WTF Fun Fact 13227 – The First Insurance Company

The first insurance company was established in the city of Genoa, Italy in the late 14th century. It provided coverage for ship captains and merchants in case their cargo was lost at sea.

Technically, it was the first modern insurance company, since insurance goes back to roughly 2000 BC.

What do we know about the first insurance company?

The city of Genoa, Italy was a center of commerce and trade in the 15th century. That’s partly because it was a natural stop for merchants and ship captains traveling across the Mediterranean to trade goods.

With so much trade and commerce taking place, loss was inevitable – especially at sea. it was only natural that a system of risk management would develop to protect merchants and ship captains from financial loss. In fact, these types of contracts had existed for over 1000 years, but had previously been tied to loans.

While we don’t know much about the group that constituted the first insurance company Genoa in the late 14th century, it appears to have been created as a mutual aid society. In other words, members paid premiums and shared the cost of losses in case their cargo was lost at sea.

By the mid-15th century, insurance was a well-established industry in Genoa, and the city became known as a hub of insurance and risk management.

However, the insurance industry did face challenges at the start. For example, the city and its docks were at constant risk from attacks by pirates and other thieves. As a result, insurance companies had to find ways to provide coverage in the midst of many unpredictable dangers.

Of course, the insurance industry became incredibly lucrative. So much so that the government subjected it to hefty taxes.

Much of what we know about the details of Genoa’s early insurance days comes from two contracts. They were signed by seafarers in 1343 and 1347. These were the first insurance contracts not to be tied to marine loans. This made them unique by tying them to a company that solely dealt in risk management. In other words, the first insurance company.

The first insurance contracts

But insurance itself doesn’t begin in Genoa.

Insurance contracts have a long history, dating back to ancient civilizations. Over 2000 years ago, people would pool their resources to protect against financial loss. The loss could have been caused by unforeseen events such as fire, theft, or death. While it’s unlike the modern contracts offered by insurance companies today, this concept of mutual protection and risk sharing is considered to be the earliest form of insurance.

We know this took place in ancient Babylon because we still have fragments of the stones the contracts were chiseled into. They indicate that merchants would pool resources to protect against losses from shipping and trade. If a merchant’s goods were lost or damaged during transit, the other members of the pool would share the cost of the loss.

Merchants in the Roman Empire also used mutual aid insurance to protect against the loss of cargo and ships during sea voyages. Merchants would form associations to share the risk of loss.

While this may seem benevolent in terms of modern life, a person who engaged in mutual aid could rest easier knowing that it was unlikely that one event would cost them everything.

These early forms of insurance were informal. Many times, there were no formal contracts or regulations, and the terms and conditions of the insurance arrangements were often defined by custom and tradition.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The Earliest Insurance Contract. A New Discovery” — The Journal of Risk and Insurance

WTF Fun Fact 13131 – Queensland’s Rabbit Laws

We’ve heard of rabbit control, but Queensland’s Rabbit Laws are a bit on the strange side. For example, you cannot own a rabbit in Queensland unless you can prove you are going to display it for an acceptable purpose.

Queensland, Australia’s unique outlook on rabbits

It’s illegal to keep a rabbit as a pet in the state of Queensland. But according to the state’s business website: “…you can obtain a European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) for the purposes of exhibiting to the public. Under the Exhibited Animals Act 2015 (EAA) rabbits are category B species and may be exhibited for purposes such as educational exhibits or for entertainment.”

Those who work with rabbits much apply for a license and the premise at which the exhibition takes place needs to be licensed as well. “An example may include an invasive pest educational centre, or a zoo where the public enter the regular enclosure site to view the rabbit.”

The rules continue: “Rabbits may also be obtained solely for the purposes of exhibition outside of the premise where the licence is issued to (off the regular enclosure site). An example of activities permitted solely off the regular enclosure site include persons in the business of conducting magic performances at children’s parties.”

Queensland’s rabbit laws, continued

You must apply to exhibit a rabbit using an authorized form as well as submit a management plan detailing the way you are going to exhibit the rabbit and deal with it on a daily basis.

The management plan must address “animal welfare, human health, safety and wellbeing, social amenity, the economy and the environment…” People need to be aware of their obligations.

Why is this all such a big deal? Well, rabbits are an invasive species that Queensland has been trying to get rid of since the 1880s!  WTF fun facts

Source: “Exhibiting a rabbit” — Business Queensland

WTF Fun Fact 13080 – Errors in Hair Analysis

Crime scene analysis and the scientific investigation of crime scenes got a lot of attention once we started seeing them on television. More people than ever wanted to go into the field. But the science underlying some of these investigations is shaky at best. And in 2015, the FBI had to admit that at least one aspect of their crime scene analysis training was seriously flawed. Over 3000 cases needed to be rechecked for errors in hair analysis.

The Innocence Project

Sometimes we think the science on biological evidence left at a crime scene must be iron-clad or prove that a person was there. But that’s simply not the case.

In fact, it was the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Innocence Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) who jointly reported that:

“…the Department and the FBI are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI also are committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science. The Department and FBI have devoted considerable resources to this effort and will continue to do so until all of the identified hair cases are addressed.”

Improving the science going forward

Of the past errors, the statement also revealed:

“These findings confirm that FBI microscopic hair analysts committed widespread, systematic error, grossly exaggerating the significance of their data under oath with the consequence of unfairly bolstering the prosecutions’ case,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “While the FBI and DOJ are to be commended for bringing these errors to light and notifying many of the people adversely affected, this epic miscarriage of justice calls for a rigorous review to determine how this started almost four decades ago and why it took so long to come to light. We also need lawmakers in Washington to step up and demand research and national standards to prevent the exaggeration of results in reports and in testimony by crime lab analysts.”

Sadly, many who were perhaps wrongfully convicted still had to wait for evidence to be reassessed.

“It will be many months before we can know how many people were wrongly convicted based on this flawed evidence, but it seems certain that there will be many whose liberty was deprived and lives destroyed by prosecutorial reliance on this flawed, albeit highly persuasive evidence. Just as we need lawmakers to prevent future systemic failures, we need courts to give those who were impacted by this evidence a second look at their convictions,” said Norman L. Reimer, Executor Director of NACDL.  WTF fun facts

Source: “FBI Testimony on Microscopic Hair Analysis Contained Errors in at Least 90 Percent of Cases in Ongoing Review” —

WTF Fun Fact 13056 – Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin

Did you know a woman was elected to Congress before women in the U.S. even had the right to vote? Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin was elected to represent the state of Montana in 1916. That was four years before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

Who was Jeannette Rankin?

Born in 1880 near Missoula, Montana (then a territory), Rankin was born to a prosperous rancher who had emigrated from Canada.

Jeannette Rankin was educated at what was then called Montana State University in Missoula (now known as the University of Montana). She graduated in 1902 with a biology degree, became a teacher, and then an apprentice to a seamstress.

After a trip to San Francisco in 1904, Rankin started volunteering and developed an interest in social work. She graduated from the New York School of Philanthropy (now called the Columbia University School of Social Work) in 1909. Then she moved to Spokane, Washington to take a job helping children in need.

Rankin served two nonconsecutive terms in the House during World War I and II but was known for voting against America’s entry into those wars. Her platform largely centered around expanding women’s voting rights, ensuring better working conditions for American laborers, and improving access to healthcare for women and children.

In 1917, when she took office, she said, “I may be the first woman member of Congress. But I won’t be the last.”

Jeannette Rankin’s road to Congress

Rankin then traveled around the country, doing everything from organizing immigrant laborers after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to supporting nationwide suffrage for women.

She played one of the most significant roles in helping women gain the right to vote in Montana and then decided to run for one of Montana’s at-large House seats in 1916. While there was no national right to suffrage for women at the time, many Western states had passed their own laws.

When Rankin ran for office, she was one of many women who ran that year but the only female winner. In Kansas, over 300 women ran for office. In her own state, Rankin’s campaign was entirely ignored by the local press.

According to her webpage on the U.S. House of Representatives website (cited below), she won the Republic primary by more than 7000 votes. “Her platform supported several prominent issues during the Progressive Era—including nationwide suffrage, child welfare legislation, and the prohibition of alcohol.

“Because Montana was so sparsely populated, election results trickled in over three days. But in early November 1916, news arrived that Rankin had become the first woman in American history to win a seat in Congress. Although she trailed the frontrunner, Democratic Representative John Morgan Evans, by 7,600 votes, Rankin secured the second At-Large seat by topping the third-place candidate—another Democrat—by 6,000 votes.”

Not surprisingly, as the first female member of Congress, she was held to different standards, often being asked about her clothing more often than her politics.

But when she was sworn into office, she was greeted with loud applause.

Rankin’s political career

As a pacifist, she was criticized often, despite correspondence from her constituents leaning in favor of the U.S. staying out of WWI. But once the U.S. entered the war, she turned her attention to ensuring troops had what they needed while continuing to fight for national suffrage and workers’ rights in factories.

Redistricting eliminated her at-large House seat in 1917, so she ran for Senate in 1918. However, she lost by 2000 votes.

She continued her service work outside of Congress until 1940, when she challenged an anti-Semitic House Representative for Montana’s western district. She won the primary and then the election, returning to the House with 54% of the vote.

When Jeannette Rankin returned to Congress decades after her first stint, she sat alongside six other women.

However, her second stint was less successful since her pacifism was even less popular during WWII. She did not run for re-election in 1942. At the time of her death in 1973, however, she was considering another House campaign to protest the war in Vietnam.  WTF fun facts

Source: “RANKIN, Jeannette” — U.S. House of Representatives

WTF Fun Fact 13050 – The Cost of Daylight Savings Time

While it may be nice to “fall back” in November and get an extra hour of sleep (if you’re lucky), the cost of daylight savings time on our health is high. Is it worth it? Most Americans don’t think so.

(Also, it’s technically called daylight saving time, with no “s” at the end.)

The high cost of daylight savings time

CBS News (cited below) gathered studies that showed that daylight savings time has been linked to
More heart attacks and strokes
More car crashes
More workplace injuries
More deer strikes
More headaches
– More depressive episodes,
Lower SAT scores

And there are multiple studies to show these connections. It’s just not beneficial to our health to mess around with our biological clocks.

Where did the idea of daylight saving come from?

Most people believe it was Ben Franklin who came up with the idea of daylight saving. But it wasn’t. You can “thank” an entomologist from New Zealand named George Vernon Hudson for the time changes. Believe it or not, he was interested in having more daylight for hunting bugs and originally suggested a 2-hour time change.

According to National Geographic:

“Seven years later, British builder William Willett (the great-great grandfather of Coldplay frontman Chris Martin) independently hit on the idea while out horseback riding. He proposed it to England’s Parliament as a way to prevent the nation from wasting daylight. His idea was championed by Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—but was initially rejected by the British government.”

The idea came around again in 1916 when the Germans decided to pick up Britain’s idea in order to save energy.

In 1916, two years into World War I, the German government started brainstorming ways to save energy. Once they did, other countries saw the potential energy-saving benefits. In 1918, the US Congress enacted the first daylight savings law (which also formally defined US time zones as well).

While it did save energy in a coal-powered world, the US House of Representatives is trying to pass a law to end daylight saving. It’s up to the Senate to take a look at the bill now.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Not-so-fun facts about Daylight Saving Time” — CBS News

WTF Fun Fact 13028 – Lifespan of a Dollar Bill

The U.S. Federal Reserve estimates that the average lifespan of a dollar bill is just 6.6 years. Since larger bills get passed around less often, a $100 bill has an average lifespan of 22.9 years.

The lifespan of paper bills

According to the Federal Reserve website (cited below):

“When currency is deposited with a Federal Reserve Bank, the quality of each note is evaluated by sophisticated processing equipment. Notes that meet our strict quality criteria–that is, that are still in good condition–continue to circulate, while those that do not are taken out of circulation and destroyed. This process determines the lifespan of a Federal Reserve note.”

They continue:

“The lifespan of Federal Reserve notes varies by denomination and depends on a number of factors, including how the denomination is used by the public. For example, larger denominations such as $100 notes are often used as a store of value, which means they pass between users less frequently than lower-denominations such as $5 notes, which are more often used for transactions.”

Average currency lifespans and their ultimate fates

A U.S. $5 bill lasts roughly 4.7 years while a $10 may be around for around 5.3 years. Twenty-dollar bills typically stay in circulation for 7.8 years, and $50 bills last over a decade (12.2 years).

The Federal Reserve puts new currency into circulation each day and reclaims damaged money to destroy it. The cash is typically handed over by banks.

Every year, around $200 billion of “unfit currency” gets taken out of circulation.

According to Yahoo Finance: “What makes money too unfit to use? According the Fed, bills that have holes larger than 19 millimeters, or about the size of an aspirin, can no longer be used. Bills that are torn, dirty, or worn out are also removed. And 5-, 10- and 20-dollar bills produced before 1996 are removed automatically because of their age, regardless of condition.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “How long is the lifespan of U.S. paper money?” — U.S. Federal Reserve

WTF Fun Fact 13011 – Facebook and Divorce

What’s the connection between Facebook and divorce? Well, one clue comes from a study published back in 2013 that found an astonishing 1/3 of divorce papers included a reference to the social media platform.

The relationship between Facebook and divorce

We’d be interested to know where this study stands now and if anyone looked more deeply into the results. What we do know is that in 2011, 1/3rd of all divorce filings contained the word “Facebook,” according to Divorce Online. This was up from 20% just three years earlier. ABC News (cited below) also pointed out that “more than 80 percent of U.S. divorce attorneys say social networking in divorce proceedings is on the rise, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.”

Lawyers have also seen an increase in the number of times Facebook has been used to prove infidelity during divorce cases as well as in child custody hearings.

ABC News also reported that “Despite the increase, the top Facebook mentions were the same: inappropriate messages to “friends” of the opposite sex, and cruel posts or comments between separated spouses. Sometimes, Facebook friends would tattle to one partner in a relationship about bad behavior by the other.”

How Facebook affects relationships

A 2013 study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking also showed that Facebook was playing an important role in the end of relationships.

While Facebook might have helped some of us forge new relationships, it may not be the best use of our time once we’re in them. In fact, it may be damaging to our romantic relationships, according to Russell Clayton who performed the research and found that “people who use Facebook excessively are far more likely to experience Facebook-related conflict with their romantic partners, which then may cause negative relationship outcomes including emotional and physical cheating, breakup and divorce,” according to a press release.”

By surveying Facebook users ages 18 to 82 years old, the researcher found that high levels of Facebook use among couples “significantly predicted Facebook-related conflict, which then significantly predicted negative relationship outcomes such as cheating, breakup, and divorce.”

When it came to couples in a relationship for three years or less, Facebook proved to be a particularly large problem.

“Previous research has shown that the more a person in a romantic relationship uses Facebook, the more likely they are to monitor their partner’s Facebook activity more stringently, which can lead to feelings of jealousy,” Clayton said. “Facebook-induced jealousy may lead to arguments concerning past partners. Also, our study found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating.”

If you want your relationship to last, you may want to consider being more mindful about how and how often you use social media.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Can Facebook Ruin Your Marriage?” — ABC News

WTF Fun Fact 12980 – Pringles Are Not Potato Chips

If you think a potato chip is made from thinly sliced potatos, then Pringles are not potato chips at all. However, as far as British courts are concerned, they’re made with enough potatoes to call themselves potato chips.

What’s in a name?

It took 3 court cases at three different levels drawn out between the years 2007 and 2009 to decide whether the makers of Pringles were entitled to use the phrase potato chip to identify their product. As you might imagine, it was all about money.

According to HowStuffWorks (cited below): “Here’s how this comically complicated problem started. In the mid-20th century, a tax was born by way of France and England called the value-added or VAT tax. This ‘consumption tax’ started off as a 10 percent tax on all goods bought from a business. More than 20 percent of the world’s tax revenue comes from the value-added tax making it a pretty big deal.”

Deciding if Pringles are potato chips

Ok, so what does this have to do with potato chips?

“In Britain, most foods are exempt from the value-added tax, except for potato chips or ‘similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour.’ This led to a long, arduous journey to figure out whether or not Pringles (which, by the way, were touted at one time as the “newfangled potato chip“) were actually potato chips. If they were ruled as chips, Pringles’ parent company at the time, Procter & Gamble, would be subject to a 17.5 percent VAT tax.”

As you may have noticed, many companies will go to great lengths to reduce their tax burdens. But get this…”Procter & Gamble’s initial argument was that, no, Pringles were not potato chips because they didn’t “contain enough potato to have the quality of ‘potatoness.

In 2008, a lower British court agreed with P&G , but a year later, the Court of Appeal re- reversed that decision, “calling Procter & Gamble’s argument that the ingredients of a product don’t define the product ‘hogwash.'”

Potatoness begets taxedness

That overturned decision was bad news for P&G because they were now on the hook for $160 million in taxes.

Apparently, 42% of potato flour is enough to constitute potatoness for the point of British taxes.  WTF fun facts

Source: “It Took a Court to Decide Whether Pringles Are Potato Chips” — HowStuffWords

WTF Fun Fact 12979 – The Longest Name in New Zealand

New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs’ (DIA) sets a 100-character limit when it comes to people’s names. But that doesn’t fully explain the longest name in New Zealand, which belongs to a man named Full Metal Havok More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes Combined With Frostnova.

How did he get the longest name in New Zealand?

The man wasn’t born with this name. In fact, he lost a bet five years earlier.

According to the NZ Herald (cited below), “A message on an online body building forum, written by someone describing themselves as a friend of the man, said the name change was the result of a lost poker bet and the man realized his drunken consequences only when his passport expired.”

Making it official

Apparently not one to backtrack on a bet, Mr. Frostnova registered his name change in 2010, which was confirmed by DIA Births Deaths and Marriages spokesman Michael Mead. It does sound like he was a bit too inebriated after the poker match he lost to remember precisely what he did, however. It was only when he applied for a new passport that he realized the name had been accepted and was now legal (though he was welcome to change it).

“The name met the requirements of naming rules and the applicant paid the fee and completed the form correctly, he said. Mr Frostnova could change his name again any time by completing the form correctly and paying the $127 fee, Mr Mead said. The process takes around eight days.”

There was no reason for the government to try to stop him since the DIA says names are only rejected in cases where they might “cause offense to a reasonable person, are unreasonably long, or without adequate justification include or resemble an official title or rank.”

However, in 2008, a Family Court Judge named Rob Murfitt did take issue with the name of a child and “publicly criticized some parents’ choice of names after he ordered that a girl named Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii be taken into court custody so she could change her name.”

In New Zealand, names can not include numbers or symbols. Therefore, some “rejected names in recent years include Majesty, King, Knight, Princess, Justice, Anal, V8, 89, Mafia No Fear, Lucifer, full stop and *.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Dunedin man’s 99-character name” — New Zealand Herald