Historical Misperceptions Quiz



By: Staff

4 Min Quiz

Image: refer to hsw

About This Quiz

Just because something is written in a history book doesn't make it true. Some of the most recognized names and events in history are exaggerated, glossed over or just plain wrong. Take our quiz to see if you can separate fact from fiction.

True or false: Pocahontas married Capt. John Smith.

Pocahontas was just a child when she met and allegedly rescued Smith. She did get kidnapped by the English at age 17 and married one of the colonists as a condition of her release.


Why did Paul Revere take his midnight ride?

Revere took his famous ride to warn the colonists that the British were leaving Boston, not arriving. He also never called them "the British" and likely referred to them as "the regulars."


Which of these man-made objects can be seen from the moon?

Astronauts who've taken a trip to the moon have confirmed that you can't see the Great Wall or any man-made objects from space, much less from the moon.


True or false: Napoleon was really short.

In Napoleon's time, the French inch was different than the English inch, leading many to believe that Napoleon was short. Turns out he was of average or above-average height for a man of the period.


Who is said to have uttered, "Let them eat cake"?

There is zero evidence that Marie Antoinette suggested starving peasants eat cake in lieu of bread. In fact, the famous quote attributed to her was also attributed to several other royals well before Antoinette's reign.


How many so-called "witches" were killed during the Salem witch trials?

The Salem trials resulted in 20 deaths, but none of the supposed witches were burned at the stake. Most were hung, while one was crushed to death using heavy stones.


True or false: Ben Franklin probably never did that whole key-kite thing during a lightning storm.

While history books often suggest that Franklin used a kite to prove the existence of electricity, "Mythbusters" proved several centuries later that such an experiment would result in certain death.


What city was destroyed by fire in 64 C.E.?

More than 70 percent of Rome burned and half the population was left homeless after a 64 C.E. fire swept through Rome.


What was the emperor doing, according to rumor, as Rome burned?

The fiddle didn't make it to Rome until 1,000 years after Nero's reign, so it's pretty unlikely that he actually fiddled as Rome burned around him.


Why was Lady Godiva said to have ridden naked through the streets?

Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets to protest high taxes — except there's no account of this event happening during her lifetime, and it was likely made up by a creative biographer more than a century after her death.


What did Romans do in vomitoriums?

No, Romans did not gather in big buildings for group vomit sessions. Vomitoriums were stadiums that were so named because of how quickly they could spew big crowds from their exits.


True or false: The maximum life span for humans has increased dramatically over the past 2,000 years.

The maximum life span for humans has remained constant for millennia. It's only the reduced infant mortality rates over the years that make people think humans are living longer.


True or false: Vikings wore horned helmets in battle.

There is not a single shred of evidence that Vikings wore horned helmets. That familiar Viking image was probably created by 19th century artists.


True or false: Columbus was brave to set sail across a world that most believed was flat.

Columbus may have been brave, but people have known that the world was round since ancient Greek mathematicians figured it out in the 6th century B.C.E.


Where did Columbus actually land when he "discovered" America (a land where millions of people were already living)?

Columbus never set foot in the modern-day United States. He never even went north of the Bahamas during his famous voyage.


What were George Washington's false teeth made from?

Washington never used wooden teeth; no one at the time did. Instead, his well-documented chompers were made of ivory, gold and lead.


When was the Declaration of Independence signed?

The colonists may have declared independence and adopted the document on July 4th, but they didn't get around to signing it until Aug. 2.


What allegedly started the Chicago fire of 1871?

There isn't any evidence that poor Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern to start the blaze. In fact, a group of reporters admitted years later to making up the story to sell papers.


True or false: Albert Einstein was a phenomenal student when he was young.

Contrary to rumor, Einstein was just as smart when he was young as he was in his later years. He did fail the entry exam for Zurich Polytechnic, largely because he was younger than the other test takers, and the exam was in French, a language he wasn't fluent in.


True or false: Benjamin Franklin suggested using a turkey on the seal of the United States.

While Franklin questioned whether an eagle was the right choice for the seal, he never suggested that a turkey would be a better option.


What day is Mexican Independence Day?

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French in the French-Mexican War in 1862. Independence Day in Mexico is Sept. 16th.


How many years elapsed between Mexican independence and the first Cinco de Mayo?

Mexico declared its independence in 1810, while the victory resulting in Cinco de Mayo celebrations took place 52 years later, in 1862.


True or false: Betsy Ross created the first American flag.

Not only is there no evidence to support the idea that Ross created the flag, but even the Betsy Ross House museum urges visitors to weigh both sides of the first-flag story.


True or false: George Washington chopped down a cherry tree as a child, but at least he admitted it to his dad.

The cherry tree story simply isn't based in fact and was likely dreamed up by an unscrupulous Washington biographer after the president's death.


True or false: Vincent van Gogh chopped off his ear.

Van Gogh did indeed slice off a portion of his left ear. Thankfully, it was just a sliver, not the entire appendage.


What did van Gogh do with his severed ear?

After gifting his ear to a prostitute, van Gogh spent a year in an institution where he painted some of his best works, including "The Starry Night."


True or false: Capt. James Cook discovered Australia.

It's hard to discover a place where millions of people have lived, but Cook was the first European to land a vessel on the continent in 1770.


True or false: Thomas Edison invented the world's first light bulb.

Edison wasn't the first to invent a light bulb, but he was the first to make it commercially viable, which helped the technology spread rapidly.


Who built the Egyptian pyramids?

The pyramid builders were compensated for their work and well-cared for too boot, with medical care provided on site.


True or false: Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope.

Several drafts of the famous speech survive to this day, and several are neatly written, proving that the story of Lincoln dashing off the document on an envelope while riding a bumpy train are false.


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