VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
The fact that more people don't know about these historical events is shocking! For this list, we'll be looking at the most interesting or significant historical events that are not widely known. Our countdown of important historical events you've never heard of includes The Late Bronze Age Collapse, The Sultana Explosion, Canada's Residential School System, and more.
Top 10 Important Historical Events You've Never Heard Of
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 important historical events you’ve never heard of.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most interesting or significant historical events that are not widely known.
Which of these do you find the most fascinating? Let us know in the comments below!
#10: The Late Bronze Age Collapse
This great upheaval in the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East lasted about half a century, from around 1200 to 1150 BCE. For reasons that are still ambiguous, the structures of society collapsed and numerous Empires of the time were weakened or outright destroyed. Vast, interconnected civilizations disintegrated into isolated villages, ushering in the Greek Dark Ages. It wasn’t until about 750 BCE - some 400 years after the collapse - that these Dark Ages came to an end. No one knows why civilizations in the region fell apart, but it was likely a perfect storm of debilitating factors, including natural disasters, economic disruptions, and invasions by the mysterious ‘Sea Peoples’.
#9: Nellie Bly Circumnavigates the Globe
Writing under the pen-name Nellie Bly in the late nineteenth century, journalist Elizabeth Cochran was a trailblazer who exposed the mistreatment of women in American factories and asylums. While writing for New York World in the late 1880s, Bly was inspired by Jules Verne’s iconic adventure novel “Around the World in Eighty Days” to attempt her own ambitious trip around the globe. Her progress became a national sensation, with Bly providing updates via telegraph. She broke the world record by circumnavigating the globe in just 72 days. Bly would later publish her personal account in the book “Around the World in Seventy-Two Days”.
#8: The Zimmermann Telegram
Just a few months before the US entered World War I, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann sent his now-famous telegram. The message was intended for Heinrich von Eckardt, a German ambassador who was stationed in Mexico. The coded telegram instructed von Eckardt to propose an alliance with Mexico should the United States enter World War I. If they accepted, Mexico would be given territory that had been previously taken from them by the US - the states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. However, British intelligence intercepted and decoded the telegram, which spurred American public support for the war. Without the Zimmerman Telegram, World War I may have turned out very different.
#7: Claudette Colvin
Everyone has heard of Rosa Parks. A defining symbol of the civil rights movement, Parks famously refused to vacate her seat on a Montgomery bus. But she wasn’t the first. Nine months earlier in March of 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman and was arrested. Colvin became one of several plaintiffs to challenge Montgomery’s bus segregation laws. She and civil rights attorney Fred Gray were successful in their challenge, and the city was ordered to end bus segregation. However, civil rights campaigners didn’t publicize her story because she was unmarried and pregnant, and thought that Rosa Parks, the secretary of the local NAACP chapter, made a more agreeable public face.
#6: The Sultana Explosion
It remains the worst maritime disaster in American history - but few people today have even heard of it. In 1865, the steamboat Sultana sank on the Mississippi River when three of its four boilers exploded. Designed to carry 376 passengers, the Sultana was instead carrying 2,128, most of them paroled Union prisoners. 1,167 perished in the accident. The captain was among the dead, and the military was reluctant to go after the officers responsible, so no one was ever held accountable. The event was sandwiched right between Lincoln’s assassination and the end of the Civil War, so it didn’t receive much attention in the press.
#5: The Stonewall Riots
In the 1960s, police raids on gay bars were common. But in 1969, when police raided New York’s Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village and became violent, people fought back. Police soon lost control of the situation, and several riots occurred over the next few nights. This one event sparked a national rebellion, and many LGBT activist groups were soon fighting for their rights. To mark the one year anniversary of the Stonewall incident, major cities across the country took part in the very first pride march. Today, it’s considered a watershed moment in LGBT rights, and the Stonewall Inn has been made a National Historic Landmark.
#4: The Los Angeles Chinatown Massacre of 1871
Only a few of the documented racial massacres in American history have become common knowledge. In late October of 1871, a shootout between rival Chinese organizations left a local policeman and farmer dead. As rumors spread and exaggerated events, an angry mob of white and Hispanic Americans descended on L.A.’s old Chinatown neighborhood. The violence that followed saw the mob assaulting residents and lynching them. 19 Chinese immigrants were killed, their bodies hung in the street. No one was punished for the attack, as those who were sentenced to prison terms had their convictions successfully overturned on appeal.
#3: Canada’s Residential School System
It’s only recently that Canada’s residential school system has made its way into mainstream conversation. Beginning in 1894, the then-named Department of Indian Affairs made it mandatory for Indigenous children to attend Canadian boarding schools. The hope was that these schools would sever Indigenous children from their roots and culture through forced conversion. These children were subjected to various forms of abuse, and it’s estimated that up to 30,000 died. If true, that would account for 20% of all children inside the system. It also led to intergenerational trauma, with many communities suffering from high rates of PTSD, alcoholism, and self-harm.
#2: The Nubian Dynasty
In the eighth century BCE, King Piye of Kush, a kingdom located in what’s now Sudan, invaded Lower Egypt, founding a new dynasty of Egyptian rulers. Their reign lasted for almost one hundred years, until they were pushed back into Nubia in 656 BC. However brief it may have been, the Kushites created the largest Egyptian empire in centuries. Not since the New Kingdom ended in the 11th century BC had Egypt and Kush been united. The Nubian Dynasty successfully blended Kushite culture with Ancient Egyptian practices, and revived the construction of pyramids for deceased rulers.
#1: The Toba Eruption
74,000 years ago, we may have teetered on the brink of extinction. A supervolcano known as the Toba Caldera Complex in Sumatra, Indonesia, exploded, depositing a blanket of ash for thousands of miles. In fact, glass shards from the explosion have even been discovered in Africa! It’s theorized that this may have led to a volcanic winter that drastically reduced the human population. This population bottleneck may have consisted of just 3,000 to 10,000 people. The theory is disputed. But if it’s correct, we’re all descended from a very small group of survivors.