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Historical Facts: 18th Century

During the 1770’s wigs in Europe reached great heights—as much as 5 feet.  Constructed on a wire frame, flour was mixed with water for paste and was used to set the wigs in the current style.  The wigs contained built-in mouse traps for vermin control. Posted 12/15/2010

The light inside a modern refrigerator gives off more illumination than was enjoyed by most households in the 18th century. Posted 4/15/2012

During the mid 18th century, women’s wigs reached such heights that women traveling in a sedan chair or coach were forced to squat on the floor. Posted 3/15/2013

One of the few physical requirements for joining the Continental army was that men had to have two teeth that met, so they could tear open the cartridge paper that was used to load a musket. Posted 7/01/2013

Ginger was the 1st Oriental spice to be transplanted in the New World, and ginger cookies had become so much a part of American food that by the time of the American Revolution, they formed part of the Continental Army’s rations. Posted 7/01/2014

Yellow fever so devastated Philadelphia in 1793 that it lost its primacy as the main city of the young Union. Posted 1/15/2015

As the Netherlands' largest trading company in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was also the world's first company to issue stock. Posted 10/15/2015

How a woman managed her fan could determine her social class.  “Women are armed with fans, as men are with swords,” wrote the Spectator correspondent in 1711. Posted 5/01/2017

The official copy of the Declaration that still survives today was written on parchment, which is treated animal skin. But a couple of the drafts of the Declaration were written on hemp paper. In fact, up to 90% of all paper made before 1883 was made of hemp. Posted 7/01/2018

On the last day of December, 1759, Arthur Guinness somehow managed to get the owner of St. James Gate Brewery, with its attached 4 acres on land that made up the Guinness Brewery, to agree to a lease for up to 9,000 years for 45 pounds a month. Guinness is still brewed at St. James Gate, and the company still pays 45 pounds in rent each month. Posted 12/15/2019

In America during the 1700s, yellow was the most fashionable color for a wedding dress. Posted 6/01/2020

In January of 1710, a Paris merchant named Jean Marius obtained a 5-year royal privilege for his invention of the first folding umbrella in Europe. Posted 1/2021

In the 18th century, clandestine weddings became very popular. It was fashionable to marry secretly, so many eloped to Scotland to avoid having the banns read, and to avoid having to pay the parish tax for entries made in the parish registry.  Gretna Green became a popular wedding destination, because it was located just over the border in Scotland, and anyone could perform a marriage there.  Legend has it the first person to do so was a blacksmith. Posted 6/15/2021

There was a fourteenth colony, called Franklin. In 1784, some citizens in North Carolina voted to secede from the state, naming their new state "Franklin" in honor of Ben Franklin. Sadly, for the Franklinites, Congress wouldn't let Franklin join the union. They continued as an independent republic for a few years, but eventually got absorbed into Tennessee. Posted 7/15/2021

The Badge of Military Merit was a military award of the United States Armed Forces created by George Washington in 1782. It is largely considered America's first military decoration, and the second oldest in the world (after the Cross of St. George). The award was only given to noncommissioned officers and privates. The Purple Heart is the official successor to the Badge of Military Merit and was reinstated by Franklin D. Roosevelt to honor soldiers wounded in action. Posted 11/01/2021

The little synagogue on Mill Street, New York, when the city’s Jews numbered an estimated 500, was consecrated on the seventh day of Passover, April 8, 1730. It was the first structure designed and built to be a synagogue in continental North America. Mill Street is now called South William Street, located in what is now known as the Wall Street section of Lower Manhattan.


The synagogue’s spiritual leader, Gershom Mendes Seixas, was called “the patriot rabbi,” because he helped to inspire the Jewish community’s support of the American Revolution. With the British capture of the city in 1776, Seixas led his congregation to Philadelphia, returning after Colonial forces retook the city in 1783. His advocacy with Washington led the President to issue his Newport Letter, a call for religious tolerance for Jews and other minorities, considered the most important document in Jewish-American history.


The Mill Street Synagogue was torn down in the 1820s. Posted 4/2022

Beau Brummell, that fashion icon, made the tying of the perfect cravat an art and dictated the shape of the man beneath the clothes, forcing some men to take to corseting to achieve the correct shape. He made immaculate white silk stockings, which displayed well-formed calves when wearing breeches for formal affairs, an absolute must for the fashionable gentleman.  If a man did not have well-formed calves, then he would wear false calves in his stockings.

Brummell also remodeled the dress coat and was the first to wear black evening dress.  He also brought trousers, called pantaloons, into fashion, and created the look for form-fitting pants that left little to the imagination and were considered almost indecent. Posted 12/01/2022

Martha Washington named a feral tomcat after Alexander Hamilton. The country's first Secretary of the Treasury was a bit of a cad, and Mrs. Washington paid homage to him by naming a literal tomcat after him. 

Posted 7/1/2023

November 7, 1761 – The New London Harbor Light is first lit to guide ships into the Connecticut harbor; the lighthouse, the fourth to be built, has been in continuous operation for more than 250 years.

Posted 11/1/2023

Few people have ever heard of Wentworth Cheswell (1746-1817), yet in 1775 he rode alongside Paul Revere to alert everyone that the British were coming. As the story goes, the two men eventually split off -- Cheswell rode north and Revere rode west. In addition to being a patriot, Cheswell was a respected schoolteacher, church leader, and historian. He also became America’s first black judge in 1768. That’s seven years before America won her independence! Posted 2/1/2024

In the 18th century, makeup was worn by both men and women.  That is why one embraced at a gathering, meaning having your neck kissed as a greeting.  Kissing of the lips was reckoned rude until the seduction was further along, and kissing cheeks wasn’t the mode, as it may rub off the paint. Posted 5/15/2011

The term “middle class” was first coined in 1745.  It first appeared in a book on the Irish wool trade. Posted 10/01/2012

Thomas Chippendale was the first commoner for whom a furniture style was named; before him, the names faithfully recalled monarchies: Tudor, Elizabethan, Louis XIV, Queen Anne. Posted 5/01/2013

From the late 18th century to the early 20th century breadcrumbs were used to clean satin ballroom dancing slippers. Posted 5/15/2014

During the 18th century, the aristocracy lit their homes with chandeliers holding dozens of candles.  This created a major fire hazard, as the wigs of the time, particularly for women, could reach anywhere from two to five feet in height. Posted 12/15/2014

LeGros created the academie de coiffure, the first regular school of hairdressing, and students who completed courses there, women as well as men, were rewarded with medals said to have the value of diplomas. Posted 9/01/2015

In the 18th century, a husband would not be responsible for debts contracted by his wife before her marriage if she married barefoot, wearing only a smock or petticoat, thus proving to all she brought him nothing.  This applied especially when the woman was a widow and inherited debts from her late husband. 6/15/2016

The first ever submarine attack happened in 1776. The Turtle was invented by David Bushnell, and was a one-person submersible vehicle that would allow the occupant to attach a powder keg to a British ship in New York Harbor. Posted 7/01/2017

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day - July 4. Both men, who were present for the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, died exactly 50 years later in 1826. Posted 7/01/2019

Mary Katherine Goddard was named the first female postmaster in the colonies in 1775, running the busy and crucial Baltimore Post Office as well as a bookstore, print shop and newspaper. Posted 5/2020

On August 2, 1790, the first national census was conducted in the United States. Posted 8/01/2020

On April 22, 1760 Belgian entertainer Joseph Marlin is said to have given the first demonstration of roller skates in a performance at the Carlisle House in London, but the stunt ends in disaster when he crashed into a very expensive mirror. It should be noted that they were inline skates with metal wheels and without any toe stops. Posted 4/2021

A few women disguised themselves as men to fight in the Revolutionary War. One such notable woman is Deborah Sampson, of Sharon, Massachusetts, who served 17 months in the army and at one point removed a musket ball from her own thigh so that she would not be discovered to be a woman.  She is the only woman to earn a full military pension in the Revolutionary army.  She is one of a small number of women with a documented record of military combat experience in that war. Posted 7/01/2021

Laura Bassi became the first official female university teacher, when she was appointed Professor of Anatomy at the University of Bologna, at the age of 21. Laura Maria Caterina Bassi (29 October, 1711 – 20 February, 1778) was an Italian physicist and academic. Recognized and depicted as "Minerva" (goddess of wisdom), she was the second woman in the world to earn the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (after the Philosopher Elena Cornaro Piscopia, who received her doctorate in 1678) and the first woman to have doctorate in science. Working at the University of Bologna, she was also the first salaried woman teacher in a university. In fact, at one time she was the highest paid employee. She eventually became the first female university professor in the world. She was also the first woman member of any scientific establishment, when she was elected to the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna in 1732. Posted 9/15/2021

In 1733, Georgia, the last of Britain’s thirteen colonies, was specifically founded by James Oglethorpe as a debtor’s asylum. Immigration to the new colony was offered as an alternative to English debtor’s prison. Posted 7/01/2022

The Coast Guard got its beginnings on August 4, 1790, as the Revenue Cutter Service. Posted 8/01/2022

Cats have been protecting the artwork in the Hermitage since 1745, by order of the Empress Elizabeth. Posted 7/2022

In 1790, a NJ state election law inserted the words, “he or she” when referring to voters: “No person shall be entitled to vote in any other township or precinct, than that in which he or she doth actually reside.”  In post-Revolutionary NJ, women property holders (which meant single or widowed women, since married women couldn’t own property) started showing up at the polls, and no one seemed to think anything of it.  It wasn’t until 1807 that women lost the right to vote in NJ. Posted 11/01/2022

On February 20, 1792, President George Washington signed an act creating the U.S. Post Office. Under the legislation, newspapers could be sent via mail for a discounted rate, in order to develop a freedom of the press. Posted 2/15/2023

For a while during the third quarter of the 18th century, dark eyebrows became all the rage. Lead-based cosmetics, used over time, caused hair loss at the forehead and over the brows, resulting in a receding hairline and a bare brow. For those who lost their eyebrows, it became the custom as early as 1703 to trap mice and use their fur for artificial eyebrows. Sadly, the glue did not always adhere well, and a lady could be caught with her brows out of kilter. This hilarious poem was written by Matthew Prior in 1718:

On little things, as sages write,

Depend our human joy or sorrow;

If we don’t catch a mouse to-night,

Alas! no eyebrows for to-morrow.

Posted 4/15/2023

Apr 10, 1710 - The first law regulating copyright is issued in Great Britain.

Posted  4/1/2024

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