#2. The Prospector Who Stumbled Across An Ocean of Gold
In 1886, the South African gold rush was ON, and prospectors were combing the land for big strikes. Sors Hariezon was wandering around a bit, and found a solid lump of gold, just sitting on the ground. He staked a claim, started working, and was soon joined by every gold-hungry land-thieving bastard within a hundred miles.
Then, apparently, Sors was just over it. He sold his claim for 20 bucks and split. No one knows what ever happened to him. Some say that Sors never existed, and that his name was the result of a misspelling of "George Harrison" on a gold claim form (who, according to historical confusion, also sold the claim for 20 bucks and wandered off, but was eaten by a lion.)
That land, near a settlement that would explode into Johannesburg, still produces a retarded amount of gold per year. Fun fact: Sors is the name of a Roman god of luck.
Without This Person, We Might Not Have:
Well, Johannesburg. You know, largest city in South Africa? Exporter of a majority of the western world's gold and (blood) diamonds? Sure, it's not exactly a hot bed for cultural progress, but it's also pretty much responsible for everything good that has ever come out of South Africa.
If someone with any damn sense at all had found that gold mine, they would have kept it to themselves. Instead of a city, Johannesburg would just be a huge industrial goldmine. You'd still have South Africa, and all the awful shit that goes on there, just a more backwoods version. What you wouldn't have is Nelson Mandela, who grew up there.
If that doesn't sound bad enough, all that gold would have belonged to one dude. So enough gold to build an entire city belongs to some white South African gold speculator. If you've seen Lethal Weapon 2 you know that white South Africans are evil enough without being able to buy the moon.
And if you're still not convinced, without the mythical Sors Hariezon and his lucky find, Johannesburg native Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band would have never been born. Take a moment to stop shivering in terror before reading on.
#1. The Coal Merchant Who Saved King Louis the Fourteenth (And Changed History Again)
In the mid-1640s, French coal salesman Jacquot came home late to his family's one-room shack with a half-drowned kid in his arms. Over the long night, they nursed him back to consciousness while Jacquot explained that he had found the boy sinking in a pool behind the royal palace with no one else in sight. As was common in the 1640s, the family then ate the child, and buried his bones beneath an apple tree behind their house.
What? Oh, sorry. This whole thing has a very fairy-tail ring to it, and we got distracted. What really happened was that the kid woke up, and started mocking the poverty of the house, the clothes they had changed him into, and the food they made for him. In short, they should have eaten the little prick.
After a little while, voices rose outside, and half the royal guard burst into the room. It turned out that Jacquot had rescued the boy king Louis XIV from an early death. To thank the peasant, Louis promised him a fuckton of money. History doesn't tell us if the little shit actually followed through with it.
Without This Person, We Might Not Have:
Modern France, and most of the good things that came out of it, which is more than you might think. Louis XIV spent his seventy-two-year reign both unifying the fragmented regions of France, throwing his money at arts and culture and kicking the crap out of any nation that looked at him funny.
This is probably not how he drowned.
All that warring and spending dragged the French government into some damn serious debt, which would eventually contribute to the French Revolution, which is often credited as being one of the most influential movements in history. Basically, if the monarchy were a hotel room Louis XIV was Led Zeppelin: he threw such a kick ass party that by the time he was done with it, it was totally ruined. Which of course turned out to be good news for those of us who aren't kings.
For men who kicked too much ass for history to ignore check out The 5 Most Badass Presidents of All-Time. Or for men who fooled history into thinking they were smart check out 7 "Eccentric" Geniuses Who Were Clearly Just Insane.