7 Things You Have In Your Home With Insane Secret Histories
Most world-changing products begin with good intentions: Someone thinks, "It sure would be neat if that thing existed." So they go and invent that thing, and everyone's happy. This article is about the opposite of that. This is about the select few inventions that burst forth upon the world in a flurry of suffering and batshit insanity. That includes essential items like ...
Chex Mix Exists Because Of A Racist Utopian Cult That Invented Its Own Language
Chex cereal is just a sad, bland, unwanted version of Life cereal that only tastes good when you throw it in a bowl with a bunch of better-tasting foods and then bury the whole thing under a solid 3 inches of salt and/or sugar. Its devastatingly boring existence is an apt metaphor for the people that propelled the food to the center of their eugenics-crazed, cult-like utopia.
Albert Webster Edgerly, aka Webster Edgerly, aka Edward Shaftesbury, aka Dr. Everett Ralston (with "Ralston" being an acronym for "regime, activity, light, strength, temperation, oxygen, nature"), aka Pick A Goddamn Pseudonym Already, wrote 82 sprawling manifestos disguised as health guides touting the importance of clean living, eugenics, and the separation of the races. The predecessor to Chex was pushed into the market by Edgerly himself -- hence its somewhat less-catchy original name, Shredded Ralston.
The cereal was meant to be a major part of a healthy, bacteria-free diet that would be practiced by Edgerly and those who bought into his racist rhetoric. Dr. McCrazyPants even went as far as inventing his own bullshit language, which was so far up its own ass that it insisted on being referred to as "perfect" and free from pronunciation "uncertainty" and ... just ... fuck this guy. It's all so goddamn pretentious, it makes Gwyneth Paltrow look like a semi-drunk Jennifer Lawrence. This is a guy who once made the stone-faced claim that "watermelons are poisonous to most Caucasians." Incidentally, Edgerly also wrote a legendarily terrible book on acting, and we reserve the right to devote an entire article to it in the future.
Because hateful gibberish was just as much of a terrifyingly successful unifier then as it is now, Edgerly managed to amass a following of (according to him) 800,000 people who were every bit as psychotic as he was. Naturally, he decided to create an Aryan utopia where miserable white people chomped on scratchy wheat squares as far as the eye could see. However, Edgerly only managed to sell 25 of the 400 lots on his utopian compound when the rest of his 799,975 followers presumably gazed into the gaping maw of an insufferable future filled with cardboard breakfasts and a whole town of mini-Edgerlys and simultaneously wailed, "Shit, maybe we should've gone with that Kellogg guy who really hates masturbation."
Treadmills Were Literally Prison Torture Devices
A treadmill doubling as an implement of torture sounds totally redundant to us, but then we hired designers to strategically stage our bedroom so the mini-fridge is within arm's reach of any given point. In 1818, however, the punishing properties of the treadmill were not mere metaphors -- then called the tread-wheel, the device was used to discipline wayward convicts in the most soul-crushingly boring way imaginable.
Walking the eight-hour tread-wheel shift was a lot like trying to go up the down escalator. Prisoners would trundle one foot over the other on spokes on a wheel, each step uncovering a new spoke the convicts were forced to trudge upon.
While some of these wheels were solely used for punishment, others did have a purpose -- to grind corn or pump water. This is the inspiration for the word "treadmill," as well as the common phrase "You know what, fuck this treadmill bullshit, I don't care if I die young."
Of course, during the rise of this practice across Britain and the U.S., convicts were not paid for their work on the mill. Heck, it wasn't even optional. The mandatory work would often result in serious injury, but that seemed to suit the powers that be just fine. For 80 years, the treadmill remained a staple in prisons throughout both countries until Britain finally decided to reform their prison systems in 1898. Prisoners were provided with more humane forms of employment, and we got yet another dusty piece of workout equipment taking up way too much space in our living rooms.
Sleepytime Tea Was Inspired By Space Jesus
Sleepytime Tea sounds like it should have a pretty straightforward origin: Someone was lying awake at night and thought, "Hmmm, I bet some tea would help." However, its origins lay in a religion so out there, it's from another galaxy. (No, not that one.)
The Urantia Book is shrouded in so much mystery that nobody really knows who wrote it, or even the precise year in which it was written. What we do know is that whoever wrote it fully believed that Adam and Eve were 8-foot-tall giant aliens from another planet who visited Earth in order to upgrade the human race with their scientific knowledge. Seriously. The book also claims that Lucifer and Jesus "The Man Himself" Christ had taken an interplanetary vacation on Earth, because all of the drugs.
In 1969, Mo Siegel, one of the founders of Celestial Seasonings (maker of Sleepytime Tea), took his dirty hippie act on the unpaved road and started roaming the rolling mountain hills like a sitcom stepdad stereotype. Siegel spent this time collecting 500 pounds of every random-ass herb he found along the way and used this stash to create the first of the company's products. Siegel soon discovered the mad ramblings of The Urantia Book and thought, "Yeah, I can get behind that." And get behind he did. Siegel became enthralled with what he described as the "ideals" he found buried deep under the gibberish about cosmic light beings and began running his company based on those thoroughly bonkers standards.
Siegel believed that following the book's moral compass would keep him from becoming a greed-monster and used it to outline the way he treated his employees as he built his company, quoting the book in staff meetings and generally shoving his particular brand of crazy down the throats of anyone within earshot. Eventually, the company name would be based on the book's far-out concepts and the tea bags would come inscribed with "uplifting quotes" reminiscent of the contents of Siegel's favorite fever dream transcription.
The Color Mauve Was Accidentally Created While Trying To Prevent Malaria
When you're trying to decide if your baby's nursery should be painted lavender, magenta, or mauve, keep in mind that only the latter color was given to us by malaria -- the terrifyingly deadly disease responsible for the deaths of thousands of people per year, easily blowing past the Zika death toll in the saddest race in the history of time.
In 1856, William Perkin was put in charge of a little thing called saving the goddamn world when he was asked to engineer a cheap, quick way to simulate quinine, the substance used to treat malaria at the time. Perkin's boss, August Hoffman, pointed him in the direction of coal tar and set him loose. That's when things got ... colorful.
Perkin, only 18 and already thrown into his first "real" job, naturally screwed the whole thing up. Each of his various attempts to synthesize quinine resulted in a rainbow of Flubber-esque substances that, while inarguably pretty, did nothing to save the population from the spreading disease. One of said substances was a black ball of goop that magically dyed Perkin's hands purple. Realizing how near impossible it was to get the damn spot out, Perkins immediately set to work marketing his discovery as the new black, making a killing in the fashion industry. The inexpensive dye caught on quickly, and Perkin's malaria mission was put on hold for, oh, 100 years, give or take, finally being synthesized in 1944. We can't wait to see the Zika-inspired fashion lines on next season's hottest runways.
Braille Started As A (Failed) Secret Language For The French Military
Braille has made the lives of visually impaired people infinitely easier, in addition to providing enterprising people a way to read pornography in the subway without anyone noticing. Well, they all have thousands of dead soldiers to thank for that.
You see, before there were computers, phones, or telegrams, there was good old-fashioned letter writing. With no other options at hand, letters were the go-to method for soldiers and their commanders to spread updates, plans, and other pertinent messages among their ranks. But letters required people and/or animals to deliver them, as well as an adequate light source that would allow the recipient to read them. As you've probably put together, turning the lights on in the middle of all-out war was a fantastic way for enemy snipers to find and shoot your ass.
In the early 1800s, Napoleon got tired of having all his literate men shot or injured and commissioned his former classmate Charles Barbier to create a method that would allow soldiers to receive messages and consult their maps without burning the midnight oil. Inspired by the Polybius' Square, a method of communication that depends on coordinating letters with their placement on a grid, Barbier adopted the coordinate system, adding raised dots to indicate placement of the letters. However, the French military thought that Barbier's new language was far too complicated to be considered practical for use in the line of battle and decided it was way simpler to just allow their men to keep on dying instead.
Undeterred, Barbier took his language to the Royal Institute For Blind Youths in Paris and taught the students to read through his system of raised bumps. This set the groundwork for Louis Braille, a student at the institute, to perfect the system by introducing punctuation and words. Braille was in his early teens when he devised his new system, easily making him one of the most successful and influential teenagers in history. We managed to put on a barely used shirt today; everyone has their strengths.
Everything In Your Bathroom Came From World War I
As we've told you before, war has a habit of inspiring people to get inventive, creating workarounds to shortages and streamlining murder machines for more effective conflicting. Yes, if it wasn't for those wartime geniuses, we wouldn't have tanks, missiles, or ... Kleenex tissues?
Back in World War I, personal care company Kimberly-Clark provided the American war effort with copious amounts of cellucotton, a lightweight material that was incredibly easy (and cheap) to mass-produce. Cellucotton played vital roles in protecting military members, with sheets of the stuff being stuffed into gas masks to act as filters. The same material, in wad form, was used to soak up blood pouring from the wounds of injured soldiers. The only "problem" was that at the end of the war, Kimberly-Clark found themselves with a shitload of leftover cellucotton and no holed-up soldiers to stuff it all in.
So, what did they do with it? Nothing at all, for a few years, before it was suggested that the material be used to remove makeup. Seeing the simplistic genius in the idea, sheets of cellucotton eventually became facial tissue ... or, you know, Kleenex. The public was a lot quicker to catch on to the usefulness of these wads than the company itself. Seeing how effective the lumps of cellucotton were at treating the bleeding of the wounded soldiers, nuns working in hospitals during the war began using the stuff as makeshift maxi pads, wrapping their underclothes in the material so they could continue working without having to worry about any accidental Carrie moments.
Kimberly-Clark bought back the military's leftover supply and borrowed the nuns' invention to mass-produce the world's first ever Kotex sanitary pad. Ponder that, ladies. These things used to hold up to the ravages of war, and now we can't even go for a brisk walk without suffering a leak. Wings be damned.
We Got Phosphorus Because Of One Man's Piss Obsession
Today, we use phosphorus for important things like feeding plants, producing metals, and blowing up pretty colors in the sky while shouting "USA! USA!" This wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for a crazed, foul-smelling German scientist called Hennig Brand. Back in the swingin' 1660s, Brand felt sure he could take everyday substances and transform them into genuine nuggets of pure gold, because the dude was an honest-to-Flamel alchemist.
Unfortunately, Brand wasn't a very good scientist, so his methods mostly consisted of using things that were already yellow and coaxing them into McDuck-level status. The everyday yellow substance Brand believed to hold the most promise? Urine.
Of course, being totally batshit insane, Brand didn't want just any urine: He wanted fresh urine from only the finest alcoholics. Sadly, we will never know exactly what the old-timey version of this Craigslist ad looked like, but we do know Brand was able to obtain 1,500 gallons of the stuff. If our math is correct, that's about 1,800 gallons too many.
After obtaining his supply through unknown but undoubtedly shady methods, Brand would boil, cook, and age his buckets-o'-bodily waste, apparently hoping to one day wake up and find himself swimming through a sea of pungently glittering gold. Obviously, that never happened, but Brand did end up producing a white waxlike substance that glowed in the dark (and not the kind on CSI shows).
That substance, as you may have gathered by now, was phosphorus, and why we haven't seen an Academy Award-nominated biopic of Brand's life is beyond us. (Think about it: The Piss Dreamer, starring John C. Reilly.) Brand may not have succeeded in his lofty goals, but he did give us an incredibly important ingredient in a variety of products, such as fertilizer and baking powder -- just try not to think too hard about where it came from the next time you bake cookies for your kid's fundraiser.
Carolyn's tweets wage war on decency.
2016 is almost over. Yes the endless, rotten shit hurricane of a year which took away Bowie, Prince and Florence Henderson and gave us Trump, Harambe and the Zika virus is finally drawing to a close. So, to give this bitch a proper viking funeral, Jack O'Brien and the crew, which includes Dan O'Brien, Alex Schmidt, and comedian Caitlin Gill, are going to send out 2016 with Cracked's year in review in review. They'll rectify where every other year-in-review goes wrong by giving some much needed airtime to the positive stories from the 2016 and shedding light on the year's most important stories that got overlooked. Get your tickets here.
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