Weird, Unexpected Origins Of 5 Common Things

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by Jordan Breeding

For many people, where their things come from isn't very important. I don't care how my Bloomin' Onion was invented, I just want that mess in my stomach. But whereas your appetizer probably originated from someone accidentally dropping a garnish in grease, sometimes origins are fascinating ... like how you originated from that neighbor down the street your Mom never let you talk to. These things are more like that.


Freelancers Used To Be Freaking Knights

When picturing a "freelancer," what comes to mind? For many of us, it's some sunlight-deprived nerd sitting in Starbucks, desperately praying that some publication -- any publication -- will pay them money for an article about how God hates air conditioning. It's a challenging occupation that appeals primarily to people who never need sleep or a stable income. Well, that may seem true now, but in the early 1800s "freelance" meant something else entirely. And we sort of wish it still did.

The first written reference to a "freelance" was in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe. A medieval lord speaking to the band of mercenaries hired to do his warring for him says:

I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them -- I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.



"For an extra $4, I'll throw in some tea-bagging."

That’s right. "Free Lances" were at one time badass knights who traded their ability to stab super hard for the gold of the highest bidder. That's way cooler than asthmatic writers who trade their Spider-Man fan theories for a byline on Buzzfeed. We're kidding about these depictions of freelancers, of course, but also, not really?

The phrase quickly caught on, and since Ivanhoe was written well after anybody actually needed a freelance knight for anything besides picking up groceries in style, the phrase was applied to all sorts of other professions -- from politicians without a set affiliation (known today as independents), to just about anybody without any long-term employer commitments. Over time, "freelance" was watered down until it became the thing my parents always feared I'd become.

Fuzzy Dice Came From WWII Fighter Pilots Who Later Became Street Racers

Some of you may know this, but a lot of people died in World War II. America alone lost over 400,000 Americans in combat, and the Air Force lost a whopping 170 aircraft every single day. Being a pilot was a dangerous, terrifying job, and men looked for any possible way to improve their chances of returning home from a tough mission. One of those methods included placing a pair of dice on the cockpit's instrument panel with a "seven" showing for good luck.

After the war, American fighter pilots returned home to a booming economy. They had more free time and money than any young people had before the war. Combine that with their innate ability to fix machines and use those machines to perform death-defying stunts, and you get the golden age of Hot Rod culture and street racing. If we don't get a Fast And Furious prequel set during this time period, then we can officially deem this whole Hollywood thing a total failure.

At some point, one of these greasy haired studs remembered their favorite pre-flight routine, poured out the contents of their mom's backgammon set, and hung some dice from their car's rearview mirror. Apparently this demonstrated how dangerous they were, and how they were willing to flirt with death via fiery car crash. Naturally, this hardcore display of badassery caught on around the country, because why wouldn't it?



Before that, they hung live kittens in harnesses from the mirror.

But, of course, for the same reason you don't leave children or Chalupa Supremes sitting in your car, normal, plastic dice can't hang unprotected at all times. There's nothing worse than trying to clean melted plastic or spoiled processed dog meat. They needed dice made of something more sun-resistant. But instead of going with something objectively cool like making dice out of stone or the bones of their enemies, they created stuffed dice made out of fuzz.

That’s lame enough, but in Britain they sucked out every last ounce of manliness by calling them "fluffy dice" or "furry dice". So although these days fuzzy dice are almost exclusively owned by sketchy cab drivers with license plates that say "FRESH", just know they were basically created by people like Vin Diesel. Like first F&F movie era Diesel.

Baby Monitors Were A Direct Response To The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping

Before the 1930s, the only way to check on your baby was to either perpetually sit in the room with them, or hope they cried loud enough to be heard over your Xbox headphones. Baby monitors were still the stuff of science fiction, and, honestly, nobody really had much need for them, anyway. We weren't that far removed from the part of history where children were viewed like specialized livestock.

But then in 1932, something terrible happened. Charles Lindbergh (of flying-across-the-entire-freaking-ocean fame) discovered his 20-month old son had been kidnapped from his upstairs nursery. Kidnappers had used a ladder to reach the house's second-story window, and abducted the baby without anybody realizing anything was amiss. The resulting ordeal spiraled into over two months of ransom notes, desperate searching, and ultimately the sad, brutal death of Charles Jr.

Among the millions of horrified parents across the world shaken up by the Lindberghs' story was a man named Eugene F. McDonald Jr. Eugene was the president of the radio company, Zenith. Upon hearing the news, he immediately set out to create a radio system that would allow him to hear what was going on in his daughter's room. Pretty soon he had an experimental system that worked for him and, once he was sure his own kid was safe, Eugene tasked his engineers with creating something they could actually sell on the market.

You don't want to know how they fit an entire nurse into those tiny boxes.

One of his designers, Isamu Noguchi, came up with the "Guardian Ear" transmitter that you stuck next to your sleeping kid, and a "Radio Nurse" receiver. Weirdly, the system wasn't very successful -- likely because it would also pick up all sorts of random radio broadcasts. The last thing you want to hear when checking on your kid is an unsolicited Kid Rock song.

Eventually the system was improved upon, and the product became quite popular with kids whose parents wouldn't buy them real walkie-talkies.

WWI Trench Warfare Got Everybody Wearing Those “Silly Ass” Wristwatches

They say that war is the mother of invention, but sometimes it's the mother of fashion. On that front, World War I was apparently one of the most fashion-forward wars in human history. Not only did WWI zeppelin bombing raids help popularize stylish pajamas (so Brits always looked good whilst running from flying midnight explosives), it also made wrist watches cool. Don’t let anybody tell you WWI was good for nothing.

Prior to the horrors of WWI, "bracelet watches" were primarily seen as a "silly-ass fad." Literally, that's how the New York Times referred to the thing half of you probably have on your wrist right now. Back then, the only people who used wristwatches were entertainers turning them into, uh, "funmakers?"

Once the war broke out, improving technology made it easier for modern armies to coordinate their attacks, but that also required actually knowing what the hell time it was. It wasn't practical to dig into your fancy coat pocket every time you needed to check when you’re supposed to charge the enemy trench. As such, soldiers began wearing wristwatches sporting unbreakable glass as well as radium that lit up the clock face at night.



It also functions as a flask that can hold a full pint of whiskey.

Pretty quickly, European citizens realized the practicality of having the time so accessible, so they too converted from pocket watches. After the war, watches were marketed as "for men with the promise that this watch could make a man more soldier-like, more martial, more masculine." And then somehow we got from there to those massive '80s wristwatches that looked like someone strapped a wall clock to your wrist.

School Bathrooms Were Invented To Get Kids' Parents To Start Bathing

Until shockingly recently, most people in history were like spoiled five-year-olds who flat-out refused to take a bath. Sure, the technology existed in some capacity for thousands of years, but even well into the 1900s, baths were more of a weekly event than an "every time you even think about the gym" event. As cities began to rapidly grow and people became more educated, the idea of only bathing a week's worth of nastiness off at a time was less and less appetizing. Public officials wanted people to start washing their nasty selves more, but how could they convince the populace to suddenly start devoting all this time to un-stinking themselves? By first forcing their children, of course!

In the early 1900s, public schools started installing baths for their students. Think of them like locker rooms today. The idea was that if schools could get kids into bathing regularly, maybe they'd go home and, I don't know, make their parents jealous of the cleanliness of their offspring? Someone decided that clean kids would eventually teach their parents the value of being clean as well. After all, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "The bath is a civilizer, and that soap lubricates the rails of progress." Whoever wrote that should probably take a cold shower themselves. New York officials believed in this idea so strongly, the superintendent of city schools even claimed he thought school baths were more important than public libraries.



"OK, class, today we're going to learn about the concept of choices."

Of course, not everything went smoothly. The transition was easier for men, and men's bathing products began to emphasize how manly it was to take a shower with your totally shredded bros. Many girls, on the other hand, felt somewhat uncomfortable being forced to bathe in a public setting, and there were even a few lawsuits against the practice in the 1940s, with some parents claiming it was a "step towards Communism." To be fair, isn't everything?

Eventually we figured it out, and people decided bathing was okay both at school and at home, and there were never any bathroom controversies ever again. Right?

Like this article? Check out "The Unexpected Origins Of 5 Common Practices" and "Modern Tech That's WAY Older Than You Think".

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