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6 Sacred Icons of American Culture That Aren't Even American

#3. Fast Food Franchises Go Back Thousands of Years

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If it's Friday night and you have but a fuzzy recollection of what you've been doing for the past five hours, then you're ready to indulge in the great American pastime of on-demand fast food. Yes, your 2 a.m. jaunt to White Castle represents everything quintessentially American: freedom, entrepreneurship, and the looming specter of adult-onset diabetes.

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
He's practically shaking with anticipation.

Where It Actually Came From:

Or, fast food has been around everywhere, for a very long, long time.

Back in the days of feudalism, only the rich could afford actual kitchens, and going out to eat meant heading over to your neighbor's castle. Therefore, the only restaurants around catered to the poor and travelers by serving quick, on-the-go food.

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com
"Order up, I need two giant bags of sticks and dirt on the fly."

Even traditional American fast foods (like hamburgers and hot dogs) got their delicious start catering to German sailors at ports (like prostitutes and mustache-cream vendors). In fact, most classic American fast food is named after somewhere else -- hamburgers come from the German city of Hamburg, and French fries originated in Belgium.

How far back can we trace fast food? In 1100s London, fast food flourished along the Thames River, where a medieval-style drive-in served customers day and night. Heck, the drive-thru window -- that omnipresent staple of the American landscape -- very well may date back to ancient Iran.

Also, archaeologists estimate that 200 cafe-like restaurants known as thermopolia -- which sat at the intersections of busy streets -- dotted the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Further, there was one of these restaurants for roughly every 60 residents of the city. Not even Los Angeles pot dispensaries can pull that kind of ratio.

Via BBC
"The bathroom and dining room are one and the same. It saves so much time."

#2. The Assembly Line Is Nearly a Thousand Years Old

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Henry Ford revolutionized the auto industry and -- by extension -- American manufacturing with the assembly line. By assigning each worker a specialized task, he was able to pump out cars quickly and cheaply, finally leading humans to victory in our eternal war on horses.

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com
"That's OUR grass, you assholes!"

Where It Actually Came From:

Venice.

The economic idea of assembly lines was first outlined by Scotsman Adam Smith in his fast-paced international thriller The Wealth of Nations. Smith's capitalist tome (which fortuitously debuted in 1776) described the division of labor, or a system in which each worker was assigned a specific task to maximize efficiency and output. Smith was cautious, though, noting that doing the same thing over and over gets, like, snooze-a-rama.

Felipe Dupouy/Lifesize/Getty Images
Which is why it's always better to hire children since they have much more energy.

But years before Smith's grandpappy even popped a courtship-boner, Venice had already mastered the assembly line. Beginning in the 12th century, shipbuilders started to conglomerate in a public dockyard known as the Arsenal to create one of the largest manufacturing plants the world had ever seen.

The workers -- who at one point numbered close to 16,000 -- would build galleys piece by piece in a highly standardized (and likely boring) process. At the peak of the Arsenal's production, they could produce an average of about two ships a day, 160 feet long, complete with oars and rigging, and ready to hold as many as 700 men. In sum, it was a lot like Henry Ford's assembly line, if Ford created giant Model T's that each held a small town and terrorized Mediterranean trade for 500 years.

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
Which they absolutely did.

#1. "The Star-Spangled Banner" Was a British Drinking Song

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During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key wrote America's national anthem while witnessing the siege of Fort McHenry. He did so for the express purpose of embarrassing future pop stars at sporting events.

Where It Actually Came From:

A British drinking song, which is kind of like Vietnam rejiggering their national anthem around the opening riffs of "Purple Haze."

While the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" were penned by Key, the melody was taken from the anthem for the Anacreontic Society, a London gentlemen's club devoted to poetry and drinking. Much like the aforementioned Gentleman's Magazine, history once again reveals that -- in terms of all things gentlemanly -- that age was all about prose before hos. Nonetheless, the society got its name from the Greek poet Anacreon, who was famous for writing about getting shitfaced, partying, and boning.

Via Wikipedia
And being all like, "Which one of you fuckers stole my slappin' hand?!"

The British composer John Stafford Smith wrote the song in the late 18th century -- the original words were added later by the Anacreontic Society:

Remember, this was the 18th century, so nobody gave two whole notes about music copyrights. Prior to "The Star-Spangled Banner," Smith's melody had been used in other patriotic songs, including a different poem Key himself wrote in 1806 about America's naval victory over the Barbary pirates. That song included such delightful couplets as "How triumphant they rode o'er the wondering flood/And stained the blue waters with infidel blood," which would've certainly livened up some Little League games.



For more all-American wholesomeness, you can visit Steve's blog.



For more "American" mainstays that aren't exactly original, check out 6 Famous Characters You Didn't Know Were Shameless Rip-Offs. Or learn about 7 Classic Movies You Didn't Know Were Rip-Offs.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out Why 'Time' Has Published the Least Responsible 'How To' Ever.

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