Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters

I have a truly ridiculous amount of history books on my shelf that I haven’t managed to get around to reading yet. To be fair, I also have a ridiculous amount of books. I’m told this is a common affliction and that I don’t need to worry about it being serious. However, I want to get that “not read yet” shelf down to a more manageable size. So I’m setting myself a goal- one book a month. Each month I’ll read one of my unread books and write up a review here about said book. Should be easy enough, right? Any links to the books are affiliate links, and I’ll receive a small payment for any books you purchase through the links.

Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters.

Nuclear symbol

June’s book was Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters by Serhii Plokhy. As it says right in the title, Serhii Plokhy takes a close look at six of the world’s largest nuclear disasters. Plokhy is an extraordinary author. He’s well established as a historian. Currently, he is a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard, where he also serves as director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. This isn’t his first time looking at nuclear disasters either. He’s written at least two other manuscripts about nuclear history. Plokhy is one of the gifted historians who can not only research, but write his findings in such a way that the public reads and enjoys his writing. I know I thoroughly enjoyed Atoms and Ashes, and I’m certainly going to purchase more of Plokhy’s works.

The Disasters

Plokhy separates his books by diaster. There are six that are examined. They are The Castle Bravo disaster, Kyshtym, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chornobyl, and Fukushima. Personally, I was amazed at the depth of research Plokhy was able to pack into each section. Plokhy was able to maintain this level of research even for the Soviet-era disasters. This is despite the Soviet penchant for secrecy regarding the nuclear programs.

Plokhy does a deep dive into the history of each disaster. Not just the actual event, but the history of the area, facility, personnel, etc. He touches on political, societal, cultural, and historical influences that may have contributed to the events. This does make for a long read, but Plokhy is able to tie it all together in a way that’s easy to understand and digest. He doesn’t shy away from the human element, either. In some cases, he shows exactly what the people on the scene were seeing, hearing and feeling. With the Three Mile Island section, the confusion and terror felt by those in the surrounding area were made extremely clear. In the last section, on the Fukushima disaster, you could tangibly feel the helplessness and frustration of the Prime Minister and his team, as well as the utter terror and resolve of those at the plant.

Fukushima Plant after the disaster.
Digital Globe, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Science

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in some scientific history manuscripts where the authors shy away a bit from the science. Plokhy happily avoids this. It’s easy to tell that he has a solid grasp of nuclear mechanics. Thankfully, he also realizes that most people do not have a good grasp of nuclear mechanics. He weaves the science into the history, explaining as he goes along what went wrong and why. He compares reactor types, fuel and coolant considerations, and much more. I’ve never had a great understanding of physics and chemistry, but Plohky manages to make it easy enough that the non-science types will realize not just what happened, but how dangerous it could have been.

In the Prologue, Plokhy goes over the various measurements used to measure radiation. The one thing I would change is the measure systems Plokhy uses. He uses the measurement systems used at the time of each event, rather than standardizing the units across the book. I kept having to flip back to the Prologue to check the measurements.

The Politics

Nuclear power is fundamentally a political issue. There are those who are for nuclear power as a green solution to climate change. There are those that are against nuclear power because of the danger. Plokhy tries, and mainly succeeds in keeping his opinions and current politics to the prologue and closing. He does seem to be against nuclear power, and after reading about the various problems and events, I’m inclined to agree.

The one common thread in every disaster is the human element. In many of the disasters, the systems worked exactly as designed- but due to human error or misunderstanding, the reactions went critical. Its these human errors that are the most terrifying part of the book. The best systems in the world were unable to prevent some of the worst disasters possible. Undertraining, greed, corners cut due to budgets, and incompetent operators are perhaps the true horror Plokhy points out. Radiation is a common fear, as is the possible explosive power of a plant in the middle of a meltdown. But the human element that can never be completely erased from any scenario, is the actual terror hiding behind each of the disasters.

My Recommendation

If it isn’t clear from the abundant praise above, I highly recommend this book. I would not recommend this book for those who are sensitive to disaster scenarios or have a phobia of radiation/nuclear. This was an intense but enjoyable read. Not really beach book material, but perhaps a long weekend read.

Want a copy? Check out the book on Amazon! Link below not showing up? Click here!

Want some more Horrifying History?

Check out our article on the Birthing Spinner! Women everywhere are quite glad that this birthing technique never caught on….

Mansfield Bars

Mansfield Bars are an incredible, yet simple safety device added to tractor-trailers. I can guarantee you’ve seen them. If you’ve seen a tractor-trailer, then you’ve seen one of the most important safety innovations made to trailers. So, what is a Mansfield Bar, and what exactly makes them historical?

What is a Mansfield Bar?

Attribution:  Mike Mozart via Flickr. Red circle added by me. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/38823760262/in/photostream/

Simply put, a Mansfield bar is a large metal bar added to the back of a trailer. They’re also called underride bars or underride guards. Many have red and white paint, although I have seen them without the paint as well. While these look like a handy way to climb up into the trailer, they are actually an incredibly important safety feature.

These bars help stop cars from sliding under the trailer during a crash. If a car rear-ends a trailer without these, there is a high chance the car will be crushed under the trailer. The car will sustain much more damage. And as the bottom of the trailers are right at head height, there’s a much higher chance of dying.

The Mansfield bar catches the car before it can go under the trailer, preventing the cabin of the car from being crushed by the bottom of the trailer. In an era where rear-end accidents are on the rise due to distracted driving, these bars have likely saved hundreds of lives.

Why are they called Mansfield bars?

Before 1967, you may not have seen underride protection. Previously in 1953, the federal government mandated the use of underride guards. However, this legislation had no rules about the strength of the guards, how they were to be attached, or how much kinetic energy they had to absorb.

That began to change on June 29th, 1967. Jayne Mansfield, an up and coming actress, was quickly becoming the darling of Hollywood. She woul never get the chance to be remembered for her acting skills.

Mansfield, her lawyer, driver, and children were driving in New Orleans. It was late and dark. A semi had slowed down on US 90 in reaction to a cloud of mosquito fog. The driver didn’t see the semi, slamming the Buick into the rear of the truck. The Buick slid under the trailer, crushing the cabin. Jayne Mansfield, her lawyer, and her driver were all killed. Her children survived the crash through luck. They had been laying down, asleep, in the rear. As they were not sitting up, they were not crushed. The children were injured and rushed to the hospital. Two of her four dogs were killed as well.

The crash was described as “horrific” by witnesses. The actress was described as “decapitated” but this was refuted by later reports. In actuality, she suffered a shearing injury to her head, causing more of a partial decapitation.

Lake Charles American-Press June 29, 1967

Her death was a shock to the nation. She was being groomed as a counter to Marilyn Monroe. Her grisly death did help spur on greater safety regulations for tractor-trailers. Not long after her death were the underride guards mandated by the government. But that’s not quite the end of the story.

The Story Continues

Despite the mandate for underride guards, many of the Mansfield bars were largely worthless. They were apt to crumble when hit. This made them not nearly as effective as they should have been. They were also not that effective when part of the rear is involved. In 1998, additional rules were put in place. These involved how strong the bars must be and standardized the measurements of the guards.

The IIHS, (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) noticed this in the early 2010’s and began to push for improved safety. They recommended again strengthening the bars and designing ways to ensure the safety of car drivers in low speed crashes and in crashes where the car does not hit the rear dead on.   In 2017 the IIHS started to award the manufacturers for enhancing the safety of these bars.

Others are still not satisfied with underride safety. 2017 also saw the revival of a push for complete underride protection. This would involve side guards as well as the now-standard rear guard.

In 2021, a bill was put before Congress to require side underride guards. This is the third time such a bill was written to mandate the side under guards. The bill is still working its way toward being passed.

As someone who spends thousands of miles on the road each year, additional safety measures are very welcome. With any luck, we won’t need to wait for a celebrity to be killed before new measures are put in place.

Want to Read More about Innovation?

Check out our post on US Patent Number One!

Horrifying History: The Birthing Spinner

Throughout history, there have been some inventions that are just plain horrifying. Some of these made it to production and were actually sold and used. Others, thankfully, never really saw the light of day. The “Birthing Spinner” is one that never went into production, and I’m sure that every woman will thank god for that.

The “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force“, patent US3216423A, was filed in 1963 by George and Charlotte Blonsky. It was supposed to be a device to help aid in the birthing process. Instead, it seems to be more of a medieval torture device.

How It’s Supposed to Work

Blonsky’s work is based far more on physics than on actual biology. The premise is this: A woman in labor may not have enough muscle to actually give birth to the child. So to help support the mother and push the baby out of her, Blonsky turns to centrifugal force. A mother in labor is strapped to a large rotating table and a mesh net strapped to her waist. Her head would be near the center of the table. As the machine spins, the centrifugal force would place additional force on the baby in the birth canal, forcing the child out faster and with less strain on the mother. No personnel were allowed near the table while it was spinning. So the net, having been strapped in place, was supposed to catch the baby.

Once born and in the net, the weight of the baby would trigger a bell and activate a lever to stop the motion of the table.

A drawing of the invention from the patent. This does NOT look comfy. At all.

Thank God the Birthing Spinner Never was Used

This is horrifying on several layers. A woman, in labor, is supposed to be strapped down onto a table to be spun around until the baby pops out. She’s basically on her own on the table. Remember that no personnel are allowed near while the table is spinning. So there is no doctor or midwife monitoring the mother or child. Then the baby pops out, into a bag, a bell rings, and the table stops. The doctor can raise or lower the table for the “optimum angle” of birth. Personally, I’d be terrified of ever giving birth if that’s how it’s supposed to go.

At the end of the patent, Blonsky mentions that “the supplementary forces supplied by the patient are zero either because she is too weak to render any assistance at all, or has lost consciousness.”

There is one good thing about this invention. A pillow is provided for the expectant mother.

Strangely enough, George and Charlotte Blonsky never had any children. I wonder why?

Want to read more?

Sign up for our newsletter! Want more about a more reasonable invention? Check out our article on The Mechanical Pencil!

Final Call- Last Public Payphone Removed in NYC

It’s the end of an era. On Monday, May 23, the last public payphone was removed from its home in Times Square. The removal was in the works for quite a while now. In 2015, New York City began removing public payphone booths. They’re being replaced with LinkNYC kiosks, which offer free public Wi-Fi, charging ports, 911 buttons, and screens with maps and other services. Just like the old payphones, they help generate revenue for the city. So far, over 6,000 payphones have been removed, with the one in Times Square being the last standard public payphone.

John-Paul Joseph Henry jiphenry, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

No more will Superman be able to bound into a payphone booth to quickly change outfits, at least in New York. However, the city is keeping four full length “Superman” booths in the Upper West Side, so perhaps Superman doesn’t need to worry too much. Payphones aren’t completely gone from the city. Those that are on private property or privately operated may still be standing. Rumor has it that some of the phones in the subway stations still work as well.

Where is the Last Public Payphone Going?

Thankfully this is not the final end for this pre-digital relic. The Museum of the City of New York has opened an exhibit called “Analog City.” While I haven’t had a chance to check it out, this exhibit looks to be chock full of nostalgia. The payphone that was removed on Monday will be finding new life as a part of this exhibit. The exhibit looks at the city before the digital era, specifically between 1870 and 1970. It opened this past Friday, and is already quite popular. You can read the museum’s description of the exhibition here

What about Other Payphones?

Payphones across the US have been disappearing for decades. In 1999, there were over 2 million payphones scattered across the US. As of 2018, a bare 100,000 were estimated to still exist. Payphones as a whole have had a short life. The first payphone, created by William Gray and George Long, was installed in Connecticut in 1889. By 1902 there were over 80,000 payphones. 1995 saw the peak of the payphone business, with an estimated 2.6 million across the nation. Just a short 6 years later, companies began leaving the payphone business and payphones began to fall out of use.

Even famous payphones weren’t immune. The Mojave Phone Booth, made famous by Godfrey Daniels, was destroyed in 2000. (But if you still want the magic of the Mojave Phone Booth, you can still call the number.)

Amazingly enough, you can still purchase a payphone if you would want one! Payphone.com, based in Houston TX, is still providing payphones. There are pushes to save and conserve public payphones, and some states, like Indiana, will let you request a payphone be installed if there is a “Compelling Public Need”.

Perhaps all is not yet lost for the remaining 100,000 payphones in the US, although time is nearly up for those in NYC

Popcorn History

Freshly popped and buttered popcorn is practically synonymous with movies. When you think of going to the movies, one of the first things that pops into your head is popcorn. If you’re like me, you may consider going to the movies just to get that authentic movie theatre popcorn. While the marriage of popcorn and the movies is somewhat recent, popcorn is much older than you would think! Popcorn has a long history. People have been enjoying popcorn for well over a thousand years.

Popcorn- more history than you would think
Modern popcorn, popped and buttered
Logicaldisaster~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

The First Popcorn

Popcorn is definitely an American invention. While corn is a staple of many diets now, it was completely unknown outside of the America’s before Columbus accidentally discovered the western continents. Europeans didn’t have corn until well after trade was established with the Native Americans. Corn, and by extension popcorn, had a history with Native Americans that goes back thousands of years.

The oldest ears of popcorn are over 6,000 years old! Archeologists believe that some of the first uses of wild corn was popping. Researchers in Peru found corn cobs stuffed with flowery popped kernels in 2012. Previously researchers thought popped corn was bout 4,000 years old. This was based on small cobs found in Western Mexico.

Popcorn was an important part of the Native American diet. Aztecs used popcorn in important rituals. They also dressed statues of the gods with jewelry adorned with popcorn.

Other people in the Americas relied on popcorn. Researchers throughout Central and South America have found evidence of popcorn consumption. Even within North America, tribes from current day Mexico as far north as the Iroquois near the Great Lakes enjoyed popped corn! French explorers had their first taste of popcorn when they traded with the Iroquois to get through the harsh winters. Colonists to the New World quickly became dependent on corn, and by extension popcorn.

Modern Popcorn

Popcorn was originally not quite as tasty as it is today. It was smaller and had a more “parchment” like feel and taste. As different types of corn developed, new varieties were made to improve popcorn. Households would pop their own corn over a flame- no popcorn machines had been invented yet. That would change in 1885. Charles Cretors created the first commercial popcorn machine. It was on wheels and used a gas burner. He took the cart out onto the streets of Chicago, popping and selling corn to passers. His popcorn was an instant hit.

People quickly started to purchase the carts as well as the popcorn. They started setting up outside movie theatres, at fairs, and anywhere people would gather. Movie theatres originally refused to sell popcorn. Popcorn wasn’t sold inside the theatres at first. People considered popcorn too messy. That mindset didn’t last too long. Movie theatres that sold popcorn saw far more business. During the Great Depression, it was one of the few snacks that was still affordable.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e2/Cinema_popcorn_bucket.jpg

Sugar became heavily rationed during World War II. Candy was off the table for many Americans as prices skyrocketed. Despite this, popcorn was still affordable. It didn’t use any sugar and popcorn consumption tripled during the war.

Microwavable Popcorn

Popcorn was immensely popular during the war, but by 1950 people were staying home to watch their brand new TVs. With the advent of television, movie theatres began to lose customers. As they lost customers, so did popcorn begin to lose popularity.

Thankfully, popcorn wasn’t about to be left to the history books. Percy Spencer discovered how to generate microwaves in the 1940’s and began to work on microwave ovens soon after. By the 1980’s, microwave ovens had taken off in popularity. The popcorn industry quickly adapted. 1981 saw the first microwavable popcorn. Refrigeration was required as it had actual better. Other versions came frozen instead. By 1984 a shelf-stable version was created. Americans bought $250 million worth of popcorn by 1986.

Orville Redenbacher created the popcorn we’re familiar with today. An agricultural scientist by trade, his popcorn expanded twice as much as any on the market.

Today, people are more inventive with their popcorn. Many different seasonings and additives are available so you can mimic whatever flavor you’d like with your popcorn. Personally, I’m a fan of the regular old-school movie theatre butter popcorn.

What’s your favorite popcorn flavor? Have any ideas for our next article? Let us know in the comments!

Want to read more?

Want to read more about popcorn history? Check out the websites below!

https://www.thespruceeats.com/the-history-of-popcorn-1328768

https://www.popcorn.org/All-About-Popcorn/History-of-Popcorn

https://www.seriouseats.com/popcorn-history-movie-theaters– This one is by far the most comprehensive.

Interested in food history?

Then you should definitely check out our article on the first beer can! Canning beer is way harder than you would think, and it wasn’t until the 1930’s that we managed it!

Remember to like and share this article! Every view helps. Want to know as soon as we publish a new article? Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter!

Cool Website of the Week! May 15 2022

Every week I like to post an interesting history website. Because honestly, there is a whole heck of a lot of history and only one of me. Not to mention that there are a multitude of really cool websites out there that just don’t get enough love. Sometimes these are amazing resources lovingly curated over decades. Other sites show a new way of looking at history. Some sites show the parts of history that are almost never seen. This week’s website definitely falls in the third category. The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things is definitely both of those things. It’s both interesting, and ridiculous.

The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

This website is awesome for those who have a love for the weird. Think about how strange people are today. People were just as weird, if not weirder in the past. Dr. Chelsea Nichols, the creator and main writer on this site, shares her love of the strange and wonderful world of curiosities. This is a side of history that is rarely if ever, taught about in school. Dr. Nichols originally started the site in 2011 and relaunched it in 2019.

Ever see some vintage ads for leeches? Do you know the importance of Marie Antoinette’s lost shoe? Want to see a witch in a bottle? This site is absolutely for you. I was supposed to be working on this week’s other posts but ended up spending about an hour looking through this virtual museum. My personal favorite was “The Nun’s Backside”, which had me laughing for a good few minutes.

If you happen to have a half-hour and a love of the peculiar, I’d definitely take a look at the Museum of the Ridiculously Interesting.

Is the link above not working? Try here:

https://ridiculouslyinteresting.com/

Want to read about more history? Check out our article on the Mechanical Pencil!

US Patent Number 1

Every year, the US Patent and Trademark Office issues thousands of patents. In fact, just last year they issued patent 11 million. Patents are an incredibly important part of the economy. They prevent anyone else from making, distributing, or selling an invention without permission for a set period of time. Inventors and innovators race to be the first to file a patent for new inventions. Patents are far older than most people think. The first patent recognized is from 1421. The government in Florence issued it for a new style barge. Patents are important enough that the Founding Fathers of the United States included patents in the Constitution. The Patent Office was created in 1790, and US Patent Number 1 was issued.

The First US Patent

The first US Patent was issued in 1790, not long after the US Patent and Trademark Office was created. George Washington signed the patent on July 31, 1790. A copy of the patent is below.

A copy of the First US Patent number 1.
A copy of the First US Patent number 1

The First US Patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins. He created a new recipe for potash. Potash is a mix of minerals and chemicals used in fertilizer. It’s pretty interesting that the first patent granted in the United States was for fertilizer. It highlights that the US was mainly agrarian when the country was first founded. Farmers are still using potash in their fertilizer to this day.

1790 had only 3 patents issued. The second patent, applied for by Joseph Sampson, was for a new way to manufacture candles. The last, applied for by Oliver Evans, was for an automated flour mill.

Despite how few patents were issued that first year, Americans are an inventive people and applications for patents quickly piled up. The young government placed all the records in temporary storage. A new records building was in the process of being built in 1836 to handle the mass of paperwork. The temporary storage caught on fire, destroying nearly all the records in one fell swoop.

The Second US Patent Number 1

With the original warehouse of documents gone, the US Patent and Trademark Office started a numbering system. The Office designated all patents before this point as X patents. You can see the X-number listed in the top right corner of the image above. So the US Patent and Trademark Office issued the “Second” first US Patent to John Ruggles. This is “US Patent Number 1”. Ruggles designed traction wheels for locomotives. The Office granted the patent to him on July 13, 1836. His wheels helped the train to keep traction in bad weather, rather than slipping on the rails.

Thankfully, recordkeeping is much more secure and there is little chance of Ruggles losing his US Patent Number 1 designation.

Want to hear more about the hidden history of everything?

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter!

Want to learn more about US inventions?

Check out our article on the Beer Can!

Archeology News- Zeus Temple Found in Egypt

On April 25th, The Tourism and Antiquities Ministry in Egypt announced the discovery of a temple in the Sinai Peninsula. Archeologists believe the temple is dedicated to Zeus Kasios. Archeologists found the temple in the Tell el-Farma archaeological site in northwestern Sinai.

A map showing the Sinai peninsula where the Zeus temple was found
A Map showing the Sinai Peninsula, where the Zeus Temple was found .

History of the Site

The Tell el-Farma site was occupied from about the late Pharaonic period, which ended in 332 BC, until the much more recent Christian and Islamic periods. Excavations at the site have been ongoing since 1900. French Egyptologist Jean Clédat had originally found the Greek writing that showed that a temple may have been present. He was unable to locate or unearth the temple.

Now that archeologists have excavated the temple, they believe that a great earthquake destroyed the gates to the temple. These gates are where archeologists were finally able to enter the temple. Large granite slabs show where worshippers might have climbed to the temple.

Worshippers used the site for a long while. There’s evidence that Emperor Hadrian renovated the temple at one point.

Archeologists believe that the temple allowed worshippers in Egypt to worship Zeus Kasios. Zeus Kasios is a specific version of Zeus that was worshipped only in this area. There are no references to Zeus Kasios found in Greece. In fact, it’s likely that this version wasn’t worshipped until the Ptolemaic period in Egypt. For a great overview of Zeus Kasios, check out the paper written by Alexandra Diez de Olivera on this topic. If you’re having problems with the link, try here:

https://www.academia.edu/26985581/Zeus_Kasios_or_the_Interpretatio_Graeca_of_Baal_Saphon_in_Ptolemaic_Egypt_Autor_es

The cult was well known long before the temple was found. Finding the temple is a significant achievement. It is likely the center of the cult of Zeus Kaisos. The earthquake that destroyed the gates of the temple may have also flooded the region.

Finding the temple is a great achievement by the team at Tell el-Farma, and I look forward to seeing more of this great temple.

Don’t forget to like and subscribe!

Want to learn more about ancient traditions? Check out our article on Egg Painting!

Cool Website of the Week! April 25th, 2022

Every week I like to take the time to focus on other history websites. History is a huge topic, and I know that I’ll never be able to cover everything that I find interesting. Even if I quit my job, became a hermit of epic proportions, and dedicated my life to writing, I’d never be able to touch on everything awesome about history.

So each week I showcase a cool website related to history. These websites sometimes have fun ways of looking at history. Other times they’re a way to look at pictures and videos from the past. And sometimes, like this week’s website, they’re a niche website not easily found through Google.

This week’s website isn’t quite as fun as last week’s Monument Explorer, but it is an amazing resource for those interested in US Naval history.

NavSource Naval History: Photographic History of the US Navy

I tend to really enjoy websites that have historical pictures, and boy this site delivers! The NavSource Naval History is a huge archive of naval photos. While the focus tends to be on photos, this site is way more than just that.

Navy ships departing Norfolk, Cool website of the week
DVIDSHUB, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As they describe on their “About” Page, NavSource was designed to be “A one stop Naval Resource Center, where visitors could find information and images of ships of the USN”

This site is an amazing database of all US Navy ships. Not just what you would normally consider ships, but any vessel that fell under the US Navy. This includes “Ridgid Airships”, auxiliary craft, lightships, and more. For each ship, there is a lot of information available. Each ship page begins with the insignia, any awards the ship had earned, and the ship’s specifications. From there they list the operational details of the ship, then the photographs.

For some ships, they are able to show some documents as well. It’s highly dependent on the age of the ship and the information that’s available. Despite this, every ship has a huge amount of information.

They also show any memorabilia from the ship, such as patches, lighters, belt buckles, etc. A listing of the commanding officers throughout the ship’s career follows, as well as a link to the ship’s listing on the Naval History and Heritage Command website.

Who runs NavSource?

Volunteers run NavSource and they are a pure non-profit. They don’t accept donations, and you won’t find any ads on their website. Not only can you find a massive amount of information on their site, but you can email them directly with questions or for more information. This site is old, at least for the internet. It was started in the 1990’s, and is still being updated. That takes an amazing amount of dedication and work. This cool website has been decades in the making.

Paul R. Yarnall founded the site in 1996.

If you have any interest in US Navy History, I heartily recommend checking out the NavSource website or reaching out to the team of volunteers.

Have problems with the link in the heading above? Try it here:

https://www.navsource.org/

Interested in more naval history? Check out 5 Lighthouses in NJ you can actually visit!

Never miss a post! Subscribe to our newsletter and get an email every time we post. We showcase a new Cool Website every week!

Like what we post? Remember to like and share!

Cool Website of the Week! April 18, 2022

Blue Background with various monuments, based on the cool website for this week.

There is a whole lot to history. Think about it, modern humans have been around for nearly 300,000 years. The oldest known tools, from before modern humans, dates back 3.3 million years. Even if we only consider written history, that gives us over 5,000 years to look at. That’s a whole heck of a lot of history.

I know that I could never even touch a single tenth of a percent of that history. There’s just way too much! So every week I like to highlight a useful or cool website that others may find interesting or helpful. These websites help cover everything I can’t. These websites don’t reach out to me- I find them on my own at this point. I’m not paid to write about them. These are just some cool websites I think my readers may find interesting, useful, or just plain neat. Many of these you would have a hard time finding on Google. Since they’re not major players, they often don’t rank high enough to be noticed., though many deserve to be ranked higher than they are.

This week I found a great site for people who want to visit monuments but are unable to for one reason or another. If you’re anything like me, there are plenty of places you’d love to visit but can’t. This week’s cool website will let you visit far-flung places.

Cool Website: Virtual Vacation’s Monument Tour!

I actually found this site during one of the Covid lockdowns and it was a lifesaver. Virtual Vacations overall was created during the Covid lockdowns. This site features videos and photos from over 50 countries. This section, the Monument Explorer, focuses only on the famous monuments from around the world. The videos are all donated to the site, but most of the ones I’ve watched are fantastic. Some of them will stop and focus on the signage around the monument as well.

The process is simple. You go to the site and select a monument. It will take you to a new page where the video will open. Most of the videos are very high quality and include sound. The quality can be affected by your internet connection.

I love how the videos expand to fill the whole browser, and if you know to change your display settings, you can get it to fill your whole screen.

Normally I don’t enjoy videos with tourists in them, but given the circumstances, it’s almost comforting seeing so many other people.

You get the whole experience in some videos, including waiting in line and passing security. I highly recommend headphones.

The one thing I don’t like is that there is no way to pause or rewind the videos. You can refresh the page to restart the video, but if you miss something there is no easy way back to it.

Some videos don’t go into the monument or don’t focus on the signage around, but it’s still fascinating to be able to see historical monuments in places I’ll most likely never be able to go.

The one thing you won’t find here is narration. These aren’t tours, just people donating videos of the monuments they live near so others can see them.

What do you think?

So, what do you think of the Monument Explorer? If you’re having issues with the link above, you can try here:

https://virtualvacation.us/monument

There are other aspects to Virtual Vacation site, like live streams and guess the city, but the monument explorer is definitely my favorite. You can donate your videos if you live near a monument and want to share it with the world.

This isn’t a traditional cool history website, but it’s certainly one of the most engaging. It works best if you have the background knowledge of the monument and why it’s historical. Thankfully the videos are normally short enough to fit into a normal lunch break, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check out the Great Wall of China.

Want more historical places you can visit in person? Check out these 5 Historical Lighthouses in New Jersey!