3Jesse Hawley Comes Up With the Erie Canal
Jesse Hawley was confined to a debtor's prison in 1807, due to "his problems in acquiring reasonably priced transportation." We're not quite sure what that means, but we think that's saying he was in prison for not being able to afford a horse--which seems a bit harsh even for the 1800s when people ate tumbleweeds and sneezing in mixed company was a capital offense. In between sitting in a cement cell and cursing the overpriced used horse industry, Hawley had time to think some things over. You know, typical prison shit like "What am I going to do with my life when I get out?"; "What I would've done differently if I had the chance again"; "How will my kids remember me?; "The flow ratio of dam locks into northern climate lake canals"; "I could kill for some pussy right now."
Wait, what was that second to last one?
Hawley spent his imprisoned time writing 14 exhaustive essays detailing every aspect of a proposed Erie Canal. He single-handedly conceptualized the entire project, from start to finish. And while you might expect complex engineering concepts written by a convict with absolutely no engineering background to be, at best, soaked in urine and full of synonyms for "cunt," they were actually so knowledgeable and insightful that the mayor convinced New York legislature to act on the plans.
So how did a canal change the world? Well, it opened up trade between eastern and western America at a crucial time in our westward expansion. The demand was so great that the canal paid itself off almost immediately: It cost $7 million to make, and by 1870 it was raking in $70 million a year. Without Hawley's work, pioneers would certainly have had a harder time forging the pathway west, and could all very well have broken an axle, died of cholera or tipped over while fording the river and would have to restart from the beginning.
2Robert Franklin Stroud Studied Birds, Shanked Guards
When Robert Franklin Stroud was 18 years-old, he fell in love with a prostitute twice his age. While Hollywood has convinced us that--after a quick montage full of picnicking and wacky clothes shopping--the two should have lived happily ever after, this was sadly not the case. When she was savagely beaten by an acquaintance of Robert's, he lost his temper and shot the man. One man was killed, a woman seriously beaten and another was sentenced for manslaughter, but perhaps most tragically was that nobody involved learned the heartwarming lesson that love can come from anywhere. They certainly learned that a bullet and a beating can come from anywhere, but that is significantly less heartwarming.
While incarcerated at Leavenworth prison in Kansas, Stroud found a new passion to replace whores and shooting: nursing sick sparrows back to health. Jesus! That's like being imprisoned for your love of heroin and arson and replacing that with Eskimo kisses. Calling it a turnaround would be to spit in the eye of understatement. Eventually Stroud's bird-love grew, and he expanded to raising and studying canaries. From 1920 to 1942, he made many great contributions to the field of avian pathology. He was not only the first person to discover a cure for septicemia, but also published two extremely influential books on his general findings.
Then he stabbed a prison guard.
Twenty-two years of respected ornithological developments, and then he straight up shanks a guard. That is the single longest period of lulling somebody into a false sense of security in recorded history. His birds were taken away, and he spent the rest of his life in Alcatraz, probably telling all the other inmates how they "should have seen that guard's face. He was like "oh hey professor bird-guy" and BAM! Stabby-time. Worth every year of intense study."