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.

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

WTF Fun Fact 13217 – The Origin of the Taco

The exact origin of the taco is unknown, but we do have a best guess. What might surprise you is that tacos are a relatively new creation.

The first recorded reference to the word ‘taco’ was in the early 19th century in Mexico. The word “taco” is derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec) language, and has multiple meanings. It can be used to refer to a plug, a wedge, a tool, or to wrap something. The first taco was likely a soft corn tortilla filled with beans, chiles and tomatoes.

Studying the origin of the taco

Believe it or not, there is a taco expert. Granted, many of us consider ourselves expert taco eaters, but Jeffrey M. Pilcher, professor of history at the University of Minnesota, has actually studied the origin of the taco for 20 years.

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below), “he has investigated the history, politics, and evolution of Mexican food, including how Mexican silver miners likely invented the taco, how Mexican Americans in the Southwest reinvented it, and how businessman Glen Bell mass-marketed it to Anglo palates via the crunchy Taco Bell shell.”

In case you didn’t catch that, Taco Bell is the creation of a guy named Glen Bell.

Pilcher is the author of an entire book on tacos called Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food (Oxford University Press). He also edited The Oxford Handbook of Food History and wrote The Sausage Rebellion: Public Health, Private Enterprise, and Meat in Mexico City, 1890-1917, and Que vivan los tamales! Food and the Making of Mexican Identity.

How did today’s taco come to be?

The term taco made its way to the United States in the late 1800s, when the popularity of Mexican cuisine began to rise. At first, the term was used to refer to the food item itself – the taco – but, in the early 1900s, it began to also be used as a descriptor for other foods, such as burritos, enchiladas, and tostadas.

Taco quickly grew to become an integral part of American culture. Americans embraced the taco as their own, adding their own unique ingredients and flavors, such as beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese.

Pilcher notes:

“The first mention that I have seen [in the U.S.] is in 1905, in a newspaper. That’s a time when Mexican migrants are starting to come—working the mines and railroads and other such jobs. In the United States, Mexican food was seen as street food, lower-class food. It was associated with a group of women called the Chili Queens and with tamale pushcarts in Los Angeles. The Chili Queens of San Antonio were street vendors who earned a little extra money by selling food during festivals. When tourists started arriving in the 1880s with the railroad, these occasional sales started to become a nightly event.”

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Source: “Where Did the Taco Come From?” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13215 – The First Smartwatch

Credit for the first smartwatch concept doesn’t go to Apple. Long before the Apple Watch, Microsoft and Fossil introduced the first standalone smartwatch.

If you want to get more technical, you could claim that the 1982 Seiko TV watch was more similar to the first smartwatch. But it needed an adapter and a large receiver box. And it only showed grainy greyscale TV images.

Another watch that paved the way for the Apple Watch and modern smartwatches was the 1998 Linux Wristwatch, created by Steve Mann and launched by IBM. According to the fact sheet, it was “Designed to communicate wirelessly with PCs, cell phones and other wireless-enabled devices, the ‘smart watch’ will have the ability to view condensed email messages and directly receive pager-like messages.”

What’s the story behind the first smartwatch?

In 2004, Microsoft released its “Smart Personal Object Technology” (SPOT). This allowed users to access services such as news, weather, and stock information from their wristwatches. It was more personalized and independent of other technology than previous “smart” watches.

Microsoft’s Smartwatch quickly became a hit among tech enthusiasts and professionals alike. The device was packed with advanced features, allowing users to stay connected while on the go. It had a wide array of sensors, allowing it to monitor heart rate, steps taken, and other important health metrics.

Furthermore, it was one of the first smartwatches to feature a touchscreen display, making it easier to interact with apps.

Microsoft and Fossil actually collaborated on the first smartwatch. The Microsoft SPOT Watch had a monochrome 90×126 pixel screen and was accessible through a yearly subscription that cost from $39 to $59. The watches featured customizable watch face displays and were built on a new technology platform designed to improve the functionality and usefulness of everyday objects.

Not long after, watchmakers Citizen, Fossil, and Suunto all joined the project to create the first smartwatches.

What happened to Microsoft’s smart watch?

The device was well-received by users, who praised its versatile design and advanced features. It was also praised for its long battery life, which allowed users to stay connected for extended periods of time.

The Microsoft smartwatch was also quite easy to use thanks to an intuitive interface that made it simple to navigate.

Despite its success, the device was not a commercial success and was eventually discontinued in 2010. This was primarily due to the fact that it was too expensive for the average consumer and was unable to compete with the lower-priced rivals that had entered the market.

However, the device paved the way for the smartwatches that we have today.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Smartwatch timeline: The devices that paved the way for the Apple Watch” — Wearable

WTF Fun Fact 13213 – The First Video Game

The first video game ever created was called Tennis for Two. The game was played on an oscilloscope. It was created by physicist William Higinbotham in 1958.

Is Tennis for Two the first video game ever?

“Tennis for Two” is considered to be the first video game ever created, even though we’d hardly recognize it as a video game today.

Developed by physicist William Higinbotham in 1958, the game was played on an oscilloscope and was a simple simulation of a game of tennis (kind of like Pong).

An oscilloscope is an electronic instrument that allows people to visualize electrical signals. In the case of Tennis for Two, the oscilloscope was used to display the game on its screen.

The game consisted of two dots, representing the ball and the paddles, which could be moved up and down by players using knobs. Players would try to hit the dot back and forth across the screen. The game ended when one player failed to hit the dot (or ball) ball back to the other side.

Despite being pretty basic, Tennis for Two laid the foundation for the modern video game industry.

Who played Tennis for Two?

The first video game was created as a demonstration for visitors at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where its creator worked.

“Tennis for Two” was an instant hit with visitors to the laboratory. In fact, the game was played by thousands of people over the course of the next few years and featured in newspapers and magazines, sparking public interest.

Tennis for Two was the first game that allowed players to compete against each other in a virtual environment, and it provided a new way for people to interact with technology. Of course, very few people had the tools to play it.

A forgotten history

Despite its success at the time, Tennis for Two was not developed further. It was eventually forgotten as the video game industry continued to evolve. But it paved the way for the creation of more advanced and sophisticated games.

By the time Pong was created (the game considered to be the first arcade video game), most people didn’t know about its predecessor.

Pong was created in 1972 by Atari, and it could be played on arcade machines or home consoles.

While Tennis for Two is a two-player game, Pong could be a one or two-player game. And while Tennis for Two had no scoring system (the game simply ended when one player failed to hit the dot), Pong kept score. Each time a player fails to hit the ball back, the opponent scores a point. The game ends when one player reaches a certain number of points.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Complete History of Tennis for Two” — History Computer

WTF Fun Fact 13209 – The Origin of the Word Nerd

The word “nerd” was first coined by Dr. Seuss in his book “If I Ran the Zoo.”

What’s the origin of the word Nerd?

The first use of the word nerd appeared in Dr. Seuss’s 1950 If I Ran the Zoo.

And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-troo
And bring back an It-kutch, a Preep and a Proo,
A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!

According to Merriam-Webster (cited below):

“In October of the following year, Newsweek carried an article about the latest slang that includes the word nerd. ‘In Detroit,’ it notes, ‘someone who once would be called a drip or a square is now, regrettably, a nerd, or in less severe cases, a scurve.’
It’s not until the 1960s, however, that nerd (as well as its alternate spelling nurd) takes off and starts appearing more frequently in running text (as opposed to lists of slang). Over the decade and into the ’70s, print usage of nerd became truly abundant. It could be said, then, that nerd established colloquial usage around that time.”

What makes someone nerdy?

Traditionally, a nerd is a person who is highly intellectual and knowledgeable in a particular field. But it’s typically coupled with being socially awkward. Nerds are often seen as being overly absorbed in their interests. They’re and are often associated with being passionate about a certain subject, such as science, technology, mathematics, or fantasy fiction.

More recently, the term “nerd” has been reclaimed by many people and has taken on a more positive connotation. People are now proud to call themselves “nerds.” They believe it makes them seem proud of their superior knowledge on a topic.

If the modern word “nerd” truly came from Dr. Suess, it was likely interpreted as a pejorative term because of the appearance of the character sharing a page with the passage. However, that character appeared to be more grouchy than traditionally nerdy.

Merriam-Webster suggests other possible origins for the word nerd as it related to being deeply passionate yet uncool.

“Another character whose name has been mentioned as a possible source of the word is Mortimer Snerd, a ventriloquist’s dummy created by Edgar Bergen. Modeled on a country bumpkin, Snerd perhaps reminded listeners of a “drip” (someone who is looked on as tiresomely or annoyingly dull), and, therefore—according to Newsweek in 1951—a nerd. Snerd’s drippy qualities were magnified by his sophisticated foil, the dummy Charlie McCarthy. Bergen’s radio show was popular from the late 1930s through the 1950s, and it’s possible that Seuss had Snerd in mind when he wrote the rhyme—but the claim is unverifiable.”

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Source: “The Many Origin Stories of ‘Nerd'” — Merriam-Webster

WTF Fun Fact 13203 – The Oldest Printed Book in the World

The oldest printed book in the world is the Buddhist text the “Diamond Sutra.” The Sutra dates to 868 AD and uses the world’s oldest known method of printing, woodblock printing.

The British Library in London currently houses the “Diamond Sutra.” The book is over 1,300 years old.

The Diamond Sutra, the oldest printed book in the world?

Scholars believe the “Diamond Sutra” is the oldest surviving printed book in the world. However, that does not mean it is the oldest book in the world.

The oldest known surviving book is the Etruscan Gold Book of Zagreb. This book makes use of gold leaf and dates back to around 600-700 BC.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead also predates the Diamond Sutra. We know that this book dates back to around 1500 BC. It contains funerary texts to assist the deceased in the afterlife.

What is the Diamond Sutra?

The Diamond Sutra is one of the most important texts in Mahayana Buddhism. The full title of the text is “The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion.”

The book emphasizes the practice of non-attachment and the concept of “emptiness.” These are central tenets of Mahayana Buddhism.

Scholars believe a monk wrote the text in India in the 4th century AD. A 5th-century AD monk named Kumarajiva translated the book into Chinese.

According to the British Library (cited below): “Thanks to the colophon – the short dedication note written at the end, after the sacred Buddhist text – we have quite a lot of information about the context surrounding the commissioning of this particular copy.” A few characters translate as follows:

“On the 15th day of the 4th month of the 9th year of the Xiantong reign period, Wang Jie had this made for universal distribution on behalf of his two parents.”

As a result, the book reveals who made the scroll and when (11 May 868) as well as “who financed it, on behalf of whom and for what purpose.”

How did the Diamond Sutra end up in the British Library?

According to the British Library’s website:

“[The book] was found in a holy site called the Mogao (or ‘Peerless’) Caves or the ‘Caves of a Thousand Buddhas,’ which was a major Buddhist centre from the 4th to 14th centuries. This long cliff wall, carved with 492 caves, is located near Dunhuang, an oasis-town at the junction of the northern and southern Silk Roads, in the present-day province of Gansu (Northwest China). In 1900, a monk named Wang Yuanlu discovered the sealed entrance to a hidden cave, where tens of thousands of manuscripts, paintings and other artefacts had been deposited and sealed up sometime around the beginning of the 11th century. This copy of the Diamond Sūtra was one of such items and was brought to England by the explorer Sir Aurel Stein in 1907.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Printed copy of the Diamond Sutra” — The British Library

WTF Fun Fact 13199 – The Nike Waffle Iron Story

Do you know the Nike waffle iron story? They’re two things that seem to have nothing in common. However, the first pair of Nike sneakers were made in a waffle iron. The company patented the design as the “Nike Waffle” in 1974.

The weird Nike waffle iron story

The design for the sole of the first Nike shoe was created by a co-founder of Nike, Bill Bowerman, who was a track coach at the University of Oregon. Bowerman was always looking for ways to improve the performance of his athletes.

One day, while making waffles for breakfast, he noticed the unique pattern on the waffle iron and had an idea to create a shoe sole with a similar pattern. He experimented with pouring liquid urethane into his wife’s waffle iron and the Waffle sole was born.

Nike named the shoe the “Nike Waffle Trainer” and introduced it in 1974.

It was a revolutionary design that provided excellent traction and durability. It quickly became a favorite among athletes.

Nike makes its mark

The Nike Waffle Trainer was a success for Nike in the 1970s. It helped establish the company as a major player in the athletic shoe market.

Top runners wore the shoe and helped Nike become known as a company that produced high-performance athletic footwear.

Nike not only patented the design but used the waffle sole in many of their other shoe models in the following years. The Waffle Trainer was one of the first shoes that Nike marketed as a performance shoe.

Nike still produces shoes with waffle soles. But they’re not as common as they were in the 1970s.

The company still uses the Waffle sole design in some of the company’s retro releases of the Waffle Trainer and other models like the Nike Waffle Racer. The waffle sole is also used in some of Nike’s newer running shoes since it provides excellent traction and durability.

While the Waffle Trainer is not as prevalent as it was in the past, it remains an iconic and important shoe in the company’s history and is still popular among some sneaker enthusiasts.

The cost of a Nike Waffle shoe can vary depending on the specific model. For example, the retail price of the Waffle Racer, which is one of the most popular models of the Waffle series, is around $85. However, prices can be higher or lower depending on the colorway, edition, and other factors. Retro releases of the Waffle Trainer can be more expensive, as they are considered collectible items and can be sold at a premium price. Prices for these retro releases can be anywhere from $100 to $200 or even more, depending on the condition of the shoe and its rarity.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “How a Dirty Old Waffle Iron Became Nike’s Holy Grail” — Popular Mechanics

WTF Fun Fact 13196 – Francis Scott Key and F Scott Fitzgerald

Francis Scott Key and F Scott Fitzgerald have some interesting things in common. Fitzgerald’s full name is actually Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. That’s because his parents named him after his distant relative who wrote the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Francis Scott Key and F Scott Fitzgerald were relatives

Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet from Maryland. We know him best for writing the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The poem was originally titled “Defense of Fort McHenry.” Key wrote it in 1814 after he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British during the War of 1812.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was an American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. He is considered one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. We know him best for his novels “The Great Gatsby” and “Tender Is the Night.” Scholars characterize Fitzgerald’s works by their themes of wealth, youth, and disillusionment, and they helped to define the “Jazz Age” of the 1920s.

History.com notes that: “The two were only distantly related—Key was a second cousin three times removed—but Fitzgerald was known to play up the family connection. While driving past a statue of Key in an alcoholic haze in 1934, he supposedly hopped from the car and hid in the bushes, yelling to a friend, ‘Don’t let Frank see me drunk!””

Other fun facts about Fitzgerald

In addition to having a famous relative, History.com revealed that Fitzgerald was also an awful speller. That’s pretty impressive since he made his living writing before the days of the spell checker. Luckily, he lived in the days of good editors.

His book “The Great Gatsby” was also not a bestseller in his lifetime. “It performed poorly compared to his first two novels, selling just over 20,000 copies and only turning a meager profit for its publisher. Popular interest in the book didn’t spike until World War II when some 150,000 copies were shipped to U.S. servicemen overseas.” WTF fun facts

Source: “10 Things You May Not Know About F. Scott Fitzgerald” — History.com

WTF Fun Fact 13190 – Victorian Pteridomania

Victorians had a lot of fun quirks, especially when it came to nature and collecting. For example, in 1829, “fern fever,” also called Pteridomania, gripped amateur botanists around Europe and the U.S.

What set off “fern mania”?

The craze for ferns (yes, the plants) came about in part as a result of an invention by a British surgeon. Nathaniel Bagshaw Warn invented the Wardian case. It was a mini greenhouse that could keep plants alive in England despite the dreary weather. Exotic specimens were being collected all over the world. Thanks to the case, they could now be brought back and put on display in greenhouses and in homes with grimmer weather.

According to Atlas Obscura (cited below): “His invention allowed botanist George Loddiges to build the world’s largest hothouse in East London, which included a fern nursery.”

What was Pteridomania?

Ferns were associated with fairies and other mythical creatures, so it wasn’t hard to get people interested in them. But Loddiges needed visitors to keep his hothouse operating. So he spread the (unsubstantiated) word that spending time around ferns could increase intelligence and virility, and improve mood. That was enough to get people interested in not only visiting his fern collection but to start mini collections of their own.

Amateur botany transcended classes, and everyone from aristocrats to miners started collecting ferns as a hobby. When the Victorians weren’t collecting ferns they were reading about them. Roughly 300 books on ferns were published during this time. 

According to Atlas Obscura, things eventually got out of hand.

“Since the fern was not easy to cultivate, even with Wardian cases at hand, prices soon skyrocketed. After all, there were only 40 types of ferns in the English countryside, and collectors needed more. A non-British specimen could cost up to the Victorian equivalent of 1,000 pounds. Professional fern hunters wrote accounts of scouring the West Indies, Panama and Honduras for a never-seen-before fern. If you could not afford to sponsor a scientific expedition to South America or Asia, there was always the notorious underworld to turn to: crimewaves of fern-stealing plagued the countryside for decades.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “How the Victorian Fern-Hunting Craze Led To Adventure, Romance, and Crime” — Atlas Obscura