A rural English woman with no advanced education, who liked to collect seashells.
Discovered several new species of dinosaur, and helped convince the world that dinosaurs were a thing.
We've all collected seashells at the beach, right? Few would take that experience to mean that they're a world-class archaeologist, though. Those people wouldn't be Mary Anning.
"There's a fossil. This shit is easy."
Anning always liked doing a bit of fossil collecting, a hobby that her dad taught to her (he'd sell the weird rocks he dug up to beach tourists). She'd walk along the beach with her dad collecting, cleaning and then selling them at one of those things they had before eBay.
Ye Olde AuctionWeb?
As time went on, she became a little bit famous for selling old crap down at the market -- some guy named Terry Sullivan even came up with the famous tongue twister "she sells seashells from the seashore" because of her (seriously, the rhyme is about Anning). But she wasn't one to get stuck selling silly seashells for the rest of her life. Anning was about to do something much bigger.
About this big, to be exact.
Anning relentlessly continued with her fossil hunting and soon it began to pay off. One fine day in 1811, her brother noticed a skull sticking out of the cliff near her house. Rather than running and screaming like we might, he went and told Anning who then excavated the hell out of that skull to find an entire "crocodile" skeleton. But it was no crocodile -- it was a dinosaur that was later named Ichthyosaurus.
Soon, Anning was discovering skeletons like there was no tomorrow. She found a Plesiosaurus, a Pterodactylus and a Squaloraja at which point the official "dinosaur namer" gave up and just wanted to see what the most ridiculous name she could get away with was.
Anning's discoveries helped to completely revolutionize the 19th century view of history at a time when most people refused to believe in the existence of dinosaurs. To many, she is the founder of modern day geology -- which is ironic because the London Geological Society didn't even admit women until more than 50 years after her death. Holy shit, what does it take to convince you guys?
A high school teacher.
Cracked the Zodiac Killer's code.
God bless the school teachers, because that really does seem like shitty job. Hours and hours of teaching annoying kids, in between boredom and fear of never advancing in your career. Of course, if you're particularly creative, you could always do something more interesting in your spare time. Like learning an instrument or maybe decrypting the insane messages from lunatic serial killers or stamp collecting.
Not unlike deciphering teenage babbling.
You've probably all heard of the Zodiac Killer (if not, there are plenty of books and websites you can read, or a film for the illiterate). Basically, he was a crazy madman who went around violently killing people. He was, needless to say, a nasty piece of work.
Witnesses say he looks like the gritty reboot of Little Big Planet.
Part of the being crazy thing meant that he sent in some encrypted letters to three California newspapers. For such a nutcase, the Zodiac Killer knew how to write in code. All the top FBI cryptographers worked on it night and day to try and solve the mystery of the zodiac code, and to potentially crack his identity. Try as they might, they couldn't break it. The zodiac had been clever: He used 14 different symbols for the letter "E" and had used a backwards "Q" 16 times to trick everyone into thinking that was an "E." Of course it never crossed his mind to save all his effort and just not write the letter, but that just comes under the whole mental illness aspect of his character.
Turns out the Rosetta Stone just says, "Fuck you" in 10 different languages.
With the country's top experts on the case, but failing dismally, it was time for the greatest hero of them all -- and the one with the most heroic name -- to step up: Donald G. Harden. A high school teacher from Salinas, California, who managed to crack the zodiac code in his spare time to reveal his intensely creepy message:
I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE IT IS EVEN BETTER THAN GETTING YOUR ROCKS OFF WITH A GIRL THE BEST PART OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND THEI HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR ATOP MY COLLECTIOG OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE EBEORIETEMETHHPITI.
He probably just gave up at the end so he didn't embarrass them too much. The police would go on to ... not catch the zodiac killer. But you can hardly blame Harden for that. What, now he has to take up being a detective in his spare time, too? Does he have to do everything?
"Guys, I am trying to prevent future serial killers here!"
An uneducated monk.
Discovered how genetics work.
Ah, genetics. It can be used to detect rare diseases in people, it can give us an excuse for obesity and it can be used to create a breed of super-monsters with the body of a crocodile and the head of a chimpanzee (probably). So maybe you'd expect it to have been discovered by some super-scientist with a team of a hundred super-scientist assistants. If you did, you obviously didn't read this article's title.
"Hundreds of millions of guys who weren't that remarkable and got grad students to do all the hard work."
We have previously mentioned how the modern theory of genetics was dismissed as bullshit at the time it was discovered. The reason is that the guy who did the discovering had nothing in the way of a resume. "Wait, who is out there saying he's discovered the very building blocks of life? Does he even own a white lab coat?"
Those glasses protect him from nothing but temptation.
Meet Gregor Mendel, monk extraordinaire. Born in 1822 in the Czech Republic, he couldn't afford to go to college. Apparently figuring that joining a monastery was at least 90 percent similar to being in a fraternity, he joined up with the Augustinian monastery at Brunn.
We're sure they play wine pong with those watering cans.
When he was gardening, he noticed some interesting things about his pea plants -- namely that certain traits such as color, pea size (heh) and a few other things were passed down from pea plant to baby pea plant. A couple of experiments and a "scientist hard at work" montage later and he'd accidentally walked into the discovery of modern genetics.
He would have written equations all over the windows if they weren't all made of stained glass.
And this is no exaggeration: Mendel's experiments and results are the basis for everything we know about DNA and inheritance today. And as we said, no one believed him -- he was just a monk with a penchant for gardens. His work went unnoticed for decades. It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that Mendel's works were rediscovered.
It happened because a couple of other scientists were confused by the results of their own similar experiments and couldn't make sense of any of it. Supposedly, Hugo de Vries only finally came to grips with his findings once he'd read Mendel's work -- the work of a simple gardener and beekeeper, written nearly 50 years earlier.
So, yeah, stay in school, kids. And if you don't, you'd better be really good at teaching yourself things. And a genius.
For more more unexpected world-changers, check out 5 Bizarre Accidents That Helped Invent Modern Medicine. Or learn about The 25 Most Disturbing Sex Toys because it's Saturday, what else do you have to do?