14 People from History You Should Learn More About

To celebrate Another Century’s 2nd year, I thought I’d go back and look at some of the most interesting individuals that have appeared in the blog so far. I asked my wife Andra to pick 14 people appearing in blog posts that she thought were cool or fun to read about, and I’ve put them together in a list for your reading pleasure. If one of these characters catches your eye, go back to the original post to learn more!

1. Jean LeBlanc

Ok, technically Jean LeBlanc is not a person, he is a horse. But is cool enough to start this list with. When Edmond Mandat DeGrancey traveled to the Dakota Territory to inspect his land investments in 1883, he purchased a fine looking horse he named Jean LeBlanc. DeGrancey wrote that Jean’s “acrobatic accomplishments are the subject of general admiration.”

DeGrancey riding Jean LeBlanc. Bibliotheque nationale de France.

2. George Washington Hill

George Hill was the autocratic president of the American Tobacco Company. He lived to sell Lucky Strike cigarettes. Hill was responsible for creating tons of controversial advertisements for his beloved smokes, and they were always sure to make someone mad.

George Washington Hill
George Hill spend a fortune advertising Lucky Strikes. And made an even bigger one selling them! Sold American: The First Fifty Years.

3. P.T. Barnum

Most people have heard of P.T. Barnum and his famous circus and his American Museum in New York. But did you know he also introduced the Dutch Belted Cow to America? He brought the black and white striped cow over from Europe in the 1880s as a circus attraction, its a great story (trust me, I looked it up).

PT Barnum and Tom Thumb
Posing with General Tom Thumb, Barnum could swindle a buck from even the cleverest of people. National Portrait Gallery.

4. Thomas Hicks and Andarin Carbajal

Hicks and Carbajal were both runners in the 1904 Olympic marathon in St. Louis. Carbajal, a Cuban athlete, lost all his money on the trip to St. Louis and had to hitchhike to the race. During the race he stopped to eat some apples, they turned out to rotten and he passed out on the course. Carbajal ended up reviving and getting fourth anyways! Hicks, the race winner, nearly died during the race too. Choking on the dusty Missouri roads, his trainer administered him strychnine, hard boiled eggs, and brandy to keep him going. Hicks, a native of Massachusetts, finished the race ashen-faced and eight pounds lighter.

Starting line of the St. Louis marathon. Hicks is #20 and Carbajal is #3. The Olympic Games, 1904.

5. Uncle Josh


One of the stars of the early days of cinema, Uncle Josh Weathersby entertained millions on silent screens all over the country. Played by Cal Stewart, Uncle Josh was a country bumpkin befuddled by everything from newfangled technology to old-timey superstitions. Uncle Josh’s films were some of the first to include special effects such as stop-motion and are still entertaining to watch today.

Uncle Josh.JPG
In this 1900 film, Uncle Josh (left) encounters a ghost in a spooky hotel. Library of Congress.

6. George Washington Plunkitt

Imagine a slimy, dishonest, corrupt politician. Now imagine one with no shame who will bend the truth so he doesn’t seem bad at all. Are you thinking of George Washington Plunkitt? Plunkitt was a Tammany Hall politician who wielded an enormous amount of power in New York City from the 1860s to the early 1900s. Though his politics were reprehensible, he was an entertaining speaker and pontificated on subjects as diverse as civil service reform and the danger of dress clothing.

Plunkitt was fond of saying “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.” Library of Congress.

7. John Haberle

One of my favorite artists, John Haberle specialized in “trompe l’oeil”- hyper realistic still life paintings. Critics thought Haberle’s work was too good to be real, and he was even accused of being a currency counterfeiter. Neither was true, he was just super skilled with a paint brush.

Haberle snuck a self-portrait in this 1887 painting. National Gallery of Art.

8. Ella Watson

Ella Watson was employed as a charwoman and lived a hard life in Washington D.C. She was photographed by Gordon Parks in the 1940s at work, her home, and at church. Really powerful images.

This picture was taken in 1942. Library of Congress.

9. The Listerine Bridesmaid

“Most of the girls of her set were married…but not Eleanor. It was beginning to look, too, as if she never would be.” This imaginary character was featured in a 1950s Listerine ad campaign called “Often a Bridesmaid…Never a Bride.” Aside from being pretty representative of the advertising industry’s views on women and consumerism, its also a good example of how Americans bought into advertising even though many of its claims were dubious or clearly misleading.

Listerine Bridesmaid
This ad was published in 1956. Duke University Libraries.

10. Little Chief, Horse, and Little Plume

These three boys were sent from the Dakota Rosebud reservation to the Carlisle Indian School in 1881 to learn the ways of white American society and stamp out their tribes’ traditions and languages. The Carlisle Indian School (operated 1879-1918) was a sad chapter in American history, and even sadder for these three boys- they all died at the school and were buried in its cemetery. In 2017, U.S. Army personnel exhumed their bodies and took them to the Winder River Reservation for a proper burial.

All three boys may be somewhere in this 1884 picture. Dickinson College.

11. Samuel Pennypacker

This guy is one of my favorite governors of Pennsylvania. Among many, many other things, he was the founder of the Pennsylvania State Archives! An avid historian and bibliophile, Pennypacker was an insatiable book collector and claimed to have bought them by the “three-bushel bag full” at auctions regularly.

Samuel Pennypacker
Pennypacker at his desk in 1906. Capitol Preservation Committee.

12. Mamie Coxey

The daughter of famed Jacob Coxey, Mamie accompanied her father and his army on their historic 1894 march on Washington D.C. Beautiful, blue-eyed, and riding a white horse, the 17 year old rode down Pennsylvania Avenue dressed as a “Goddess of Peace” as her father attempted to present a petition to Congress to help the poor and jobless. After the march was over she married Coxey’s top lieutenant, Carl Browne.

Carl and Mamie
Mamie and her husband Carl after they eloped in 1895. Massillon Museum.

13. Tom Randall

Tom Randall recorded a captivating interview in the 1930s recounting his life as a slave living in Ellicott City, Maryland. In the oral history, he talks about another slave who escaped to join the Union Army during the chaos of the Civil War, and the fierce chase from local slave hunters. Good thing he got away! The Library of Congress has an awesome collection of former slave interviews that are a fascinating read.

Howard House 2
I haven’t been able to find a picture of Randall, but he worked at the Howard Hotel (left) in Ellicott City. Ellicott City Patch.

14. Lewis Hines

History is interesting, but that doesn’t mean it has to be pleasant. Lewis Hines was a photographer who used his skills to call for social reform in the US. He is most known for taking pictures of thousands of child laborers, each with their own unique story to tell. He tirelessly documented the lives of working children on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee, which helped lead to new laws that restricted child labor practices. I did a post on telegraph messenger boys working in the early 1900s. Long hours with little pay in dangerous places is no fun for a 10 year old.

San Antonion Texas
Hines photographed these San Antonio boys in 1913. Library of Congress.

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