Though the average person will bounce around a dozen jobs in their lifetime, we tend to assume great historical figures were born to do one thing. Sure, Abe Lincoln had to work his way up to being president, but his youth was still spent learning about the law and politics -- pre-presidential stuff.
At least, that tends to be the way history books present it. In reality, great historical figures' lives have more random side quests than your average RPG. For instance ...
5Isaac Newton Was a Real-Life Sherlock Holmes
You know Isaac Newton: discoverer of the laws of gravity, inventor of calculus, batshit insane alchemy enthusiast. Newton was one of the founding fathers of modern physics, and after he came up with half of modern science, he was a big enough name to be drowned in prestige and easy living for the rest of his life.
He could drink cognac all night and smoke mercury every day.
Which is why it was a surprise that a few years after his massive scientific breakthroughs, Newton spent four years hunting for criminals in the tough boroughs of London. Yeah, you read that right: Isaac freaking Newton, the guy whose most famous physical altercation was a made-up knockout defeat to a pomaceous fruit, went all hard-boiled detective on London's ass.
In 1696, the 53-year-old Newton left academia for an extremely well-paid position at the Mint. While seemingly a literal license to print money, Newton soon found that this was by no means an "all play, no work" position. Counterfeiters were everywhere, fake money was drowning the real currency, and the country was facing the kind of cash crisis that tends to incite revolutions. So Newton set to work, not just inventing ways to make counterfeiting more difficult, but personally tracking down the forgers.
Sometimes even with excessive force.
Thus, the world's greatest scientist turned into the world's greatest detective. He acquired an enormous network of spies squealing to him about every rotten penny in a 50-mile radius. He took to the streets, hunting for clues and information. And he was efficient as hell -- in his four years on the job, he and his troops captured and executed a total of 27 forgers.
That's right -- "executed." This presumably earned Newton the undisputed "most kills by a theoretical physicist" championship until the Manhattan Project came along. Since we have no proof that he didn't personally body tackle each and every one of these criminals after a spirited rooftop chase, we have no option but to assume that he did.
"I'll never stop! First law of motion, bitch!"
Newton even had a Moriarty to his Sherlock Holmes: William Chaloner, a genius forger that had acquired an obscene fortune and many influential friends. Chaloner had a degree of untouchability due to his past as a government informant, and as such, he freely challenged Newton. He published pamphlets that advertised his talents, and even once appeared before a House of Commons committee offering his services to reform the corruption at the Mint, thus essentially announcing his plans to take Newton's place. Newton ended up winning their mental chess by spending two whole years building up an ironclad case against Chaloner, freely intimidating his lieutenants' wives and mistresses so that they would give up the criminal mastermind. Then he got his adversary hanged.
Moral of the story: If you make Isaac Newton angry, he will have no problem hunting you down for two solid years and then murdering you with gravity.
4Abraham Lincoln Was a Bartender
If you're anything like us, the gaunt face of Abraham Lincoln conjures images of two things: booze and partying. Wait, you're saying it doesn't? That must mean you haven't heard of the time he got a small, all-American town drunk for a living.
Whiskey is said to have given him this face at the age of 22.
Long before Lincoln did anything worthy of being portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, he was a young buck fresh out of home law school, looking for gainful employment. The boat he was traveling on broke down and left him stranded in the sleepy town of New Salem where, after a brief stint in the nearby New Orleans, he ended up spending the years 1831-37. Lacking the cred to get elected in an office and unable to get a law firm going, young Lincoln supported himself with a number of odd jobs. After finishing a brief stint in the local militia, he ended up opening a bar with one of his army buddies, William Berry. Pooling their resources, they bought a grocery store, got a liquor permit, and converted the place into a tavern called Berry and Lincoln. Then, young Abe started flairing it up. Have all the fun you want with that mental image.
The drink list of Berry and Lincoln hasn't been lost to history, either. In order to enjoy your beverages Lincoln-style, here's a brandy-heavy list for your drinks cabinet. Of course, the place also offered lodgings and food, because if you get a chance to get wasted at freaking Honest Abe's, you will damn well stay there and get wasted.
"Free us from sobriety, oh great emancipator!"
Sadly, all things come to an end. The free-flowing booze turned Berry into an alcoholic. This left the day-to-day operations to Lincoln, who gave his best shot at Old West bartenderin', but at the end of the day wasn't super great with people when he didn't have the option to maul them with his freakish super strength. The business soon took a steep nosedive, and after Berry died two years later, all debt fell squarely on Lincoln's shoulders.
Although things worked out alright in the end (until, you know, the whole theater thing), chances are Lincoln didn't remember his times as a booze master fondly. Not only was he paying off the debt well into his congressman days, but the stories of his den of sin era even came to haunt his political ambitions.
Lincoln Boyhood Memorial
Back then, voters were told to pick the guy they least wanted to have a beer with.
During his famous senate race debates with Stephen Douglas, the latter would subtly warn voters that electing Lincoln would turn the White House into Animal House. According to Douglas, Lincoln could (and we quote) "ruin more liquor than all the boys of the town together, and the dignity and impartiality with which he presided at a horse-race or fist-fight, excited the admiration and won the praise of everybody that was present and participated."
Wait, that was supposed to make Lincoln sound less awesome? Speaking of which ...