WTF Fun Fact 13033 – The Proposed U.S. Referendum on War

The request for a referendum on war has come up many times since WWI. But one of the more memorable proposals of a U.S. referendum on war came from a group of Nebraskans in 1916 who largely wanted to encourage either peace or isolationism. At the very least, they wanted the people who voted for war to walk to the walk.

A referendum on war

A 1987 article in the NYT (cited below) listed some of the amendments citizens have proposed over the years. Among them was one from a group of Nebraskans that tends to recirculate any time the U.S. appears to be about to engage in a war effort.

“The petition, sent to Washington by a group of Nebraska residents in 1916, proposed an amendment requiring a national referendum before Congress could declare war. To dissuade votes for war, the petition proposed that all those who voted in favor of the United States entering World War I be willing to enlist.”

The petition got so many signatures in the petitioner’s town that the US Archives noted that he had to add extra pieces of paper to accommodate them all.

The Ludlow Amendment

The 1916 attempt to give citizens the power to declare war wasn’t the only attempt.

The Ludlow Amendment was a constitutional amendment proposed in 1938 by Indiana Representative Louis Ludlow. According to the US House of Representatives Archives, it “called for a national referendum before the United States could enter a war, except in cases of invasion or attack on U.S. soil.” This would have removed the power to declare war from Congress in most cases.

A poll found that many people favored this amendment, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything. “On December 8, the House of Representatives voted 388 to 1 to approve President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s request to declare war on Japan, with the President signing the declaration later that day. On December 11, Congress approved war resolutions against Germany and Italy, with Roosevelt also signing them the day they were passed.” (Source)

 WTF fun facts

Source: “WASHINTON TALK; Letters to Congress: Amend the Constitution? Let Us Count the Ways” — NY Times Archives

WTF Fun Fact 13024 – The Original Kleenex Gas Mask Filter

What we now know as Kleenex tissues were originally designed to be gas mask filters. The original kleenex gas mask filter wasn’t nearly as soft and gentle as our current tissues though.

Kleenex’s original purpose for gas masks

According to the Kimberly-Clark website (cited below):

“The Kleenex® Brand’s story began during the First World War when Kimberly-Clark developed a crepe paper used as a filter within gas masks.”

However, the material wasn’t fully developed by the time the war ended, so the company pivoted into developing soft and smooth facial tissues. They were so popular that today that the words “Kleenex” and tissue are often used interchangeably.

However, there is a chapter in between the gas masks and tissues, according to Kimberly-Clark:

“In the early 1920’s, that very crepe paper innovation was cleverly adapted into a consumer product called Kotex® Brand which helped women with their periods.”

In 1924, the tissues hit shelves in the US as a cold cream and makeup remover.

From gas mask to facial tissue

It wasn’t until 1929 that “Kimberly-Clark’s head researcher was suffering from hay fever and started using the tissues in place of his handkerchief.” A tweak to the marketing to encourage people to use them for their noses doubled sales in the first year.

Of course, it’s much more sustainable to use a handkerchief than a disposable tissue, but it would be many decades before the environmental toll of disposable products became clear to the public.

Today, Kleenex is still the most popular brand of tissue used in the U.S. by far. In 2020, 170.79 million Americans reported using Kleenex brand tissues.

The tissues are also available in 150 countries throughout the world. In addition to facial tissue, Kleenex also makes bathroom tissue, paper towels, tampons, and diapers.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Tale of Kleenex®” — Kleenex UK official website

WTF Fun Fact 12663 – The Harlem Hellfighters

Plenty of history buffs think they know all there is to know about WWI, but it’s rare to meet someone who can tell you much about the all-Black 369th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard. Despite facing racism at every turn, they still fought for their country.

They called themselves the “Black Rattlers.” Even the French had a nickname for these brave heroes – the “Men of Bronze.”

Interestingly, it was the name the enemy forces in Germany gave them that stuck – the “Harlem Hellfighters.” They fought in the most hellish places on earth – down in the trenches – and they fought there longer than any American fighters.

And while stories of their heroism spread throughout the world, they were never genuinely rewarded for it. They came home to the same racism they left.

All-Black regiments were rare at the time – the military needed men but was hesitant to work alongside Black men. But New York’s governor at the time, Charles Whitman, agreed to form a unit, something Black political leaders had to fight for! Whitman put them under the command of his former campaign manager and former Nebraska National Guard colonel, William Hayward.

First known as the 5th New York National Guard Regiment, the youngest member was just 16. Hayward recruited both black and white officers to the unit, ensuring the white soldiers were ready to act as teammates, despite the potential for racial tension.

But in the eyes of the larger National Guard, they were not equal. They were given no resources to train with – no uniforms and no weapons. They practiced in their street clothes and with broomsticks.

Then, their real training began at a training ground in the Deep South – the most unfriendly place for Black soldiers, even if they were helping to fight for democracy in the same country as the white soldiers by their sides.

In Spartanburg, South Carolina, they were asked to deal with racism without regard or retaliation as they trained to potentially give their lives. At the same time, the mayor of Spartanburg declared:

“If any of those colored soldiers go in any of our soda stores and the like and ask to be served, they’ll be knocked down. We have our customs down here, and we aren’t going to alter them.”

The unit was forged in the fire of those racist taunts and threats in the Deep South. When they set for Europe in January 1918, they became the 369th Infantry Regiment.

At first, they were given no combat duties, only menial tasks. But the French needed more soldiers. The “Black Rattlers,” as they had named themselves, went into battle under French command and before any white unit, on April 15, 1918. Their heroics earned them accolades in France, including the Croix de Guerre.

There are dozens of stories of their bravery, and more are coming out as historians begin to focus on the evidence of what they ensured. The “Harlem Hellfighters,” as the Germans named them, spent 191 days in combat, which is longer than any other American unit.

But they didn’t all come back alive – over half of them were killed or wounded defending their country. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “The Story Of The Harlem Hellfighters, The Overlooked Black Heroes Of World War I” — All That’s Interesting

WTF Fun Fact 12563 – A Royal Name Change

The House of Hanover was on the British throne until 1901 until the ascension of King Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

But the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha name was short-lived among the British royal family. That’s not because another family took over, but rather because the family decided to change its name in the wake of anti-German sentiment in 1917 during World War I. The last straw before the name change came when an aircraft called the Gotha G.IV participated in the bombing of London.

So, while today we know the British royal family as the Windsors, they are the same Saxe-Coburg and Gothas that ruled at the beginning of the 20th century.

The forced abdication of the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, who happened to be a cousin of British king George V, gave the monarchy even more to think about. So when they changed their name, they also abandoned or anglicized the rest of their German titles and houses.

On July 17, 1917, a royal proclamation issued by George V declared:

“Now, therefore, We, out of Our Royal Will and Authority, do hereby declare and announce that as from the date of this Our Royal Proclamation Our House and Family shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor, and that all the descendants in the male line of Our said Grandmother Queen Victoria who are subjects of these Realms, other than female descendants who may marry or may have married, shall bear the said Name of Windsor….”

Of course, the name Windsor didn’t pop out of thin air. They took the name from Windsor Castle, a royal property and the center of royal social life, in the town of Windsor, England. It is now the permanent home of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Saxe-Coburg-Gothas didn’t get off without a bit of ribbing, however. The German Emperor at the time, Wilhelm II, joked that he was looking forward to seeing “The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha,” a reference to Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” – WTF Fun Fact

Source: “British royal family change their name to Windsor – archive 1917” — The Guardian