Light, soft and easy to throw, Nerf footballs have been a staple of nearly every American boy’s childhood, helping them play out dreams of throwing a game-winning touchdown pass in backyards and parks across the country.
Because of their small size, light weight and popularity among young males — especially in the military — the US Army once actually tried to turn these toys into deadly anti-tank weapons.
In the late 1960s, Parker Brothers released its Nerf line of toys — foam footballs that would fly longer and farther than regulation pigskins, essentially turning anyone with an okay arm into the equivalent of Joe Montana. Nerf footballs surged in popularity, quickly becoming a best-selling hit for the toy manufacturer.
Around the same time in Europe, Army brass were wringing their hands over the potential for a Soviet invasion that would surely involve mechanized units. Tanks rolling through tight German streets in towns and cities would be a nightmare for American soldiers to deal with, especially since they lacked anti-tank grenades which would be effective against the latest tanks and armored vehicles fielded by the Soviet Union.
Soldiers were completely ill-equipped to wage war against armor in these conditions.
To fix this problem, infantry commanders at US Army Europe contacted the Land Warfare Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland, with the intent of creating a highly portable and easy-to-use hand-thrown weapon which could quickly disable a tank at close quarters. Engineers theorized that a football-shaped grenade would be a decent concept to explore further because “most U.S. troops are familiar with throwing footballs,” as the official test report read.
The lab came up with a prototype that consisted of a hollowed-out Nerf football, packed to the brim with explosive charges and a detonator. The working theory was that once thrown, the football grenade would spiral perfectly up to a tank and blow up, irreparably damaging the vehicle and rendering it useless. This would do well for USAREUR soldiers fighting off a possible Soviet invasion.
Theories don’t always equate to reality, however. In tests, the flight path of the football grenade was scarily unpredictable, thanks to the uneven weight distribution inside the device. Instead of a toss that would be worthy of an NFL scout’s approval, the grenade fishtailed and spun wildly.
By this point, it would have been more of a danger to the troops who were issued it than the tanks it was designed to destroy.
Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the first time the military had tried to relate sports to warfare. Around the time of WWII, it was largely assumed that every young American male would hypothetically be able to throw a baseball with a decent level of accuracy. To that end, the Office of Strategic Services tried to develop and field a hand grenade with a size and weight similar to that of a regulation baseball, known as the BEANO T-13.
As with the Nerf anti-tank grenade, this project proved to be highly dangerous to the troops who were issued these unique weapons in limited quantities. Grenades would often ignite prematurely after being armed or even if just jostled around, maiming the soldier or OSS operative attempting to use it against Axis foes. By the end of the war, an order was passed down to destroy all T-13s, though some inert models still survive today as curiosities for collectors.
Fast-forward to 1973, and the Nerf grenade project was killed off altogether. Despite the Land Warfare Lab’s efforts, USAREUR never received the anti-tank grenade it sought, leaving troops to have to rely on M2 heavy machine guns and M72 Light Antitank Weapons, which both required a degree of separation between themselves and the targets for effective usage — completely unfeasible in close quarters battle.
When the Nazis steamrolled into the Netherlands in May of 1940, Jannetje Johanna “Hannie” Schaft and Truus and Freddie Oversteegen were just 19, 16, and 14 years old respectively.
As for the Oversteegen sisters, their mother, Trijn, had left their father years before. Freddie states of this, “She was just fed up one day—we lived on a large ship in Haarlem, but my father never made any money and didn’t pay anything for the barge. But it wasn’t an ugly divorce or anything—he sang a French farewell song from the bow of the ship when we left. He loved us, but I didn’t see him that often anymore after that.”
Immediately after the Nazis came to town, despite the risks, Freddie goes on, “During the war, we had a Jewish couple living with us, which is why my sister and I knew a lot about what was going on…”
At the same time, their mother also had her daughters join in with her in the rather dangerous task of posting and distributing anti-Nazi and communist literature around town.
Given their brazen activities, word soon got around to the resistance that the girls might be open to joining, with one Frans van der Wiel coming calling in 1941. Freddie states, “A man wearing a hat came to the door and asked my mother if he could ask us [to join the resistance]. And he did… she was OK with it. “
She also states her mother simply requested of them that no matter what the resistance asked them to do, to “always stay human.”
Of the sisters’ personal decision to join, Truus stated,
A war like this is a very raw experience. While I was biking, I saw Germans picking up innocent people from the streets, putting them against a wall and shooting them. I was forced to watch, which aroused such an enormous anger in me, such a disgust… You can have any political conviction or be totally against war, but at that moment you are just a human being confronted with something very cruel. Shooting innocent people is murder. If you experience something like this, you’ll find it justified that when people commit treason, such as exchanging a four-year-old Jewish child for 35 guilders, you act against it.
Needless to say, they were all for it, though not quite realizing at that point everything they’d be asked to do. She states, “I thought we would be starting a kind of secret army. The man that came to our door said that we would get military training, and they did teach us a thing or two. Someone taught us to shoot, and we learned to march in the woods. There were about seven of us then—Hannie wasn’t a part of the group yet, and we were the only girls.”
Indeed, in the beginning because of their age and gender, the authorities paid little attention to them. Thus, they were natural message runners between resistance members, as well as ideally suited for smuggling and stealing identity papers to help various Jewish people escape; they also occasionally were tasked with transporting weapons and even helping escort Jews to hiding places- generally Jewish children as they blended in with the girls well and the authorities on the whole weren’t suspicious of the young girls walking along with kids. Also thanks to Freddie’s ultra youthful look, particularly when she did her hair up in pigtails, she was often used for reconnaissance missions, as nobody paid attention to her.
Things escalated from these sorts of tasks, however, with assignments such as helping to burn down various enemy installations. In these cases, the girls were sometimes tasked with flirting with any guards while other resistance members slipped in and set the fires.
In 1943, the sisters were joined by a third female member of their resistance cell, Hannie Schaft- a woman who would go on to be one of the most famous Dutch resistance members in all of WWII, with her activities seeing her marked for death by Hitler himself.
When the Nazis invaded, the then 19 year old Hannie was studying international law, and particularly human-rights law, at the University of Amsterdam. Unfortunately for her, she would soon be given the boot from university owing to refusing to sign a declaration of allegiance to Germany- a requirement to remain a student and something over 3/4 of the rest of the students did. As you might imagine even if you knew nothing else about her but her choosing to study human-rights law at school, and given the activities the Axis were getting up to in the country, she almost immediately joined the resistance.
In the interim since the start of the war and being assigned to the same resistance cell as Truus and Freddie, Hannie had worked with the resistance in various capacities and countless missions, even learning German to aid in her activities.
Naturally, the three girls became fast friends and frequently teamed up for the remainder of the war, with their missions having been expanded to something few women in the resistance were tasked with- directly eliminating enemy targets.
Their big advantage over their male compatriots was their age and gender allowed them to get close to enemy soldiers without garnering any suspicion. Thus, the girls were eventually trained with weapons and set to, as Freddie put it, “liquidating” the enemy.
As for the number of people they killed- a question they were frequently asked- they never disclosed, with the sisters’ stock answer to that question being, “You never ask a soldier how many people he’s killed.”
Perhaps their most famous method was flirting and convincing a mark to join one of them for a stroll. For example, in one instance, their target was an SS soldier who they scouted and, once he entered a restaurant to eat, a slightly drunk acting Truus entered and struck up a conversation. At a certain point, she then suggestively asked if he’d like to go for a walk in the woods with her- a prospect he apparently eagerly accepted.
When they got there, however, Freddie states,
Then they ran into someone—which was made to seem a coincidence, but he was one of ours—and that friend said to Truus: “Girl, you know you’re not supposed to be here.” They apologized, turned around, and walked away. And then shots were fired, so that man never knew what hit him. They had already dug the hole, but we weren’t allowed to be there for that part.
Beyond luring unsuspecting enemy soldiers and Dutch collaborators to their deaths, sometimes they just killed them outright. As Truus once said after watching horrified as a Dutch SS soldier grabbed a baby from the child’s family “and hit it against the wall. The father and sister had to watch. They were obviously hysterical. The child was dead… I pulled out a gun and shot him dead. Right there and then. This wasn’t an assignment. But I don’t regret it.”
Other times they would simply ride along on their bike- Truus on the front, and Freddie on the back with a hidden gun. As they passed their mark, if no one was around, Freddie would pull out the gun and shoot him. After this, Truus would peddle off as fast as she could; once out of sight, they were once again to all the world just a couple of young girls out for a bike ride.
Other times they’d follow the mark home and then come a-knocking, again with their young, innocent look helping to ensure their targets’ guard would be down when they’d kill him.
Beyond this, the trio also took part in bombings and other sabotage efforts, reportedly only refusing one mission in which they were asked to kidnap the three children of Riech Commissioner and former Chancellor of Austria Arthur Seyss-Inquart. The children were then to be used to get the commissioner to release certain prisoners in exchange for their safe return. If he refused, the children would be killed. Said Truus of their refusal of this mission, “Resistance fighters do not kill children.”
As for Hannie, while the two young girls often went overlooked, she was not so lucky, with her bright red hair and the many missions she took part in helping her stand out. The authorities soon caught on and she was initially marked as the “the girl with the red hair.” As the heat turned up on her and Hitler himself ordered efforts towards her capture ramped up, she began dying her hair black and changed her name. Unfortunately her real name was accidentally revealed to an undercover Nazi operative working as a nurse. What followed from this was her family being detained; though eventually when it became clear they didn’t know where she was or anything about her activities, they were let go.
The Axis got her in the end, however, when she was picked up at a random military checkpoint on March 21, 1945, having been caught with copies of the communist newspaper de Waarheid. She was subsequently tortured for a few weeks, but apparently never broke. Given the war was in its final stages, she may have survived if not for her bright red hair giving her away as it grew and with no dye to keep the roots black. Once the Germans figured out who she was because of this, the then 24 year old Hannie was slated to be immediately executed- a sentence carried out on April 17, 1945, a mere 18 days before the Germans withdrew from the Netherlands.
Apparently defiant to the end, it is reported that when the two soldiers tasked with killing her shot her, she fell, but both had missed their mark for a killing shot. Her last words were reported to be mocking the soldiers, allegedly stating after the first volley, “Idiots! I shoot better!”
The Oversteegen sisters in 2014.
As for the sisters, they survived the war, but suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, with Truss burying herself in art and Freddie stating she quickly got married and started a family as her way to cope. Her son, Remi, would state of this, “She shot… people… but she hated it, and she hated herself for doing it.” Freddie would also state, “I’ve shot [them] myself and I’ve seen them fall. And what is inside us at such a moment? You want to help them get up.”
Truss added, “It was tragic and very difficult and we cried about it afterwards. We did not feel it suited us… I wasn’t born to kill. Do you know what that does to your soul? …One loses everything. It poisons the beautiful things in life.”
In the end, both sisters lived to the ripe old age of 92, with Truus dying in June of 2016 and Freddie following her in September of 2018, the day before her 93rd birthday.
With more than 900 missions under his belt, Johannes “Macky” Steinhoff was one of the most famous German fighter pilots during WWII and was reportedly known as the “Handsomest Man in the Luftwaffe.”
Operating everywhere from the western to the eastern fronts, Steinhoff squared off with some of the world’s best pilots at the time and racked up 176 victories. But he was also shot down a dozen times.
The German ace nearly rode his damaged plane all the way down to the ground every time because he didn’t trust that the parachutes would properly deploy if he jumped out.
Although he was very efficient during the war, Steinhoff was known for spearheading the fighter pilots’ revolt of January 1945 by voicing concerns to the corrupt leadership in the Third Reich’s high command who in return accused their pilots of cowardice and treason.
For this role in the rebellion, Steinhoff was threatened by his commanders with court-martial and banishment to Italy.
Towards the end of the war, Steinhoff took flight on a mission in his Messerschmitt Me-262 jet but was shot down soon after by Allied forces — officially ending his involvement in war.
The German ace fighter was so badly burned in his last crash he would receive 70 operations to help restore his facial structures.
In February 1994, the German general passed away from heart failure at the age of 80.
On Aug. 4, 1945, a group of Russian school children from the Vladimir Lenin All-Pioneer Organization presented a two-foot, wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.
Harriman believed the Great Seal was a friendly gesture and hung it up in the library of the Spaso House in Moscow.
Little did the ambassador know, the Great Seal was a one-of-a-kind listening device.
The Soviets embedded a high-frequency “bug” in the decorative seal, which allowed them to eavesdrop on some very confidential conversations.
The listening device inside the Great Seal. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Austin Mills)
This unique bug wasn’t battery powered or composed of any electrical circuitry. Instead, the device was activated by radio signal pointed in its direction from a surveillance van parked outside the embassy. Sound waves from the conversations caused vibrations in a membrane built inside the carvings of the Great Seal, which then bounced the signal back to the surveillance van.
The device’s simple construction dramatically increased its lifespan and made it nearly impossible to detect. The Great Seal decorated the U.S. Ambassador’s wall for years until it was discovered during a security sweep in 1952. After officials found the bug, it was dubbed, “The Thing.”
Its discovery was kept secret for several more years until the U2 spyplane situation occurred in 1960.
As the Soviets were in the middle of accusing the U.S. of spying, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. whipped out “The Thing” during a proceeding with the Russians — undeniable proof of Soviet foul play.
Check out Simple History‘s video below to get the complete, animated breakdown of how sneaky Russians used school child to spy on the US.
But that’s what happened to Sigurd the Mighty, a man born as a commoner who went on to be a great military leader under Olaf the White, a Viking sea king.
It all started when Sigurd’s older brother, Earl Rognvald of Moeri, lost a son while serving King Harald in the invasion of islands of Shetland, Orkney, and Hebrides. Harald expanded Rognvald’s holdings by granting him the Orkney and Shetland islands, but Rognvald wasn’t interested in ruling those islands. So he returned to Norway and passed the title and lands of the Earl of Orkney to his brother, Sigurd, in 875.
Sigurd was pretty lucky to get an earldom all to himself, and he appears to have taken the responsibility seriously. He led troops during multiple campaigns and became known as Earl Sigurd the Powerful.
(Peter Nicolai Arbo, Public domain)
But he had trouble controlling the lands he had captured for the king. He built a stronghold in the Moray area of Scotland to project power, but the Norse were not popular that deep into Scottish land. So a local leader, Maelbrigd, became a thorn in Sigurd’s side.
Sigurd sought to end his struggles with Maelbrigd once and for all. The men agreed to meet in honorable combat with 40 men each. But Sigurd didn’t trust Maelbrigd to fight honorably, so he did that classic thing where he cheated first. He brought 40 horses, but he put two men on each horse. Maelbrigd, on the other hand, did fight honorably.
The 80 men of Sigurd’s force won. Big surprise. And Sigurd told them to strap the heads of their enemies to the horses to celebrate. Sigurd, of course, strapped Maelbrigd’s head to his own horse.
But Sigurd had a sore on his leg. And Maelbrigd’s teeth rubbed against that sore and infected it. In one of the most unlikely kills in history, Maelbrigd killed his foe from beyond the grave with a mouth full of bacteria.
Sucks to be Sigurd.
By the way, you can learn more about the struggle between the Norse and Scottish for Orkney and the surrounding lands in The Orkeyinga Sagaavailable here.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a brutal attack on Pearl Harbor, killing over 2,300 American military personnel and catapulting the U.S. into World War II. After nearly four years of fierce fighting, Japan agreed to the terms of surrender as laid out in the Potsdam Declaration. On August 14th, 1945, this decision was broadcast across Japan.
A few weeks later, thousands of brave men gathered on the USS Missouri to witness a historic event as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, accompanied by Adms. Chester Nimitz and William Halsey, met with the Japanese delegation. Officials signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945, finally putting a stop to the war and securing victory for the Allies.
Tragically, between the announcement of the surrender and the signing of the document, despite an active ceasefire, one last American life was lost.
During the war, Sgt. Anthony J. Marchione served as an aerial photographer with the 20th Combat Reconnaissance Squadron. On August 18, 1945, Marchione was on a mission to gather evidence that the Japanese were indeed complying with the ceasefire when the B-32 he was aboard took enemy fire.
Japanese machine guns ripped into the side of the B-32’s metal skin, creating a shower of shrapnel inside the cabin. Marchione noticed one of the crew members was gravely wounded and he rushed over. As the brave photographer helped his brother-in-arms, another barrage of enemy gunfire rained down on the American bomber.
The second round of incoming fire struck Marchione. He bled to death aboard his plane in the skies over Tokyo that Saturday afternoon. Sgt. Marchione’s tragic, untimely death has the dubious distinction of being the very last of World War II.
The aerial photographer was about a month away from celebrating his 20th birthday.
When the Germans wanted to shell Paris during World War I, they knew exactly what they were doing. The only problem was the Germans just couldn’t quite break through to get Paris in their artillery crosshairs. So they did what any German might do: build a gun that could hit Paris from where they were – 75 miles away.
The Paris Gun, as it was named, had the longest range of any artillery weapon in history.
Here comes the boom.
Nobody really knows what the Paris Gun’s full capabilities were because all of them were destroyed by the retreating Germans. All that was ever captured were fixed-gun emplacements. And since all the men who might have fired one are dead, it’s just a design lost to history. What we do know is that the weapon was able to hurl 230-plus pounds of steel and explosives some 75 miles, over the World War I front lines and into the streets of Paris in just about three minutes. More interesting still is that the rounds flew 25 miles into the air, the highest point ever reached by a man-made object at that time.
The reason the gun wasn’t more popular among the Germans is that it did relatively little damage. It carried only 15 pounds of explosives, and only 20 rounds could be fired per day. Parisians didn’t even realize the shelling was coming from artillery at first – they thought they were being bombed by an ultra-high zeppelin. With some 360 rounds fired, the guns only killed 250 people, mostly civilians. It did not have the terrorizing effect the Germans hoped.
Though one round did collapse the roof of a church during services. Not great PR when you’re trying not to be evil.
To make matters worse, the rounds ate away at the barrel of the gun as they fired, so rounds had to be used in a strict numerical order with ever-changing sizes as the crew fired. Once all the rounds were fired, the barrel had to be removed and sent back to Germany to be re-bored.
Allied forces never captured one of these record-setting artillery pieces, as the Germans either destroyed them as the Entente troops advanced or sent them all back to Germany after the Armistice of 1918. They were supposed to provide France with one of the weapons, as set in the Treaty of Versailles, but never did. No schematics, parts, or barrels survive. Only the static emplacements captured by the Americans in 1918.
Photographical journey through the Allied snipers of World War II. Most are British and, or Canadian Snipers using the British Lee Enfield.
The first photograph shows a sniper demonstrating his camouflage (note: German Waffen-SS Camo Pattern: named unofficially “Early Plane Tree”) at a sniper school in a French village, July 27, 1944. The lesson here was probably “Know Your Enemy” to demonstrate how German Snipers were clothed.
A sniper applying camouflage face cream at a sniper school in a Normandy village, July 27, 1944.
A British sniper takes aim through the telescopic sights of his rifle on the range at a sniper training school in France, July 27, 1944.
Snipers training at the same sniper school as the photographs above, somewhere in a French village, July 27, 1944.
A 6th Airborne Division sniper on patrol in the Ardennes, wearing a snow camouflage suit, January 14, 1945.
A British sniper, Private Sutcliffe, seated at a window of a house in Caen watching for enemy snipers through telescopic sights.
A camouflage suit for a sniper of the British Army.
A sniper from C Company, 5th Battalion, The Black Watch , 51st (Highland) Division, in position in the loft space of a ruined building in Gennep, Holland, February 14, 1945.
A sniper from the Seaforth Highlanders takes aim from behind a carrier as 15th (Scottish) Division troops deal with German resistance in Uelzen, April 16, 1945.
Lance Corporal A P Proctor, a sniper with 56th Division, cleaning his rifle, November 24, 1943.
Canadian Sniper, Pte. L. V. Hughe in World War II.
Sergeant H.A. Marshall of the Calgary Highlanders Sniping Platoon. Kapellen, Belgium.
Image Credits: Imperial War Museum and Canadian War Archives under C.C. License
Carl Brashear was no stranger to adversity. A sharecropper’s son, he grew up on a farm in Kentucky and attended segregated schools his entire life. He enlisted in the Navy the same year that President Truman effectively ended segregation in the military by issuing Executive Order 9981. Brashear was told repeatedly that he couldn’t be a Navy diver: no black man ever had. His application was ignored and lost, over and over until 1954 when he made the cut. But those struggles paled in comparison to the mission that cost him his leg.
When Brashear enlisted, black sailors were only offered jobs like serving white officers meals or cleaning up. Brashear knew he was meant to do more. He wanted to be a Navy diver.
In addition to the physical attributes it takes to be a Diver, you also have to have a bit of smarts too. There is a science to diving and understanding it is a key prerequisite to becoming and advancing through the Diving hierarchy. Brashear had grown up in rural Kentucky and, because of the lack of education in segregated schools, had the equivalent of an 8th grade education. While he had become a salvage diver which was difficult in and of itself, in order to get to the next step, he had to pass a grueling science component.
It took him almost 9 years, but he was able to do so, and became a First-Class Diver in 1964. Braesher made history as the first African American to become a Navy diver.
Then the accident happened.
In January 1966, off the coast of Spain, two Air Force planes collided while attempting to link up to refuel. A B-52G Stratofortress Bomber collided with a KC-135A Stratotanker causing both planes to go down. All four of the refueler’s crew perished while three of the seven crew died on the bomber when their plane broke apart.
While the loss of life itself was devastating, the cargo of the bomber was cause of grave concern as well. Falling to the earth were four MK28 Hydrogen bombs.
Three of the bombs were found immediately in a Spanish fishing village. The fourth was believed to have fallen into the Mediterranean.
The Air Force asked the assistance of the United States Navy. After 80 days of searching, the bomb was finally located. It took over 20 ships, thousands of men and about 150 Navy Divers, one of whom was Carl Brashear.
Two months into the search, a tow cable snapped and sent a pipe into Brashear’s leg almost shearing it off. Brashear was medevaced to Germany and then Virginia. Despite all attempts to save his left leg below the knee, doctors could not stop the infections and necrosis that set in.
Brashear would have to lose his leg.
For most of us who served, this should have meant the end of his career and most certainly should have ended his time as a Navy Diver.
For Carl Brashear, that was not an option. His journey in the Navy had already been long and arduous, and he had his eyes set on something bigger. One of his personal beliefs was, “It’s not a sin to get knocked down; it’s a sin to stay down”.
It should have been the end of his career. For Brashear it was just another fight he was going to win. The Navy set about the process to medically retire him.
Brashear refused to show up for his med-board meeting and instead went about proving to the Navy that he could be returned to active duty. As reported by the L.A. Times, Brashear said, “Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump. In that year, if I would have gone to sick bay, they would have written me up. I didn’t go to sick bay. I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it — an old remedy.”
It took almost two years of determination, but in 1968, Brashear was able to be recertified as a Navy Diver.
Again, for most people this would have been a remarkable finale. For Brashear, there was one more major goal he wanted.
Brashear pushed through the limitation of having a prosthetic leg and studied master the scientific criteria that was needed to get to the next level.
In two years, he did it. In 1970, he became the first African American to become a Master Diver in the United State Navy.
Brashear retired in 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver.
Through his career he told people, “I ain’t going to let nobody steal my dream”.
It likely starts off with a degree from a top school, and includes a stint working in law or Congress. It might even feature some military service.
But the presidents on this list have a few unconventional gigs to add to their experience. At some point in their lives, these 17 presidents tended bars, crafted toys, and even personally hung criminals. Whether or not these odd jobs helped prepare them to take on the White House remains to be seen.
Here are the 17 weirdest jobs of US presidents:
Andrew Jackson was a 13-year-old militia courier during the Revolutionary War.
The turbulent, controversial seventh president of the US was actually the last head of state to serve in the Revolutionary War, in some capacity. Andrew Jackson joined the fighting at the age of thirteen and served as a courier, according to a report from CNN.
His position with the local militia was informal, but that didn’t stop the British from imprisoning the teenager, along with his brother Robert. Some accounts say that when Jackson refused to clean an officer’s boots, the enemy soldier slashed his face with a sword, leaving a permanent scar.
Abraham Lincoln owned a bar
Did you know that Lincoln was the only licensed bartender to rise to the position of chief executive?
According to Amy Cavanaugh’s article in the Chicagoist, the future president launched a business in New Salem, Illinois. The joint, known as Berry and Lincoln and co-owned by an old militia friend named William F. Berry, functioned as both a store and a drinking establishment. In 1833, Berry and Lincoln received a liquor license and began selling brandy, wine, and whiskey. Later on, the future president would leave the business to become the postmaster of New Salem.
Unfortunately, Berry’s alcoholism caused the duo to fall into debt — which Lincoln wouldn’t fully pay off until he became a congressman.
Andrew Johnson worked for his mom as an apprentice tailor
Johnson — who was vice president at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and became the country’s 17th president as a result — started off as an apprentice tailor for his mother while he was still a teen, according to CNN. Later, he moved up to a tailoring position in South Carolina and Tennessee.
James Garfield tended to mules
James Garfield’s tenure as the 20th president of the US was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in 1881. His presidency was so brief that most historians exclude him from presidential rankings.
However, there was a time when Garfield’s career was on the rise. According to the “Erie Canal” by Ralph Andrist, the “Ohio farm boy” got his start working for his cousin who owned a canal boat. Garfield made $8 a month driving the boat’s mules.
In 1888, Benjamin Harrison was elected as the 23rd president of the US — following in the footsteps of his grandfather, William Harrison.
Years earlier, when he had yet to establish a law career, Harrison began a rather archaic side hustle — working as a court crier for $2.50 a day, according to his official presidential website.
Grover Cleveland executed people
Today, Cleveland is perhaps best known for serving as both the 22th and 24th president of the US.
Few people know about the somewhat morbid turn his career path took early on in his professional experience.
While serving as sheriff of New York’s Erie County from 1871 to 1874, Cleveland personally hanged two criminals instead of delegating the gruesome task.
According to a 1912 article in the New York Times, Cleveland argued that he had “insisted that he had no moral right to impose upon a subordinate the obnoxious and degrading tasks that attached to his office.”
However, this incident came back to haunt him. According to the White House Historical Association, Cleveland was lambasted as “the hangman of Buffalo” during the 1884 presidential election.
Warren G. Harding was a teenage newspaperman
Before ascending to a scandal-marred stint in the White House, Harding enjoyed a sterling reputation as the editor of The Marion Star.
Harding bought the struggling paper when he was only 18-years-old and immediately began poaching journalists at the 1884 Republican National Convention.
He always had a soft spot for the paper. After he became president, he even planned to stay on as an associate editor, according to the Marion Star. Harding died before that could happen.
Calvin Coolidge was a toy maker
As the 30th president of the US, Calvin Coolidge became known as a man of few words and an advocate of laissez faire policies.
Coolidge had followed a fairly conventional path to the White House, becoming a lawyer and governor. Before that, however, he took on a rather unusual weekend job in high school.
According to the Southwest Times Record, Coolidge crafted doll carriages at the Ludlow Toy Manufacturing Company.
Herbert Hoover worked in the geology and mining field
Hoover — the 31st president of the US — worked as a geologist and mining engineer to pay for his living while he explored the Western Australian gold fields in the late 1890s, according to CNN.
At the tender age of 23, he was promoted to mine manager and worked in various gold fields until taking a well-earned less physical job as an independent mining consultant.
Harry Truman opened a haberdashery
As Careercast notes, long before he lead the country as the 33rd president during WWII, Truman ran a haberdashery in Kansas City. Truman co-owned the short-lived store with a military buddy he met during WWI. The haberdashery shut down during a recession in the 1920s, forcing Truman to seek a new career in politics.
Lyndon B. Johnson worked as a shoe shiner and a goat herder
When Johnson was just 9, he shined shoes during summer vacation for extra pocket change and later used these skills to buff shoes in high school, as well, according to The Week. Later, the 36th president of the US worked as a goat herder on his uncle’s farm.
Richard Nixon worked as a chicken plucker and ran a game booth
While visiting family in Prescott, Arizona, in 1928 and 1929, Nixon — the 37th president of the US — plucked and dressed chickens for a local butcher, according to The Week. Later, he worked a “Wheel of Fortune” gaming booth at the Slippery Gulch carnival and said it was his favorite job.
Gerald Ford was a park ranger
The 38th president of the US said working as a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park was “one of the greatest summer of my life,” according to the Yellowstone Park Foundation.
The feeling is mutual: his supervisor at the park, Canyon District Ranger Frank Anderson, said Ford was “a darned good ranger.”
His most dangerous duty was working as an armed guard on the truck that fed the bears in the park. This high-risk job later became fodder for impressive stories to share with his kids.
Before he entered the realm of politics, Carter operated a peanut farm in Georgia. According to Careercast, this rustic gig ” helped Carter appeal to voters throughout his time in politics.”
Ronald Reagan was a circus worker, a superstar lifeguard, and an actor
At age 14, Reagan briefly worked for the Ringling Brothers circus as an unskilled laborer for $0.25 an hour, according to The Week.
A year later, he took a summer job as a lifeguard at Rock River outside of Dixon, Illinois, according to PBS. There he worked 12 hour-days, seven days a week, for seven summers.
The “lean, tall, and tan” teenager became somewhat of a hero here after pulling 77 people from the danger of the swift river over the course of those seven summers, according to Heritage.
Later, Reagan went into show business. He starred in a few productions and even earned the lifelong nickname “Gipper” from his memorable turn in “Knute Rockne, All-American,” according to Careercast.
In 1981, he became the 40th president of the US at age 69.
Bill Clinton was a grocer and a comic book salesman
At age 13, Clinton started working as a grocer in Arkansas, according to Convenience Store News. Ever the businessman, he persuaded his boss to let him sell comic books at the store, too, and was able to rake in an extra $100 for his tenacity.
In 1993, Clinton became the 42nd US president.
George W. Bush was a landman in the oil industry and the part-owner of the Texas Rangers
After graduating with his MBA from Harvard, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the US, took a job as a landman for an oil company, in which he scouted potential sites to drill for oil, according to the Miller Center
It wasn’t glamourous, according to The Week: “It was hard, hot work,” he said. “I unloaded enough of those heavy mud sacks to know that was not what I wanted to do with my life.”
Later on, Bush became part-owner of the MLB’s Texas Rangers, according to Careercast.
The nation’s 43rd President was born into a political family, with father George H.W. Bush serving as the 41st President, Vice-President to Ronald Reagan, and Director of the CIA under Gerald Ford.
Thank you for being a friend … and a MARINE! Yes, the very same Bea Arthur that we know and love as Dorothy Zbornak from the “Golden Girls” and Maude from “All in the Family” served in the U.S. military.
Arthur, who passed away in 2009 of lung cancer, was originally named Bernice Frankel. She later changed her first name, and used an alternate spelling of her former husband’s last name, Aurthur.
In 1943, the Marines became the last military branch to accept women into their ranks. They announced a call for enlistments with the marketing slogan, “Be a Marine … Free a Man to Fight.” With the addition of women into their force for administrative and behind-the-scenes work, men who were previously performing those jobs were able to head to the frontlines.
Just five days later, Arthur enlisted. However, not yet 21 (the age required to enlist at the time) she had to obtain permission from her parents. All of this, and more, is listed on her Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), which is available to this day via the National Archives.
It’s worth noting that, because the Marines had just begun accepting women, they hadn’t even provided paperwork to do so. Therefore, Arthur, and hundreds of others, were processed into the Marines through Navy paperwork and exam schedules.
In one of her incoming interviews, a processing worker wrote comments like “frank and open,” “argumentative,” “over aggressive,” and “probably a good worker if she has her own way!”
She joined the military during World War II, in February of 1943, when she served for two years before being honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant in September of 1945. She was one of the first women to enlist with the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She worked as a typist in Washington, D.C., before requesting to attend the Motor Transport School. She then worked as a dispatcher and truck driver. Throughout her career, she was stationed between Washington, D.C. and two bases in North Carolina.
After her discharge, Arthur went to school to become a lab tech, even interning at a hospital. However, she didn’t enjoy the work and left to attend drama school in 1947. By the late ’40s, she was performing in off-Broadway shows. She went on to perform on Broadway, winning a Tony for her performance as Vera Charles in “Mame”, before transitioning to television, where she was one of the most famous actresses throughout the ’70s and ’80s.
It’s worth noting that Arthur publicly denied her time in the Marines throughout her acting career; she also did so blatantly, on-the-record, in a 2001 interview. Her military records were made public a year after her death, in 2010, proving her enlistment. It’s unknown why she denied her involvement as a Marine. Though one running theory is that it was to hide a misconduct report, when Arthur was written up for contracting a sexually transmitted disease. The stint left her “incapacitated for duty” for five weeks, for which she received a cut in pay.
However, at the time of joining, records show her as eager and “willing to do her part” to help with the war.
“Patton’s Panthers” was one of the most effective tank battalions in World War II, fighting a continuous 183 days at the front and inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans while crews racked up accolades from their peers, including three Medal of Honor nominations in their first month of combat.
The first black armored unit was the 758th Tank Battalion which received 98 black enlisted men in 1941. The 761st followed in March 1942 as a light tank battalion but converted to medium tanks in September 1943.
It was on that day that the battalion struck a German roadblock that could spell doom. The tanks were forced to stop, making them easy targets for German guns.
Despite fierce German fire, Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers rushed out of his tank and attached a cable to the roadblock before dragging it out of the way. The American tanks pushed forward through the opening and the attack was successful.
The next day, Charlie Company 1st Sgt. Samuel Turley found his company under heavy German fire with wrecked tanks. He ordered the crews to dismount and organized a resistance before climbing from a ditch to lay down cover fire. His gamble saved his men, but he was cut down by German machine gun fire.
The day after that, on Nov. 10, Sgt. Warren G.H. Crecy fought his way forward to save his men under fire until his tank was destroyed. He then commandeered another vehicle and killed his attackers with a .30-caliber machine gun before turning the weapon on German artillery observers.
On Nov. 11, Crecy was back at it. His tank was immobilized and he attempted to get it going until he saw German units attacking the nearby infantry. So he climbed onto his .50-cal. and gave them cover. Later that day, he destroyed machine gun nests and an anti-tank weapon.
Rivers was back in the spotlight Nov. 16-19. A mine shot fragments through his leg and destroyed his knee on Nov. 16. Despite the recommendation that he immediately evacuate, Rivers led the way across a brand-new bridge the next day and took on four German tanks, killing two and driving two more back.
By Nov. 18, Rivers’ leg was infected but he still refused to go home. The next day, Rivers directed fierce fire onto German anti-tank guns until two rounds pierced his own tank and went through his head, killing him instantly.
All three men, Rivers, Crecy, and Turley, were nominated for the Medal of Honor but only Rivers received it.
The next month the 761st conducted assaults aimed at breaking up the German forces at the Battle of the Bulge, slowing German resupply and taking the pressure off the units under siege despite the fact that the 761st was fighting a numerically superior enemy.
After another month and a half of fighting, the 761st threw itself against a dug in and numerically superior enemy once again while leading the armored spearhead through the Siegfried Line and fought “the fiercest of enemy resistance in the most heavily defended area of the war theater” for 72 hours according to its Presidential Unit Citation.
On May 5, 1945, the 761st linked up with Russian Forces in Steyr, Austria. Over the course of the war, the unit had lost nearly 50 percent of its starting forces and 71 tanks. It was also credited with inflicting 130,000 casualties.