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The Surprising History of Ordinary Things

Napkins were once edible and a famous Hollywood actress invented wi-fi hotspots — just two surprising origins for items we use daily

Andrew Martin
Nov 29, 2020 · 4 min read

There are countless things that we see in everyday life that we accept without questioning why they are like they are. However, digging into the history of some of these common items reveal fascinating origins and explanations.

Why do Navy sailors wear flared/bellbottom pants?: This particular naval attire dates back at least 200 years, and came into being for very practical reasons. Sailors could easily roll up their pant legs when wading ashore or swabbing the deck without getting them completely soaked. Additionally, in the event they fell into the ocean they could quickly remove their pants to swim for their lives more freely without having to first take off their shoes.

Why were treadmills invented?: In recent years, treadmills have become part of the fitness craze, allowing people to go for walks and runs of varying lengths and difficulty without having to leave the comfort of their homes and gyms. The devices date back to the first century A.D. when they were used to help move heavy objects.

However, in 1818, William Cubit developed a treadmill with a much more sinister use. Operating much like a hamster wheel, they were put into prisons, where prisoners were made to walk on them for up to 10 hours a day, naturally never going anywhere. It wasn’t long before prison wardens discovered that they could also be used as an energy source, thus capitalizing on prisoner’s physical exertion. It wasn’t until around 1900 that treadmill walks for punishment was determined to be too cruel to be continued.

What’s the deal with mini-golf? Miniature golf is a popular activity for those who enjoy the sport without having to go to a full-blown course. The abbreviated version was actually designed for women as a solution to ladies wanting to play the game during the Victorian Age.

At that time, conduct, particularly for women, was very regimented. The idea of them taking full golf swings, which would necessitate the momentary loss of control over their bodies, was considered obscene. Allowing that demure putting was acceptable, mini-golf was born. The first course was the Ladies Putting Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, which was built in 1867. Although it didn’t have any large clown mouths to put into, over time it spawned into the popular activity enjoyed across the world today.

Napkins used to be edible: Napkins are made from a variety of materials, from basic paper to luxurious linen, and can be disposable or reusable. However, many years ago, they were meant to be eaten. Ancient Greeks wiped their hands on pieces of bread, the gluten soaking up oils and other food leavings that could be used to feed dogs and other livestock.

The Spartans took a similar tact, forming napkins out of thinly rolled dough. Once diners were done wiping their hands and faces, the smeared dough was thrown to dogs for a filling, if not unappealing, canine feast.

You could make a real killing at freelancing: Today, freelancing is a person who embarks into a career working for themselves and selling their products or services to the highest bidders. Writers and photographers are two of the most common types.

The evolution of freelancing over time has been pronounced. It originally referred to mercenary knights; soldiers who fought for whoever paid them a desired sum. These “free lancers” could help fortify an army or a smaller force for a price. The term first appeared in print when it was mentioned in Sir Walter Scott’s classic novel Ivanhoe but dates back much further than that.

Wi-fi hotspots were invented by a famous Hollywood actress: With all the cell phones and other internet devices in use across the globe, wi-fi internet hotspots are in heavy demand. Instead of being invented by a high-profile tech company, you can actually thank Hollywood pinup actress Hedy Lamarr.

In addition to appearing in dozens of films, the Austrian-American Lamarr was also an avid inventor. One of her biggest accomplishments was a frequency-hopping signal that she patented with George Antheil. It wasn’t in wide use until the United States Navy began using her design in the 1960s. It rapidly evolved into it’s current use . Unfortunately, she never got the full credit she deserved, as during her life people preferred focusing on her beauty and fame instead of her brilliant scientific mind.

Everything Begins With An Idea

Andrew Martin

Written by

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports and education.

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

Andrew Martin

Written by

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports and education.

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

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