"Hmmm ... fruity, with a mild undercurrent of psychosis."
What makes this situation even more ridiculous is that the Romans seemed to be completely aware that consuming too much lead could turn you into a gibbering weakling, shouting obscenities at ghosts and wearing a toga soaked in farts and confusion. However, by all accounts, they simply didn't give a shit (see arsenic, above).
The Demand for Rubber Bike Tires Leads to Genocide in the Congo
Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images
In the 1890s, bicycling fever reached epidemic levels in Europe and America, because the 19th century kind of sucked and people were ready to dive headfirst into whatever frivolity they could find. In the U.S., there was one bike for every seven Americans, and by 1895 cycling was so popular that the New York Times felt fully confident suggesting that anyone who didn't own a bicycle was either a cripple or hopelessly square.
Charles Hewitt/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Why, if you don't cotton to the bicycle, then you're crackers, fella! Crackers!"
One cause for the surge in bike ownership was the invention of inflatable tires. Bikes had previously used wooden or metal wheels, and riding one of those would've been like piloting an El Camino down a brick-paved road on nothing but four bent, tarnished rims. But inflatable tires made bicycles awesome, and people bought them by the millions. So where do you get rubber for all those bike tires? By enslaving an African nation and making them harvest it for you, of course.
"Just once could white people try the non-slavery option?"
You see, King Leopold II of Belgium ruled over the Congo at the time, and used it primarily as a source for exporting ivory and rubber. And he was more than happy to meet the increasing demand for bicycle tires (and, later, automobile tires) by imposing strict rubber quotas on the Congolese people. If a village didn't produce a sufficient amount of rubber, Leopold would burn the village down, kill all their children, or cut off the workers' hands (or sometimes all three, because why the hell not).
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
It would remain Belgium's worst human rights crime until Jean-Claude Van Damme.
One former Belgian official went on record saying, "Everywhere I hear the same news of the Congo Free State -- rubber and murder, slavery in its worst form." Slavery was technically illegal in most parts of the world at the time, but Leopold kept the Congo so isolated (more so than it already was) by completely controlling all of the trade routes, essentially turning the entire area into one giant unregulated factory. During the golden age of cycling, the number of bicycles in the U.S. increased by over 10 million, and the population of the Congo decreased by nearly 10 million. It doesn't take a statistics professor to point out that these two figures are almost certainly related and not just a staggering coincidence.
Jack is a moderator in the Cracked Comedy Workshop, email him at email@example.com. When Paige Turner isn't writing about dicks on the Internet, she's ... writing about dicks elsewhere. Because everybody needs a hobby.
For more fads folks should've reconsidered, check out 6 Popular Fashion Trends (That Killed People) and 6 Weird Fashions From History (With Weirder Explanations).
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