WTF Fun Fact 13513 – Apple Mouse Prototype

Innovation often comes from the most unexpected places–like a roll-on deodorant. Believe it or nor, the first Apple mouse prototype involved a deodorant ball.

Setting the Scene

The early 1980s was a transformative era for personal computing. The market was teeming with potential, and Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary co-founder, recognized the importance of a user-friendly interface.

While visiting Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Jobs was introduced to the concept of a graphical user interface and a device to navigate it: the mouse.

Enchanted by its potential, Jobs sought to integrate this technology into Apple’s computers. However, the existing design was clunky, costly, and far from the elegant solution Apple desired.

Birth of the Apple Mouse

Jobs handed the task of redesigning the mouse to Dean Hovey, a co-founder of the design firm IDEO. The challenge was clear: create a more efficient, durable, and above all, affordable mouse for the masses.

Hovey, in his endeavor to revolutionize the mouse’s design, found inspiration in an unlikely source: a deodorant stick. By taking apart a roll-on deodorant, Hovey observed that the ball could roll smoothly in any direction. This ball mechanism, he realized, could be the solution to creating a mouse that was both precise and cost-effective.

From Prototype to Product

Utilizing the deodorant ball, the team developed a prototype that was simpler and more efficient than its predecessors. It was an embodiment of Apple’s design philosophy — taking complex ideas and making them accessible and intuitive for the user.

But why was the deodorant ball so transformative? The key lay in its omnidirectional capability. Previous mouse designs often used wheels, limiting movement to two axes: horizontal and vertical.

The deodorant ball’s ability to roll freely in all directions allowed for more fluid and accurate on-screen movements, a feature that would become fundamental to the mouse’s operation.

Impact of the Apple Mouse

The Apple mouse, with its deodorant-inspired design, debuted in 1983 with the Apple Lisa computer, and a year later, with the iconic Apple Macintosh. Its release marked a paradigm shift in human-computer interaction, paving the way for the mouse to become an essential accessory for personal computers worldwide.

Though the internal mechanics of mice have evolved over the years, with laser and optical technologies replacing the ball mechanism, the foundational concept remains largely unchanged. The success of the Apple mouse laid the groundwork for future innovations in interface devices, from trackpads to touch screens.

Today, as we swipe, tap, and click our way through digital landscapes, it’s worth reflecting on the humble origins of the tools we often take for granted. The next time you roll on your deodorant, remember: it’s not just a daily ritual but a nod to a piece of technological history that helped shape the digital age.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “How the Guy Who Designed 1 of Apple’s Most Iconic Products Organizes His Office” — Inc.

WTF Fun Fact 13312 – Hairbrush History

Who knew hairbrush history was so fascinating (and painful-sounding?). It turns out that the first mass-produced hairbrush was created in England during the 1770s. They were made of pig bristle, which was a big improvement of their predecessors. Some of those were made of porcupine quills!

Hair-raising hairbrush history

The earliest hairbrushes date back to antiquity. They were constructed out of many different materials, such as animal bones, shells, and bird feathers.

Hairbrushes were employed to style hair as well as clean up dirt and tangles. It wasn’t until the 18th century (specifically the 1770s) that the modern hair brush as we know it today appeared.

In the 1770s, pig bristles were used to make the first hairbrush that was mass-produced. It was not only more resilient, but it also made detangling hair easier.

The evolution of hairbrushes

Hair brushes became better and more advanced over time. A new kind of hairbrush with a concave form and gentle bristles was developed during the early 1800s, making it simpler to style hair. The creation of elaborate hairstyles like bouffants and beehives became popular using this design.

By the 20th century. there were many different kinds of hair brushes available, each with a distinct function. While some are used to detangle hair, others are intended to increase volume or produce a certain hairstyle. A lot of contemporary hair brushes also have features like ion-infused technology or heat-resistant bristles.

Lyda Newman was an African American inventor who was awarded a patent in 1898 for her design of an improved hairbrush. Her hairbrush was unique in that it had evenly spaced synthetic bristles that could be removed for cleaning or replacement. This design addressed the common issue of hairbrushes collecting dirt and oils, which made them difficult to clean and often resulted in hair loss. Newman’s invention revolutionized the hairbrush industry and her design is still used today.

The benefits of brushing

A hair brush can be used for more than just detangling hair. It can be used to distribute natural oils from the scalp more evenly to the ends. Brushing your hair can also help to maintain healthy, lustrous hair. It even aids in exfoliating the scalp, removing dead skin cells, and encouraging strong hair growth.

Frequent hair brushing can aid in preventing split ends and breakage by gently and evenly detangling hair. The blood flow to the scalp can be stimulated by brushing your hair. This encourages hair development and maintains healthy hair.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Antique Hair Brush History, Brands & Sophisticated Styles” — Love to Know

WTF Fun Fact 13234 – Oregon Trail Game History

How much do you”know about Oregon trail game history?

The video game “Oregon Trail” was created by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger in the early 1970s. The men were employees of the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) at the time. MECC is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating educational software for schools.

The goal was to create a game that would teach students about the challenges faced by pioneers on the Oregon Trail during the mid-19th century.

Oregon Trail game history

The game was initially released in schools in 1971. It quickly became popular among students and teachers alike.

Oregon Trail was designed to be both educational and entertaining. The game was set up as a role-playing experience, and players had to make decisions about supplies, health, and other aspects of their journey.

Playing the game is meant to be difficult. Players have to overcome various obstacles (like dysentery!) and challenges in order to reach their destination in Oregon.

Over the years, the game has been released on a variety of different computer systems and platforms, including home co”‘uters and gaming’consoles.

Why the game is popular

One of the key reas”ns for the success of Oregon Trail is its unique approach to teaching history. It’s also able to engage players on an emotional level.

The game was designed to be immersive. If players made poor decisions about supplies or health, they could die or lose a family member. This created a sense of tension and excitement, and players felt a real sense of accomplishment when they finally reached their destination.

The game inspired a generation of young people to learn about history, and it also helped to popularize the idea of using computer games for educational purposes.

Over 65 million copies of Oregon Trail have been sold since its initial release in 1971. The game continues to be popular and widely recognized as a classic of the gaming world.  WTF fun facts

Source: “‘The Oregon Trail’ at 50: The story of a game that inspired generations” — Fast Company

WTF Fun Fact 13107 – Google Backrub

You may know part of the the story of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google. They met on a tour of Stanford, when Brin was showing prospective grad student Page around. While they didn’t agree on anything at first, they eventually became friends and business partners and invented Google. Except there was a step before Google – Backrub.

From Backrub to Google

According to Google’s own page on their history, the men wanted to build “a search engine that used links to determine the importance of individual pages on the World Wide Web. They called this search engine Backrub.”

So…eww. Can you imagine saying, “I don’t know, I’ll need to backrub that information?”

We don’t know the precise details about why they changed the name. But we know how the word Google came to be.

“The name was a play on the mathematical expression for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros and aptly reflected Larry and Sergey’s mission ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.'”

Google was a big deal in the academic community at first. Then it caught the eye of Silicon Valley investors in the late 90s.

“In August 1998, Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim wrote Larry and Sergey a check for $100,000, and Google Inc. was officially born. With this investment, the newly incorporated team made the upgrade from the dorms to their first office: a garage in suburban Menlo Park, California, owned by Susan Wojcicki (employee #16 and now CEO of YouTube). Clunky desktop computers, a ping pong table, and bright blue carpet set the scene for those early days and late nights.”

Google grows

Keeping things useful but unconventional was the duos brand style. Do you remember the first Google Doodle in 1998? It was a stick figure inside the logo telling everyone the staff was off-site attending Burning Man.

How about their motto? “Don’t be evil.”

In any case, things are now a far cry from the days of Backrub.  WTF fun facts

Source: “From the garage to the Googleplex” — Google

WTF Fun Fact 13055 – The Original Thanksgiving

America celebrates Thanksgiving each year on the 4th Thursday of November. And while most of us learn a similar origin story for the holiday in elementary school, that version was largely manufactured for children. The original Thanksgiving in America was a religious holy day. And Puritan immigrants commemorated it by fasting rather than feasting.

The story of the original Thanksgiving

Here’s the gist of what many (but not all) Americans learn as children regarding Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims were persecuted in England and sailed to America to find religious freedom. They were sick and hungry when they landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. The local Native American Wampanoag tribe helped the Pilgrims plant corn and hunt turkey. To celebrate a successful harvest, they shared a communal meal.

Thanksgiving is also considered a secular holiday in America. While the Pilgrims immigrated for religious reasons, those aren’t really part of the Thanksgiving story (other than the occasional mention that they all said a prayer before their meal).

The real story of Thanksgiving

For some more context into Thanksgiving, it’s important to know that the Pilgrims were a splinter group of Puritans. They were called Separatists and followed the teachings of John Calvin. Calvin taught that Scripture was the only guide to life. The Separatists first tried to go to Holland after leaving England but eventually decided to leave Europe altogether and set out for what Europeans called “the New World.”

On the way to their ship from Holland, the Separatists stopped in Plymouth, England, for supplies. The Mayflower carried them to the shores of North America, where they did struggle to survive on what they called Plimoth Plantation.

There were multiple small groups of Separatist immigrants, and each established its own church with its own pastor. Only one church has records of any harvest-time feast in 1636. We don’t have any other records from these early immigrants, so the story of Thanksgiving is entirely concocted from later stories.

Even 100 years later, there are some vague references to harvest-time feasts to celebrate American military battles. But none that refer to Native Americans.

A religious holiday of fasting and repentance

The Puritans would practice “public days” in response to things like droughts or other meaningful events. But these days involved reading Scripture, attending church services, and fasting to repent for their sins.

If there were formal 17th-century “Thanksgiving” celebrations, they would have originated from these public days and would not have involved feasting. Public atonement would have been highly religious in nature as well, not a secular holiday.

The Boston Globe (cited below) describes one such public day. In the archives was a record of a January 1697 public day of atonement for the Salem Witch Trials and the execution of innocent women.

If Thanksgiving stemmed from an early Puritan settler tradition, it was likely days like these.

The Boston Globe states, “It may be hard to see a connection between such earnest supplications and our modern Thanksgiving, but it was that Colonial holiday that America’s founders had in mind when they declared national days of thanksgiving.”

The first – but not original – Thanksgiving

In 1777, the Continental Congress announced the first national day of thanksgiving (not yet a formal holiday, so with a lowercase “t”). They instructed the public to give thanks and offer “penitent Confession of their manifold Sins.” It had nothing to do with a meal.

President George Washington declared a national day of thanksgiving on November 26 in honor of the Constitution to thank God “for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.” His instructions for Americans were to “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions.” Again, no turkey.

Later, “President John Adams called for national fast days in 1798 and 1799. His proclamation announcing the first ‘day of fasting & humiliation’ was ‘a loud call to repentance and reformation’ in the face of possible war with France. President Madison called for two thanksgiving days, but by 1815 the custom of public days in America had died out.”

Abraham Lincoln created the enduring legend of the Native Americans and Pilgrims during the Civil War. He created what we now celebrate as Thanksgiving in 1863, declaring it a federal holiday. He also linked the day to the harvest, shifting the focus to food as a means of celebrating national unity.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The opposite of Thanksgiving” — The Boston Globe
* Note: While containing factual info, this was printed in the opinion section. A scholarly article on the same topic is available in the journal Gastronomica but is partly behind a paywall.

WTF Fun Fact 13044 – The History of Pink Lemonade

The history of lemonade is far older than we would have imagined. The same goes for the history of pink lemonade – which has its origins in the circus of all places.

The origins of lemonade

The first lemonade dates back to 1630s France and was made from sparkling water, lemons, and honey (yum!). In the U.S., that means lemonade goes back to the first immigrants in the 17th century.

The trend of harvesting ice in the 19th century made drinks like lemonade even more popular. And it makes sense that – since traveling circuses date back to around that time – it would be associated with community events.

Where does pink lemonade come from?

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below), “The earliest known mention of pink lemonade comes from an 1879 article in West Virginia’s Wheeling Register, explicitly linking the two.”

As for it’s precise origin, we can’t be sure. But it likely started at the circus.

In How the Hot Dog Got its Bun: Accidental Discoveries And Unexpected Inspirations That Shape What We Eat And Drink, author Josh Chetwynd says there are two stories that vie for the the best pink lemonade origin story.

“The first, he says, is a 1912 New York Times obituary for Henry E. Allott , a Chicago native who ran away to the circus in his early teens. Allott is believed to have ‘invented’ pink lemonade after accidentally dropping red-colored cinnamon candies in a vat of traditional lemonade. Adhering to the old circus adage ‘the show must go on,’ Allott simply sold the pink-hued beverage as is.”

That would be nice, but there’s an earlier origin story for the history of pink lemonade that isn’t so sweet. It was recounted by lion tamer George Conklin who “claims his brother Pete Conklin came up with pink lemonade in 1857 while selling lemonade at the circus. Conklin ran out of water and thinking on the fly, grabbed a tub of dirty water in which a performer had just finished wringing out her pink-colored tights. In true circus form, Conklin didn’t miss a beat. He marketed the drink as his new ‘strawberry lemonade,’ and a star was born.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Unusual Origins of Pink Lemonade” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12953 – Abraham Lincoln, Licensed Bartender and Wrestling Champ

While U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was known for being a wrestling champ, it’s less well-known that he was also a licensed bartender. In fact, he co-owned a bar with a friend. Unfortunately, that story had a rather sad ending.

Abraham Lincoln is in the Wrestling Hall of Fame

While he grew up in a log cabin in the Kentucky wilderness and then moved to Illinois as a boy, much of Lincoln’s early life isn’t household knowledge. Take, for example, his wrestling “career.” According to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame:

“In the rough and ready style of the frontier, “catch as catch can” wrestling was more hand-to-hand combat than sport. Lincoln, an awesome physical specimen at 6-feet-4, was widely known for his wrestling skills and had only one recorded defeat in a dozen years.

At age 19, he defended his stepbrother’s river barge from Natchez thugs by throwing the hijackers overboard. Ten years later, Lincoln was a storekeeper at New Salem when his boss backed him to out-wrestle Jack Armstrong, local tough and county champion. From the start, Lincoln handed out a thrashing. When Armstrong began fouling, Lincoln picked up his opponent, dashed him to the ground and knocked him out.”

Lincoln’s bartending career

Lincoln went on to become a lawyer and, eventually, president of the United States. But before his law career took off, he was a shopkeeper and bartender. In fact, he’s the only president to have ever been a licensed bartender.

According to Chicagoist (cited below):

“In January 1833, he partnered with his friend from his militia days, William F. Berry, to purchase a small store, which they named Berry and Lincoln. Stores could sell alcohol in quantities greater than a pint for off-premises consumption, but it was illegal to sell single drinks to consume at the store without a license. In March 1833, Berry and Lincoln were issued a tavern, or liquor, license, which cost them $7 and was taken out in Berry’s name. Stores that sold liquor to consume on the premises were called groceries.”

Unfortunately, the store didn’t work out because of Berry’s alcoholism. He drank the store’s liquor, and the pair’s business fell into debt. “It wasn’t until 1848, when Lincoln was a congressman, that he was able to pay off the whole debt.”

Once Lincoln entered politics, he denied selling alcohol “by the drink,” but people knew. His opponents even poked fun at him over it during debates.

Alas, he’s remembered for other things now.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Bartender-In-Chief: Abraham Lincoln Owned A Tavern” — Chicagoist

WTF Fun Fact 12918 – The First Dental Filling

You’ve probably always wondered when dental fillings started to be a thing. Because everyone loves to think about the dentist, right?

Interestingly, some people have called dentistry “the oldest profession” since archeological evidence shows people trying to treat cavities many thousands of years ago. We’re not sure about that label, but it does make us wonder why humans weren’t built with better teeth.

Dental archaeology and the first filling

The oldest dental filling dates back to at least the Neolithic period. An international team of researchers largely based in Italy published a paper in 2012 noting that they found evidence of prehistoric dentistry in the form of a 6500-year-old mandible in Slovenia with a crown made of beeswax.

Whoever this poor chap was, he was clearly in enough pain to try and find a way to lessen it by getting his chipped enamel treated.

The researchers described how they assessed the mandible (in a paper cited below): “The use of different analytical techniques, including synchrotron radiation computed micro-tomography (micro-CT), Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating, Infrared (IR) Spectroscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), has shown that the exposed area of dentine resulting from occlusal wear and the upper part of a vertical crack affecting enamel and dentin tissues were filled with beeswax shortly before or after the individual’s death.”

Ok, but the next question is, is it really a filling if you’re already dead? We don’t have an answer to that or a way of knowing if the person was dead or alive when it was inserted.

The researchers noted that “If the filling was done when the person was still alive, the intervention was likely aimed to relieve tooth sensitivity derived from either exposed dentine and/or the pain resulting from chewing on a cracked tooth: this would provide the earliest known direct evidence of therapeutic-palliative dental filling.”

Is dentistry the oldest profession?

Dentistry is certainly one of the oldest medical professions (even though the first dental school in the world was opened in the 1820s in Ohio) and the first formal dental text was written in the 1500s. There’s plenty of evidence (written and archaeological) to show that fixing teeth goes back a very long way.

Whether or not it’s the oldest profession (instead of, say, what we normally think of as holding that title) is something we’ll never know. But we kind of doubt it.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Beeswax as Dental Filling on a Neolithic Human Tooth” — PLoS One

WTF Fun Fact 12886 – Forks Used To Be Seen As Sacrilegious

Who knew a fork could be seen as offensive (unless you’re using it to poke someone)? But it turns out that while forks are ancient tools, using forks used to be seen as sacrilegious by the Church.

Ancient forks

Forks have been around for millennia, but they weren’t used as dining utensils until the Middle Ages. Then, only wealthy families owned such tools.

For much of human history, people have eaten with their fingers. Depending on the time period and part of the world you were in, it was appropriate to eat with all five fingers (spoons existed and were totally acceptable for soup lovers). Later on, it was seen as polite to eat with three fingers.

Touching your food was touching God’s creation (they didn’t have Twinkies back then, which are most decidedly not God’s creation). By using a technically unnecessary utensil, it was seen as blasphemous not to touch the food you were about to ingest.

Smithsonian Magazine (cited below) found old references to the inappropriateness of forks in the Middle Ages. For example:

“In 1004, the Greek niece of the Byzantine emperor used a golden fork at her wedding feast in Venice, where she married the doge’s son. At the time most Europeans still ate with their fingers and knives, so the Greek bride’s newfangled implement was seen as sinfully decadent by local clergy. ‘God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers,” one of the disdainful Venetians said. “Therefore it is an insult to him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.’ When the bride died of the plague a few years later, Saint Peter Damian opined that it was God’s punishment for her hateful vanity.”


From blasphemous to ridiculous

Eventually, forks became less of a religious matter and simply socially unacceptable. Royalty and nobility – particularly in Italy – often had forks. but their use of the utensils was often used to mock them.

At this time, people were still using two-pronged forks. It would take at least a hundred more years for the third and fourth prongs to be added.

It wasn’t until the early 18th century that forks became acceptable and available in England (and a few decades after that in America).

As one 1887 book of manners noted, “The fork has now become the favorite and fashionable utensil for conveying food to the mouth. First it crowded out the knife, and now in its pride it has invaded the domain of the once powerful spoon. The spoon is now pretty well subdued also, and the fork, insolent and triumphant, has become a sumptuary tyrant. The true devotee of fashion does not dare to use a spoon except to stir his tea or to eat his soup with, and meekly eats his ice-cream with a fork and pretends to like it.”

Who knew forks had such a long and sordid history?!  WTF fun facts

Source: “A History of Western Eating Utensils, From the Scandalous Fork to the Incredible Spork” — Smithsonian Magazine