of 17 when he accompanied his father and uncle in 1271.
Moving to the New World, the Liberty Bell is said to have cracked when rung to announce the Declaration of Independence. Not so. At that time, the bell was called the State House Bell. It had been made in 1753 by recasting the cracked Province Bell. It was hung in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House.
The first major crack appeared on July 8, 1835, when it was rung to announce the death of Chief Justice John Marshall. In the 1880s, the bell was renamed as the Liberty Bell and inscribed with these words: “Proclaim Liberty throughout the Land.” The use of the word “liberty” was in reference to the freedom given to the slaves.The bell was retired in 1907 when a second crack appeared.
Generations of students have learned that Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to assert the Earth rotates around the sun. They got it wrong. The Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos came up with the notion back the the 3rd century BC. Later, Archimedes, the famed Greek mathematician and inventor, quoted Aristarchus. Copernicus didn’t get around to posing the idea until 1543 AD.
Did the Roman Emperor Nero really play his fiddle while Rome burned? No way. He didn’t even own a fiddle since the violin was not developed until the 16th century. Furthermore, when the great fire started, Nero was at his villa at Antium, some 35 miles from Rome. When he learned of the fire, he immediately returned to Rome to help fight the blaze.
The Panama hat, which became enormously popular in the 19th century, did not originate in Panama. The hats were made (and most still are) in Ecuador. They became known as Panama hats because the hats were sent to Panama for shipment to the rest of the world. So yes, for some reason Panama hats aren’t very popular in Panama.
Galileo Galilei gets the credit, but it was Hans Lippershey, a Dutch optician, who invented the first telescope in 1608. Galileo built his own telescope a year later and went on to pioneer its use in astronomy.
And what about Franklin’s stove? The great inventor and patriot actually invented the Pennsylvania Fireplace, but it didn’t work. Many years later, David Rittenhouse redesigned Franklin’s stove and named it the Rittenhouse stove. People have persisted in calling it the Franklin stove to this day.
We’ll fracture some more supposed facts next week.