History on the Big Screen – Argo

By Barbara Maranzani

Hello history (and film) fans. We’re happy you’ve joined us for this week’s installment of “History on the Big Screen”. Once again, we’re exploring the real stories behind some of this year’s Academy Award—nominated films. As usual, we’ll tell you what the filmmakers got right, what they got wrong and everything else you should know to be the history know-it-all at your Oscar® party. This week, we’re decoding “Argo,” the (mostly) true story of the clandestine rescue of a group of Americans, set against the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis. Just a warning, there are spoilers ahead.

Followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini outside the occupied U.S. embassy compound, November 1979.

Followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini outside the occupied U.S. embassy compound, November 1979. (STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)

How accurate is the depiction of the taking of the U.S. embassy by Iranian militants?
According to witnesses-—including many of the 52 Americans hostages-—the film’s opening sequence accurately portrays the chaotic takeover of the embassy compound on November 4, 1979. The filmmakers utilized newsreels of the actual event interspersed with new footage to recreate the events. And while the film focuses almost entirely on the six Americans who were not taken hostage, the few scenes of Americans who remained in captivity take only a few historical licenses: The Islamic militants did put young carpet weavers to work reassembling documents shredded by Americans as the mob approached, but there is no evidence that they discovered the identities of the missing Americans this way. What you don’t see in the early part of the film, however, is that there were actually two groups of embassy workers who tried to escape–the group of six who become the focal point of the film, as well as another, smaller group. This second group never made it to safety; they were quickly apprehended by the militants and brought back to the American embassy where they remained in captivity for 444 days.

Was the Canadian film ruse the only option the Americans had to choose from?
In the movie, the U.S. government comes up with several possible scenarios to smuggle the hostages out, eventually discarding them all in favor of the Hollywood hoax. In fact, a number of different options were prepared and when Tony Mendez traveled to Tehran he presented three of them to the six American hostages. The hostages were skeptical of the other two, which involved impersonating either businessmen or schoolteachers, as was Mendez. They all felt the fictional film crew backstory was the most developed, and together with Mendez they moved forward with that scheme.

If anything is fictionalized, it’s the Hollywood stuff, right?

While Los Angeles is the land of make-believe, the movie plays it pretty straight when it comes to Hollywood’s role in the plan to spring the Americans hiding in Iran. Renowned makeup artist John Chambers really was on the CIA’s payroll. Chambers and Tony Mendez did set up a fake film company that claimed to be producing a fantasy film called “Argo.” There were ads taken out in the trade papers to make it look more convincing. And there were people waiting around to answer phone calls from curious Iranian officials should the need arise. However, the producer played by Alan Arkin is a composite of a number of media people recruited to work on the project. The movie script that becomes the launch pad for the mission was not called “Argo,” and Tony Mendez didn’t discover it. The real story of the fake movie is even more complicated. The screenplay was originally called Lord of Light, and had been adapted from a popular 1968 sci-fi book by screenwriter Barry Ira Geller. But Geller had more than just a movie in mind. Lord of Light was going to be the launching pad for a science fiction theme park he intended to build in Colorado, and his project had lots of successful talent attached: Legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby, who had co-created characters such as Captain America, the X-Men and the Hulk, designed storyboards for the film and theme park, and both author Ray Bradbury and theorist Buckminster Fuller consulted on the project. When Geller’s plans went awry amid accusations of fraud, the movie—and theme park—ideas collapsed. When Tony Mendez was searching for script to use as part of the project, it was Chambers, who had also worked with Geller, who suggested Lord of Light.

Did that nice Canadian ambassador save American lives?

The six Americans rescued from Iran meet with President Jimmy Carter.

The six Americans rescued from Iran meet with President Jimmy Carter.

Well, yes and no. The six Americans who escaped: Bob Anders, Mark and Cora Lijek, Lee Schatz and Joe and Kathy Stafford, did not rush immediately to the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. Lee Schatz split off from the group and initially went into hiding with some helpful Swedish friends. The rest of the group spent more than a week hiding out in Tehran, moving from location to location (including a few nights spent with British and New Zealand officials) before phoning a friend, Canadian consular official John Sheardown. It was Sheardown who invited them into the protection of Canadian custody. Sheardown then contacted Ken Taylor who obtained official permission to shelter the Americans for as long as necessary. The entire group didn’t even stay with Taylor, but were instead split up between the ambassador’s residence and Sheardown’s house and spent little time together. It’s Sheardown, who is not included in the movie at all, who the American workers credit with initial saving their lives.

How involved was Canada in the plot?
Our neighbors to the north actually played a far bigger role than depicted on the big screen. In “Argo,” the six hostages are shown camping out at the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor for the duration of the film, simply waiting for American assistance. In fact, Canadian officials devised some of the earliest evacuation scenarios; provided intelligence information about how to evade detection at Tehran’s airport; bought the plane tickets used to get the prisoners out; and spent weeks instructing their guests on the finer points of passing as a Canuck. And it was a Canadian consular officer who saved the day when he realized that the entry visas created by Mendez were incorrect—the CIA had failed to take into account that New Year’s is celebrated during the spring in Iran, and the U.S. documents bore the wrong year and had to be fixed at the last minute. On screen it’s the U.S. government officials who are seen questioning the rescue mission, and that happened across the border as well. Just issuing the passports that the Americans used during the ruse caused quite a stir in the Canadian government, and it took a clandestine, fractious, late-night session of Parliament, the first since World War II, to get the official go-ahead for the paperwork.

President Carter congratulates CIA operative Tony Mendez in the Oval Office.

President Carter congratulates CIA operative Tony Mendez in the Oval Office.

Were the Americans nearly caught during the escape itself?
There are a few details in the latter parts of the film, both large and small, that are purely fictitious. Tony Mendez did not take the group to a market in central Tehran to meet with Iranian officials. That would have been far too dangerous. The only time the group left their safe houses at all was for the trip to the airport that ends the film. It is true that the group did not have the necessary paperwork to get past one of the checkpoints, but the Canadians had already determined that the Iranian guards rarely tried to match that form of documentation. There was no potential glitch with airplane tickets, because in real-life the Canadians themselves had purchased the tickets, not the CIA. There was some delay in getting the group on board the Swiss air flight, but that was due to maintenance problems, not some last-minute questioning of the Americans’ true identities. In fact, after all of the groundwork the CIA and Canada had done to make both “Argo” and its film crew appear legitimate, Iranian officials never questioned them at all, let alone chased them down the tarmac. In the end, the mission went off without a hitch.

Categories: Academy Awards, Iranian Hostage Crisis, Movies

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

By History.com Staff

Today, people across America and around the world will commemorate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., the Baptist minister and social activist who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. The driving force behind watershed events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, King helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday honoring Dr. King, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed for the first time three years later.

Find out more about Dr. King’s legacy, explore his life in photos and delve deeper into the history of the civil rights movement to find out how King and other activists used nonviolent protest, civil disobedience and legal action to end segregation and pursue equality for all Americans.

Check out some exclusive MLK videos below:

Get the full story behind the March on Washington.

Find out how Dr. King’s birthday became a national holiday.

Watch footage of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march.

Martin Luther King III discusses his father’s legacy.

Categories: Civil Rights Movement, Holidays, Martin Luther King Jr.

History on the Big Screen – Lincoln

By Barbara Maranzani

We’re back with our latest installment in a series that examines the real history behind some of this year’s most honored films. This week, we’ll take a look at “Lincoln.” Find out what the movie gets right, what it gets wrong and which historical facts get obscured in the Hollywood haze.

this-year-in-history-abraham-lincolnHow realistic is the very first scene?
There’s almost no way the opening scene of the film, which shows two African-American soldiers meeting Lincoln at a Union camp, and reciting the Gettysburg Address to its author, happened. It’s a wonderful set-up, but highly unlikely. Why? Because during Lincoln’s lifetime, few Americans had even heard of the speech, let alone committed its 273 words to memory. It was only after the war that his words took on the resonance they have today. This isn’t terribly surprising when you look at the events surrounding Lincoln’s delivery of the speech in November 1863, at the dedication for the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There was no build-up to Lincoln’s speech: In fact, he wasn’t even originally scheduled to speak, and was only invited to at the last minute by one of the organizers. The real draw was meant to be Edward Everett, one of the greatest orators of the day. And Everett tried to live up to the star billing, delivering a long-winded speech that went on for more than two hours Lincoln’s speech, which lasted less than three minutes, didn’t wow the crowd—or reporters covering the event. Everett felt differently, however, going so far as to send the president a letter in which he proclaimed that Lincoln’s words would be remembered long after his own.

What’s with that voice—and the constant jokes?
When the first trailer for the film was released, one of the first things people commented on was Daniel Day-Lewis’ speaking voice. Well, here’s one place where the film has probably corrected the faux-history Hollywood has shelled out over the last 100 years. Unlike what your childhood memories of other Lincoln movies, plays and, yes, animatronic figures, might say, most historians believe Lincoln’s voice was not deep and soothing, but was actually rather high-pitched and reedy, with a pretty strong Kentucky accent. In fact, in one of his first major addresses on the national scene, at New York’s Cooper Union in 1860, newspaper articles report that his voice was so odd and off-putting that it took awhile for the audience to adjust and actually pay attention to what he was actually saying. Another thing the film gets right, according to the historical record, is Lincoln’s use of both allegorical storytelling and self-deprecating humor to put people at ease and gain their support. As a young man, Lincoln often entertained his friends and colleagues with tall tales and jokes, including the one featured in the movie about Ethan Allen, which was one of Lincoln’s favorites.

Was Lincoln always a strong supporter of the abolition of slavery?
Put quite simply, no. The movie begins in early 1865, when Lincoln has fully committed himself to getting the 13th amendment passed to formally abolish slavery in the United States. However, Lincoln, like many Americans, struggled with both the idea and reality of slavery for much of his life. While he found the practice itself immoral, he saw no easy way for America to solve the problem—either culturally or politically. In some of his early writings and speeches, he opposed the expansion of slavery, but stopped short of calling for its outright abolition. He also, at times, supported the then-popular idea of freed blacks voluntarily leaving the United States to settle in black-only colonies in Africa. Even early in the war, Lincoln went on record to state that his sole goal was the preservation of the Union stating, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” As the war went on, however, his views continued to change. With thousands of slaves fleeing to safety (and freedom) behind Union lines, and under increasing pressure from abolitionists and more radical members of his own Republican party, he was finally able to find what he saw as the right political (and moral) solution to the problem. Convinced that the Constitution granted him greatly expanded powers during wartime, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which in fact freed only a few slaves in southern territory already under Union control. As the film accurately shows, Lincoln did fear that the proclamation could easily be overturned once the war ended, leading to his full-court press to get the 13th amendment passed before it did.

Did Lincoln really bribe congressmen to get their votes?
“Bribe” might be too strong of a word, but let’s just say there were a whole lot of back-room deals going on.
As shown in the film, newly elected Pennsylvania Congressman Alexander Coffroth, whose election had been in dispute, was finally admitted to the House after he agreed to vote for the 13th amendment. Several other congressmen got plum patronage jobs in exchange for their votes—or their agreement to abstain from voting all together (lowering the number of “yes” votes needed for the bill’s passage). One congressman who switched his vote was even named ambassador to Denmark for his quick change. As for the trio of men who are hired to wrangle votes? W.N. Bilbo is based on a real Washington lobbyist, but his (and his cohort’s) role is exaggerated. In reality, it was Secretary of State William Seward and other Lincoln confidantes who handled much of the dirty work and kept track of the votes needed to pass the amendment.

How real is the depiction of Congress?
Congress was certainly a much livelier place in the 19th century, with heated debates occurring regularly. The film does take a few liberties, however. Several times, House members verbally attack each other during debates over the amendment. However, then, as now, members are not permitted to address each other directly, but rather technically address their statements to the presiding congressman, not each other. Also, when casting a final vote, neither the House nor Senate voted by state delegations; voting has always been done in alphabetical order.

Did the public really come out to see the final vote?
Yes, but not quite how the film portrays it. Several blacks crowded the House gallery on that fateful day, including one of Frederick Douglass’ sons. There were also a large number of women in attendance, which was not normally the case. However, considering the high-profile role women had played in trying to end slavery, it’s perhaps not so surprising. In fact, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who would go on to lead the fight for women’s suffrage, actually got their start in the abolitionist movement. In 1863, they helped form the Women’s Loyal National League, the first national political organization run by women. They lobbied hard for the amendment’s passage, collecting more than 400,000 signatures in its support. They were not present for the bill’s final passage—but then again, neither was Mary Todd Lincoln, contrary to what the film portrays.

Where’s Frederick Douglass in all this?
That’s what a lot of people are asking. One of the primary complaints with the film is that while the movie is focused almost exclusively on the fight to permanently free blacks from bondage, very few African Americans are featured in the film. The most glaring omission seems to be that of Frederick Douglass, the former slave turned powerful abolitionist. It was Douglass, along with other reformers—black and white—who pressured Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, allow for the enlistment of African-American troops and, later, pushed hard for a constitutional amendment formally ending slavery. Douglass was a persistent nudge on the matter, visiting Lincoln at the White House on at least three occasions, including at least once in the time period depicted in the film. Yet he’s nowhere to be found on screen. There are a few African-American figures that do make it into the final cut: William Slade and Elizabeth Keckley (sometimes spelled Keckly), both employed as servants by the Lincoln family. Both were real historical figures, but little information about their lives is provided. Slade served as both a valet and trusted messenger for both the president and his family, organizing most White House entertainments and managing the rest of the African-American staff. Following Lincoln’s assassination, he went on to serve as the first public steward of the White House under Andrew Johnson. Elizabeth Keckley has an even more fascinating background, hardly mentioned in the film. Born a slave, she managed to save enough money from her work as a seamstress to buy freedom for both her and her son, eventually establishing herself as one of Washington, D.C.’s premier dressmakers. In January 1861, she met Mary Todd Lincoln, who hired her to design the new first lady’s lavish wardrobe. Keckley and Lincoln became close friends, a relationship that would last into Lincoln’s troubled widowhood, until the publication of Keckley’s memoirs, which depicted her life as a slave and offered up personal details of her time in the Lincoln White House—greatly irritating the former first lady. As a side note, if you’re interested in the relationship between Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckley, you might enjoy this book—it’s a great read.

Join us next week, when we’ll tackle the true story behind “Argo.”

Categories: Abraham Lincoln, Academy Awards, American Civil War, Movies

History on the Big Screen – Les Misérables

By Barbara Maranzani

Hollywood loves history, as the recently announced crop of nominees for the Motion Picture Academy’s highest honor proves. Nearly half of the Best Picture nominations went to films that cover historical events. We love history, and we love movies too, so we thought we’d tackle them both at the same time. Each week, we’ll take a look at the real history behind the stories on the big screen. What really happened, what did the filmmakers get right, what did they get wrong and what should you know about the people and events these movies depict. First up: Les Misérables.

Les Misérables is about the French Revolution, right?
No. But considering how many adaptations there have been of Victor Hugo’s 1862 masterpiece in the last 150 years, it would be easy to assume that the movie depicts the most important event in French history. In reality, the conflict covered on the big screen is a small, failed insurrection that was, in the grand historical scheme of things, pretty insignificant. In fact, it’s likely that without Hugo’s novel, nobody outside of a French classroom would have even heard of the 1832 June Rebellion that serves as the climax of the film. The movie technically covers more than 30 years of French history, but few events of the era are even mentioned, let alone explained in any depth—unlike Hugo’s book, which delves much deeper into France’s tumultuous past. This leaves viewers with little understanding of just why people are caught up in revolutionary fervor.

Author Victor Hugo (Getty Images)

Author Victor Hugo (Getty Images)

What history is left out of the film?
While Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert square off against each other over the course of three decades, there’s a whole lot of history that winds up on the cutting room floor. The French Revolution and subsequent Reign of Terror, the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, the restoration of one monarchy (the Bourbons) in 1814 and the overthrow of the Bourbons for yet another monarchy—this time the Orléans—in 1830. Even in times of relative peace, there are near-constant small-scale rebellions (similar to the one shown in the film) breaking out all over the place. That’s not to say that France held a revolution every week, but it was a pretty miserable, unstable place to be most of the time. All of these things are happening in the real France, while a lot of singing and emotional hand wringing are going on in the film version. The movie finally picks up the historical narrative in 1832, just in time for the June Rebellion.

What was the June Rebellion?
Supporters of the 1830 revolution had hoped that the Orléansist regime would be more liberal than its predecessors, but were soon bitterly disappointed when the new regime proved just as hostile to the ideals of liberty as the last—there was a lot of buyer’s remorse going around. A series of strikes in 1831 crippled parts of the French economy, causing food shortages in some regions. In early 1832, a cholera epidemic swept through the country, killing more than 18,000 in Paris alone. Rumors abounded that the government, in an attempt to quell political dissent among the poor, was poisoning the wells of the slums (they weren’t). As shown in the movie, a group of rebels (mostly students, but not all) used the opportunity of the June 1832 death of General Jean Maximilien Lamarque as a rallying cry and call to arms. Lamarque was a military leader who had once fought alongside Napoleon and initially supported the Orléans monarchy before turning against its reactionary leaders, which earned him the admiration of the student leaders depicted in Les Misérables.

Illustration depicting 1832 June Rebellion

Illustration depicting 1832 June Rebellion

Did the rebellion really happen that way?
The group depicted in the film is based on real opposition leaders, though the characters themselves are fiction. The film is also pretty accurate in its depiction of the rebellion itself. In reality, it was scattered and disorganized—because it had to be. French law prohibited the assembly of more than 20 people, a statute directly aimed at potential revolutionaries. The barricades really did go up that fast, some in less than 20 minutes. The support for the rebellion from their fellow French that its leaders were relying on failed to materialize. And very, very quickly all of the barricades—save one—fell to the French army or were abandoned. In less than 12 hours, just one outpost remained standing, which was soon overrun by the French army on June 6. Nearly 100 leaders of the insurrection were killed, and another 300 wounded. Many of those who survived were later tried for treason and executed. Both the book and movie end their stories there, but the 1832 rebellion was just the beginning of a much larger movement underfoot. Sixteen years after the events that cap off Les Misérables, yet another revolution swept through France, finally doing away with the Orléans regime in favor of a government led by Louis-Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. Initially a popularly elected leader, he would soon lead a coup d’état that found him crowned emperor (as Napoleon III) of the newly created Second Empire. We know, it’s complicated.

Front cover of first edition of Les Misérables

Front cover of first edition of Les Misérables (Getty Images)

Why did Hugo write about such an unimportant moment in history?
Hugo had a personal connection to the events of 1832. When fighting broke out on June 5, he was writing in a nearby garden when he heard shots ring out. Rushing to the scene, he was forced to take cover in an alleyway as the two sides began trading fire. He was trapped there, in the middle of the fighting, for nearly an hour before he was able to escape unharmed. Already an ardent supporter of the republican goals, he found himself further caught up in their cause, and eventually he too would take up arms during the 1848 Revolution, finding himself positioned at the barricades just as the student leaders in the movie do. It was around this time that Hugo, already a popular poet, finally began work on Les Misérables—a process that would take more than a decade. When word got out that the author was working on a grand epic covering the last 50 years of French history, nearly everyone’s curiosity was piqued. Two years before a single word was published, newspapers around the world, including The New York Times, were discussing the book. When the first parts of it finally came out in 1862, it caused an immediate sensation. In Paris, armed guards were called in to control unruly crowds who swarmed bookstores to get their copies. The book was a worldwide smash, and despite a few negative reviews from critics and fellow authors, Hugo’s reputation as one of the 19th centuries greatest authors was solidified.

Illustration from 1862 first edition of Les Misérables

Illustration from first edition, featuring the character Cosette (Getty Images)

Can’t get enough of the story? There’s a lot more of it out there.
Les Misérables, it would seem, was destined to become a phenomena from the start. The book been fodder for popular entertainment for more than a century, and has been adapted to nearly every medium. It’s been turned into one-act plays as well as massive stage epics (both with and without singing revolutionaries). There have been radio adaptations, including a seven-part series written and produced by a 22-year-old Orson Welles. More than 60 film and television versions have been made, in a dozen languages. There have even been video games and a series of animated films produced by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s. Yep, somewhere out there is a claymation version of the story featuring Comrade Cosette.

Categories: Academy Awards, France, Movies

Hatfields & McCoys: Back in the News

By Barbara Maranzani

It’s the most famous family feud in American history. And now, 125 years after its end, a recent archeological find has put the Hatfield and McCoy families back in the spotlight. Last week, researchers announced the discovery of what they believe is the first physical evidence of the conflict’s deadliest chapter—the New Year’s Massacre of 1888.

In the decades following the American Civil War, tensions between the West Virginia-based Hatfields and the Kentucky McCoys had periodically erupted with deadly violence as the two families feuded over land, jobs, and even divided family loyalties. On January 1, 1888, a group of Hatfields, led by the son and uncle of family patriarch William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, ambushed the Pike County, Kentucky, home of Randolph McCoy. “Ole Randall” escaped into the woods, but his family wasn’t so lucky: Son Calvin and daughter Alifair were killed in the crossfire, and his wife Sarah was badly beaten. The attack thrust the long-simmering feud into the national headlines. After a series of legal wranglings that went all the way to the Supreme Court, eight men were sentenced to life in prison for their role in the massacre, while another, Ellison “Cottontop” Mounts was hanged—despite the belief of many that the mentally-challenged Mounts was merely a scapegoat. The massacre and subsequent trials seemed to finally accomplish what law enforcement officials had been unable to do—put an end to the bloody conflict that had festered between the two families for more than 20 years.

So, what exactly did the excavation turn up? A stash of bullets—believed to have been fired by the McCoys in self-defense—buried in a bluff overlooking the family home. In addition to the bullets, researchers also located ceramic shards, pieces of glass and charred wood, which they claim were damaged during the fiery attack. Additional research uncovered another link to tale: The land is currently owned by Hatfield descendant Bob Scott, but public records indicate that in 1888, the plot was owned by Randolph and Sarah “Sally” McCoy. Researchers hope to uncover additional historical material during future excavations.

Get the full story behind the feud here. And check out some of our exclusive Hatfields & McCoys content below:

Hatfields & McCoys: Who’s Who
Find out more about both families with our interactive family trees, which includes brief bios and exclusive video for all the major participants in one of America’s most famous family feuds.

Hatfields & McCoys Trivia
Think you know you know all there is to know about Devil Anse and Ol’ Randall? Test your knowledge of all things Hatfield and McCoy with our interactive trivia game.

Find out why violence came so easily to the Hatfield & McCoy families.

Watch the cast and crew discuss the significance of this epic feud.

Categories: Hatfields & McCoys, Interactives, Videos

Building the Brooklyn Bridge

By History.com Staff

On January 3, 1870 construction began on the 1,600-foot-long Brooklyn Bridge, spanning the East River and connecting the New York boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. An engineering marvel, the bridge was designed by legendary architect John Augustus Roebling. When Roebling died just weeks before construction got underway, his son Washington—a decorated soldier who had fought for the Union during the American Civil War—assumed control of the project. Later that year, Washington himself would be incapacitated after developing decompression sickness, also known as the “bends.” His wife Emily oversaw the day-to-day construction of the bridge until its completion in 1883.

Find out more about the construction the Brooklyn Bridge, which was once nicknamed the “eighth wonder of the world,” below.

Linking the borough of Brooklyn with Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge stands as a marvel of engineering.

Categories: Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

The Emancipation Proclamation, 150 Years Ago

By History.com Staff

On September 22, 1862, soon after the Union victory at Antietam and the American Civil War raged, Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” While the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave, it was an important turning point in the war, transforming the fight to preserve the nation into a battle for human freedom. To commemorate the anniversary, we wanted to highlight some of the related features, videos and articles available on History.com

5 Things You May Not Know About Lincoln, Slavery and Emancipation
Earlier this year, we marked the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s preliminary Proclamation, examining five facts about the 16th U.S. president and his policies on slavery.

Civil War 150 Interactive
The CIVIL WAR 150 is an immersive online experience, featuring infographics, historian picks and topical information, that highlights the 150 people, places, events and technology that defined America’s greatest conflict.

What you think you know about the Civil War may not be the whole truth.

Find out what event turned the tide of the Civil War.

What was the lasting legacy of the Civil War?

Categories: Abraham Lincoln, American Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation

The Best of 2012 on History.com

By History.com Staff

It’s been quite a busy year for us here at History.com. We’ve spent the last 12 months bringing you all the latest history news, hundreds of exclusive videos and interactive features, tons of fascinating facts and figures, new mobile apps and much, much more. As we wrap up the year, here’s a look back at some of our favorite content from 2012. Thanks for a wonderful year—see you in 2013!

Bet You Didn’t Know

We bet you didn’t know that fact you just saw. We didn’t either until we started working on one of our favorite features for this year—the new Bet You Didn’t Know™ interactive, a collection of hundreds of fascinating facts covering all aspects of history. The interactive lets you browse facts at random, sort by theme, share with friends and even check out the BYDK Top 20, our most popular facts. Check it out and get ready to impress your friends!

Infographics, Infographics and More Infographics

We just love infographics—and we get pretty excited every time we start a new one. We got ready for the premiere of the new series Shark Wranglers by telling you everything you needed to know about Great White Sharks and explored one of history’s infamous maritime disasters with Titanic by the Numbers. We followed the epic journey of Mankind The Story of All of Us with a weekly infographic series that covered pyramids, ancient Rome, the story of money and the age of exploration, before wrapping up with a closer look at our modern world with Mankind by the Numbers. And, of course, we always bring you the greatest facts about your favorite holidays—this year it was Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

You Want Apps? We’ve Got Apps!



This spring we launched the HISTORY Here App, an interactive travel guide to thousands of historic locations across the United States. The easy-to-use interface and dynamic maps bring history to life anywhere in the country with videos, images and descriptions. We followed that up with a companion mobile version of Bet You Didn’t Know, which includes all of our cool facts plus exclusive video, photos and interactives we produced for the series Mankind The Story of All of Us. And just last week, we launched the biggest one of all—the new HISTORY App. Now you can watch your favorite HISTORY shows—including Pawn Stars, Swamp People and much more—whenever and wherever you want. Get full episodes, clips and topical videos, all available for free! New video is added daily so you’ll always have something to watch. Go ahead, you can thank us.

Hear History Unfold

Featuring more than 600 clips covering the worlds of politics, sports, science, entertainment and more, our all-new Speeches and Audio section is the place to hear history’s most iconic moments and important events unfold.

Deconstructing Our World: One Place at a Time

History: Deconstructed gives you all the facts and figures on history’s most famous places, statues and structures. This year alone we tackled the Taj Mahal, Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam. We also got you ready for the Summer Olympics with a look at two London landmarks—Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. We even explored the history of our most beloved icons with American Flag: Deconstructed.

Fresh Franchises

Blog- History Lists
Every day we bring you the latest info on new discoveries, important anniversaries and the history behind today’s headlines. But one article a day just isn’t enough. So this year we’ve branched out, expanding our offerings with four new franchises. Now with Hungry History you can explore food facts from the past and get the true story behind your favorite dishes. HISTORY Lists lets you count your way through history with eye-opening lineups of events, figures, facts and more. Watch us debunk myths, reveal the truth and get all your burning history questions answered with Ask HISTORY. And, of course, there’s the very HISTORY blog you’re already reading, where we highlight special features, must-see links, fun facts and more.

Categories: Uncategorized

Seasons Greetings from History.com

By History.com Staff

All of us here at History.com wish our fans a safe, healthy and happy holiday season. In that spirit, here’s some of our favorite Christmas content for you to enjoy when you’re done unwrapping your presents. Happy Holidays!

Christmas by the Numbers
Did you know the U.S. produces 1.76 billion candy canes each year? Get facts and stats about Christmas traditions in this infographic.

The History of Christmas
Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature.

The Royal Roots of the American Christmas Tree
Find out how an American holiday tradition was launched by a fashionable British queen celebrating an old German custom.

The Delicious History of the Yule Log – Hungry History
‘Tis the season for rich food traditions, including that of the Christmas Yule log.

7 Historical Events That Took Place on Christmas – HISTORY Lists
Get the facts on seven famous historical events that fell on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Below, check out some of our favorite Christmas videos.

Did you know Christmas wasn’t always celebrated on December 25th? Get the whole story behind the holiday.

Take a journey to the northernmost point on earth with North Pole: Deconstructed.

Find out more about some truly strange Christmas traditions.

Find out how to make fruitcake, a quintessential Christmas dessert.

Categories: Christmas, Holidays, Infographics, Videos

Mankind The Story of All of Us: Week 6 Preview

By History.com Staff

The series finale of Mankind The Story of All of Us airs this Tuesday at 9/8c. This week, we’re taking a closer look at our world today—who we are and where we’re headed. In that spirit, here’s some of our favorite content for this week’s episode: New Frontiers.

Mankind By The Numbers
Did you know that 1 out of every 12 people on Earth speak Mandarin and that 2.3 million Americans have the last name Smith? Find out more about our modern world with this new infographic.

Below, check out some of this week’s web exclusives videos.

Experience the story of Mankind in 2 Minutes.

Find out why penicillin was one of the most important discoveries in history.

Get the facts on the technology behind the Titanic.

Categories: Uncategorized