90 Amazing Facts About the '90s

MarkPiovesan/ iStock, Getty Images Plus
MarkPiovesan/ iStock, Getty Images Plus

As we near the 20th anniversary of the end of the ‘90s, it’s only appropriate to look back at the music, movies, TV shows, and unfortunate fashion trends that helped make the decade what it was. For those who lived through it, these 90 facts about the ‘90s should bring a nostalgic smile to your face. For everyone else, try not to judge the decade too harshly for its Hanson albums, love of pogs, and PalmPilots.

1. People believed Furbies were spying on them.

In 1999, people believed that Furbies contained computer chips so they could record words and repeat them. Obviously that wasn't true, but the National Security Agency still banned people from bringing their Furbies to work.

2. Jennifer Aniston hated her Friends haircut.

Jennifer Aniston haircut. 90 facts about the '90s.
NBC Television/Getty Images

Jennifer Aniston's haircut on Friends, known as "the Rachel," was just as big of a hit as the show itself. But in later years, the actress has admitted she wasn't a fan—in fact, she called it “the ugliest haircut I've ever seen."

3. Alanis Morissette's hit song, "Ironic," got irony wrong.

No, "a traffic jam when you're already late" isn't actually irony, but Morissette does note that it's ironic that a song call "Ironic" is not filled with ironies. Touché.

4. Napster was on millions of computers around the globe.

The music-sharing program launched in 1999, and within two years, it had 26.4 million users.

5. AOL Instant Messenger became a sensation.

AOL Instant Messenger launched in 1997 and gained 53 million users in less than 10 years and wasn't full discontinued until December 2017.

6. Pagers were one of the most important ways to communicate.

In 1994, 61 million people were sporting pagers.

7. Hillary Clinton slighted a country music legend.

Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. 90 Facts About the '90s.
Simon Bruty /Allsport

In 1992 during a 60 Minutes interview about Bill’s infidelity, Hillary Clinton said, “I'm not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.” Hillary later gave an apology to the singer.

8. The '90s book Who Moved My Cheese? was big everywhere. 

The 1998 self-help book even sold a couple million copies in China, where it inspired books like Whose Cheese Should I Move? and No One Can Move My Cheese! This is especially weird when you consider that cheese does not really have a place in Chinese cuisine.

9. Jackie Chan was a beast.

Well, for Disney, anyway. He voiced the Beast for the Chinese release of Beauty and the Beast.

10. Those chokers everyone wore during high school? There's a lot of history there. 

You may remember that choker necklaces made a comeback in the '90s. Throughout history they've had different implications, like during the French Revolution, some women wore red ribbons around their neck to pay tribute to those who had been executed. In the 1800s, it was a way to identify prostitutes.

11. Doc Martens became popular again in the '90s grunge community.

Doc Martens became a huge fashion trend in the 1990s.
Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images

The inventor, Claus Martens, came up with the idea when he needed a low-impact shoe after a ski accident.

12. Miss Cleo told people their futures (but probably not).

Miss Cleo was the spokesperson for Psychic Readers Network Inc. and was known for making psychic readings on her pay-per-call service to people who would dial in. She later got a $5 million fine from the FTC for making deceptive claims, you know, like about being psychic. The amazing thing is that they didn't see it coming.

13. In 1990, NC-17 became an official movie rating.

The first movie to get the rating? 1990's Henry & June.

14. Slap Bracelets noisily adorned wrists in high schools everywhere.

This short-lived fad was invented by a high school shop teacher who was playing with steel ribbons.

15. Billy Crystal missed out on Toy Story.

Billy Crystal at the premiere of Monsters University.
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Pixar's hit 1995 animated film raked in an astounding $373 million worldwide, so it shouldn't come as a shock that Crystal has publicly said turning down the role of Buzz Lightyear was one of his biggest regrets. 

16. Pulp Fiction wasn't sponge-worthy.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus turned down the role of Mia in Pulp Fiction due to her Seinfeld commitment.

17. The "show about nothing" had one rule.

Larry David made a “no hugging, no learning” rule for Seinfeld scripts. Basically, he didn't want the characters to have sentimental, Full House-y revelations.

18. Microsoft Office ... for Mac?

You probably associate Microsoft Office with your '90s PC, but the program was actually first released in 1989 for Apple Macintosh computers. The Windows version came in October 1990. 

19. The voice behind your mail unveiled.

The voice who announced "You've Got Mail!" whenever you received an e-mail was Elwood Edwards. He recorded the saying in his living room on a cassette deck.

20. The PalmPilot was the precursor to an ipad.

Jeff Hawkins developed the PalmPilot’s look by cutting a block of wood to the right size and using a short chopstick as the model for the writing utensil.

21. "I'll Be There For You" Reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Rembrandts stand on stage before performing on the "Today" show at Rockefeller Plaza May 6, 2004
Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

The Rembrandts can thank the television program Friends for their only hit, "I’ll Be There for You," which was co-written by the show's producers.

22. NSYNC owes their name to Justin Timberlake's mom. 

Justin Timberlake's mom came up with the name *NSYNC, which was the last letter of each band member’s name. 

23. The Backstreet Boys owe their name to, well, a flea market. 

The Backstreet Boys, on the other hand, were named after a flea market in Orlando: the Backstreet Market.

24. Nintendo's Game boy slipped The Surly Bonds of Earth.

In 1993, a Russian astronaut brought his Game Boy to space. He was allowed to bring only one game, and he chose Tetris.

25. Anthony Hopkins Turned to two unlikely sources for his Hannibal Lecter voice. 

You will no doubt remember Anthony Hopkins’s distinct voice for Hannibal Lecter in 1991's The Silence of the Lambs—he called it a combination of Truman Capote and Katherine Hepburn.

26. Warheads candy made everyone pucker up.

Did you know that the mascot on Warheads candy actually has a name? It's Wally Warheads.

27. Power Rangers was banned in New Zealand. 

The Power Rangers at the San Diego Comic-Con.
Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images for Saban Brands

While many Power Rangers shows were filmed in New Zealand during the '90s, the show itself was banned there for violence until 2011.

28. Pogs were Banned from schools around the country. 

Those little circles of cardboard were banned at many schools in the '90s because people thought they promoted gambling. Little did they know, Pogs are worthless.

29. The Massive Mall of America Opened in 1992 in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Seven Yankee Stadiums could fit inside this mammoth monument to shopping.

30. Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" wasn't supposed to be a hit.

Vanilla Ice rapping with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

"Ice Ice Baby" was originally a B-side, and the song only caught on when a radio deejay in Georgia played it, possibly by accident.

31. The bucket hat made a valiant comeback.

In Australia, bucket hats are known as "giggle hats."

32. There was originally an entire song in The Lion King about eating bugs.

The 1994 animated film wound up grossing over $950 million worldwide, so it certainly didn't miss this tune too much. 

33. And by the way, young Simba was voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

The older Simba was voiced by Matthew Broderick. 

34. And here's the most '90s fact we've got.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas won the first-ever Nickelodeon Kids Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on the sitcom Home Improvement.

The cast of TV's 'Home Improvement.'
Getty Images.

35. eBay launched in 1995.

The pioneering auction site was originally called AuctionWeb.

36. The Perks of Being a Wallflower hit shelves in 1999.

Author Stephen Chbosky got the idea for the book's format because he once wrote an anonymous letter to professor who gave a seminar at USC.

37. Michael Jordan won six NBA titles in eight years (1991-1993, 1996-1998).

A close-up photo of Air Jordans during a '90s NBA game.
Jonathan Daniel /Allsport

Jordan may have gotten rich off of Nike Air Jordans, but he wanted to wear Adidas. In fact, he brought them his Nike contract and said if they could come close to matching it, he'd sign with them. But they didn't.

38. One '90s myth to debunk: Jordan was cut by his high school basketball team.

This myth blew up during his '90s title streak, but it's not true. It is true, however, that he was put on the JV team, which was still probably a mistake in retrospect, but yeah.

39. Another '90s myth: the Taco Bell Chihuahua commercial stopped when the dog died.

In fact, they stopped when we collectively realized that those commercials were unbelievably annoying.

40. Chuckie from Rugrats was based on the lead singer of Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh.

Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh.
Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Mothersbaugh also worked as a composer on the show. 

41. The Hubble Space Telescope launched in 1990.

According to the Space Telescope Science Institute, it was able to lock onto a target without deviating more than the width of a human hair seen at a distance of one mile.

42. Chris Wiggs invented the Polly Pocket after making a doll house for his daughter in a powder compact.

Though the popular toyline debuted in the late '80s, it owned the first half of the '90s. 

43. JNCO jeans made our pant legs far wider (and our public property much more colorful).

You can blame graffiti artists for the popularity of JNCO jeans—the company hired them to paint murals to advertise the jeans in LA.

44. A dog brought Jurassic Park's iconic roar to life.

To get the sound for the T. rex in Jurassic Park, the crew slowed down a recording of a Jack Russell terrier playing with a rope.

45. Carmen Sandiego has a full name. 

Her middle name is actually Isabella, so we know who she is—but do we know where she is?

46. Pepsi tested around 3,000 variations for Crystal Pepsi, which was still not enough.

A tub full of Crystal Pepsi.
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Crystal Pepsi

All that effort for a drink that was launched in 1992 and gone by 1994. 

47. Britney Spears's cousin played her love interest in the "Baby One More Time" music video.

Ol' cousin Chad had a moment in the spotlight in the video that would go on to launch Britney Spears's career. 

48. The "Hamster Dance" website from 1998 is still live

Art student Deidre LaCarte created the Hamster Dance web page in 1998 to increase traffic to her website.

49. In 1997, people sold Tickle Me Elmos online for the reasonable price of $1500.

It retailed for $30, but the hottest toy of the 1997 Holiday season soon became a scalper's dream. 

50. Saved by the Bell started as a show about a teacher in Indianapolis called Good Morning, Miss Bliss.

It was retooled in 1989 into the familiar series that people still watch reruns of today. 

51. Tara Lipinski started out as a roller skater before she ever went on ice.

Tara Lipinski wins gold at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Mike Powell / Staff

She would go on to win a gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics.

52. When the Hummer was released in 1992, it weighed 10,000 pounds and got less than 10 miles to the gallon.

Now, electric Hummers are being prototyped. 

53. Another popular 1992 invention: light-up sneakers.

LA Gear sold around 5 million pairs annually for the first few years.

54. The Matrix was a gamble for Warner Bros. 

1999 Carrie-Anne Moss Stars In "The Matrix." 1999 Warner Bros. And Village Roadshow Film.
Getty Images

Execs at Warner Brothers weren't sure about The Matrix, considering that the writers and directors, the Wachowskis, were unknowns, so they created a 600-page shot-for-shot storyboard to convince the studio to make the movie. It went on to gross more than $450 million. 

55. Mattel sued MCA records over the song "Barbie Girl" by Aqua for copyright infringement.

The case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals where judge Alex Kozinski said “the parties are advised to chill.”

56. Psychic Uri Geller sued Pokemon.

He believed that the character Kadabra, who also bent spoons with his mind, was based on him. The character has since been retired.

57. R.L. Stine wasn't a complete unknown before writing the Goosebumps series.

R.L. Stine speaks during "Make it Matter Day" in support of literacy and education at The New York Public Library.
Andy Kropa/Getty Images

He also wrote the novelizations for Spaceballs and Ghostbusters 2.

58. The toy Bop It was inspired by the games Simon and Whack-a-Mole.

And all these years later, you can still buy it on Amazon. 

59. Sabrina the Teenage Witch Has a Familiar ZIP code.

Sabrina, the teenage witch, lives in a fictional town, Westbridge, but its ZIP Code is the real ZIP Code for Salem, Massachusetts. She also lives at 133 Collins Road, the same address from Dark Shadows. By the way, Sabrina’s cat is also named Salem.

60. The Thighmaster was invented by Joshua Reynolds, heir to the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company.

He also invented the mood ring.

61. speaking of innovators: '90s boy band Hanson has their own beer brand called mmmHops now.

 The boy band Hanson. 90 facts about the '90s.
Brenda Chase / Stringer

Well, now that they're all of legal drinking age, of course. 

62. 80 members of the crew for the movie Titanic got sick on the same day.

Some were even hospitalized due to hallucinations. It turned out that someone had spiked the lobster chowder with PCP.

63. We know who's responsible for Budweiser's "Whassup" commercials. 

Justin Reardon came up with the "Whassup" Budweiser commercial, and for his hard work, the company gave him a $250 bonus and a baseball bat "that said something like, 'Way to go, slugger!'"

64. Nirvana released Nevermind and left Metallica gushing over it. (Though Lars still hates ... something.)

Nirvana once received the following fax: “We really dig Nirvana. Nevermind is the best album of the year. Let's get together soon, love, Metallica. P.S., Lars hates the band." Unclear whether the band in question was Metallica or Nirvana, but regardless, probably true.

65. The first Google server’s storage rack was made out of Legos.

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.
David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Now the company makes over $100 billion a year.

66. The Doug Funnie character originated in Florida grapefruit juice commercials.

It wasn't until two years later that the character made his Nickelodeon debut in Doug

67. Super Soaker inventor Lonnie Johnson shot the water gun in the middle of a meeting with the president of Larami toy company.

Johnson is also a former engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

68. The Macarena made it to the DNC.

The Macarena was so popular during the 1996 Democratic National Convention that Al Gore made the following joke: “And if I could have your silence, I would like to demonstrate for you the Al Gore version the Macarena,” at which point he stood completely still.

69. The Magic School Bus Was Created to Keep Young Girls and Minorities Interested in Science. 

Producer Deborah Forte of Scholastic Entertainment says they were inspired to create the Magic School Bus TV show after learning that many girls and minorities were opting out of science at young ages.

70. In the original Sonic the Hedgehog, the SEGA logo and sound at the beginning took up 1/8 of the cartridge's memory for the game.

The Sonic the Hedgehog balloon is seen during the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 28, 2013 in New York City.
Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Sega of America

Worth it.

71. Amy Heckerling, who wrote and directed Clueless, sat in on high school classes to get a feel for how real teens talk.

It paid off, as Clueless grossed more than $50 million at the box office. 

72. Hermione Granger's last name was almost Puckle.

Hey Puckle, we can't help but notice that your initials are H.P.

73. The Coca-Cola company released Surge to compete with Mountain Dew.

While the drink was in the creation stages, employees called it "Mountain Dew Killer."

74. The princess Beanie Baby raised over $15 million for the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.

They now go for over $10,000 on eBay

75. David Lynch and Mark Frost once tried to make a biopic about Marilyn Monroe.

That project fell through, but they ended up making Twin Peaks, also about a beloved blonde who died tragically young, resulting in secrets being revealed.

76. 32 percent of the original iMacs were sold to first-time computer buyers.

Workers setting up Apple iMacs in 1999.
Getty Images

The original model went on sale August 15, 1998. 

77. Mike Myers got the inspiration for the Austin Powers film after hearing the Dusty Springfield song, "The Look of Love."

The original 1997 Austin Powers grossed more than $50 million against a $16 million budget. The sequel, 1999's The Spy Who Shagged Me, went on to gross more than $300 million worldwide. 

78. Destiny's Child was originally called Girls Tyme.

The group's debut album hit stores on February 17, 1998. 

79. Bridget Jones originated in a newspaper column in The Independent.

Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones Diaries have sold 15 million copies worldwide and have been made into two hit films.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The first book, Bridget Jones's Diary, came out in 1996. 

80. The most-remembered slogan in beverage history is "Got Milk?"

Remember that "Alexander Hamilton" commercial for the "Got Milk?" campaign? It was directed by Michael Bay. 

81. Will Smith knew that people would call him by his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air character name for the rest of his life, so he named the character Will Smith.

And yes, we still call him that. 

82. While Tupac was in high school, his friend got shot while playing with a gun.

Tupac then wrote his first rap, which was about gun control.

83. 1991's My Girl made Macaulay Culkin the first child actor to be paid $1 million for a film.

Home Alone 2 brought him $4.5 million just a year later. 

84. While the Nintendo 64 was in development, its code name was "Project Reality."

 A Nintendo 64 on the shelf in 1999.
Joe Raedle/Newsmakers

Its proposed final name was the "Ultra 64," and it was even referenced as such up until a few months before its release. 

85. Back in 1997, a band called Kara’s Flowers performed on Beverly Hills 90210

They're now called Maroon 5.

86. Simon Cowell wanted to sign the Spice Girls back in the day, but he approached them too late.

He calls this his biggest regret.

87. Marilyn Manson originally performed with friends like Madonna, Wayne Gacy, and Olivia Newton Bundy.

Marilyn Manson with Rose McGowan at the premiere of "Alien Resurrection."
Brenda Chase / Stringer

For what it's worth.

88. Tamagotchi comes from the Japanese words for egg and friend.

These things are still readily available if you're looking for a nostalgia fix. 

89. Lois Lowry wrote The Giver when her father was beginning to lose his memory.

The book has gone on to sell more than 10 million copies around the world. 

90. The United States spent around $100 billion dollars to prepare for Y2K.

And we're all still alive to talk about it. 

To learn more about the '90s, check out this video we did all about it:

13 Surprising Facts About Ulysses S. Grant

U.S. Library of Congress, Getty Images
U.S. Library of Congress, Getty Images

From modest beginnings and Civil War military victories to the United States presidency and tough times in between, Ulysses S. Grant was a complicated man in perhaps the most complicated time in the country’s history. While his legacy has varied over the years, his unmistakable valor and ability to pull himself up by his (inevitably disheveled) bootstraps make him a fascinating figure in American history. Here are a few things you might not have known about the 18th president of the United States.

1. Ulysses S. Grant's real name is Hiram Ulysses Grant.

If you called him Ulysses S. Grant during his youth, he wouldn’t know who you were talking about. Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio, on April 27, 1822, to Jesse Root Grant, a tanner, and Hannah Simpson Grant. The young Ulysses did go by his middle name as a boy (according to legend, he disliked the initials H.U.G.), but the moniker known to the history books was bestowed upon him when he was nominated to attend West Point by Ohio congressman Thomas Hamer. Hamer, an old friend of Grant’s father, did Ulysses a favor and nominated him for enrollment at the prestigious military academy in 1839, and somehow, in the process, his name was put down as “Ulysses S. Grant,” with the “S” standing for Grant’s mother’s maiden name: Simpson. The young Grant, aware of his meager social standing, accepted the clerical error, and the name stuck. His classmates even used it for a nickname, calling him “Sam.” Later, in an 1844 letter to his future wife Julia, he joked, “Find some name beginning with ‘S’ for me, You know I have an ‘S’ in my name and don’t know what it stands for.” (Grant isn’t the only president with a strange middle name, by the way. Harry S. Truman’s middle initial was also just an “S.”)

2. Ulysses S. Grant hated the West Point uniform.

Though Grant’s father hoped that pushing him into the prestige of West Point would open up opportunities for his son, the younger Grant pretty much hated the decorum of going to school. He was known to be generally unkempt during his time there, and received demerits for his sloppy uniform habits (something he’d continue during his time as commander of the Union Army during the Civil War).

In an 1839 letter, a 17-year-old Grant told his cousin, McKinstry Griffith, he “would laugh at my appearance” if he saw the cadet in his uniform: “My pants set as tight to my skin as the bark to a tree.” If he bent over, he wrote, “they are very apt to crack with a report as loud as a pistol,” and “If you were to see me at a distance, the first question you would ask would be ‘Is that a fish or an animal?’”

3. Ulysses S. Grant was introduced to his wife, Julia, by her brother.

Julia Boggs Dent was born January 26, 1826 in St. Louis. She was a voracious reader and skilled pianist who also had some artistic talent.

Julia was introduced to her future husband by her brother, Fred, who attended West Point alongside the future general. He wrote to his sister of Grant, “I want you to know him, he is pure gold.” The matchmaker mentioned Julia to Grant as well. After graduating from West Point in 1843 as a brevet second lieutenant, Grant began to visit the Dents at their home outside St. Louis in 1844, and popped the question to Julia a few months later. They hid their engagement until 1845, when Grant asked her father for her hand; though Mr. Dent said yes, the Mexican-American War broke out, and Julia and Grant didn't marry until 1848.

4. Ulysses S. Grant went into battle with another future U.S. president: Zachary Taylor.

Zachary Taylor directing his troops at the Battle of Buena Vista in Northern Mexico during the Mexican-American war.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Grant fought in the Mexican-American War under General Zachary “Old Rough and Ready” Taylor, who went on to become the 12th president of the United States in 1849.

Taylor led Grant in his first military battle, along with thousands of troops, at the Battle of Palo Alto, with Grant going on to fight in nearly every major battle of the war. As regimental quartermaster during the Battle of Monterrey, Grant rode through heavy Mexican gunfire to deliver a message for much needed ammunition after Taylor’s troops ran out of bullets.

In his memoirs, Grant recalled how he admired Taylor for the same traits that he would be known for, including how Taylor “knew how to express what he wanted to say in the fewest well-chosen words” and how his general’s style “[met] the emergency without reference to how they would read in history.”

5. Ulysses S. Grant wasn't a military man at the start of the Civil War.

The war hero of the Mexican-American conflict was far from those accolades when the Civil War broke out in 1861. After his resignation, Grant took to a series of civilian jobs without much success. He spent seven years as a farmer, real estate agent, rent collector, and he even sold firewood on St. Louis street corners. When the Civil War was announced, Grant was working in his father’s leather store in Galena, Illinois.

6. Ulysses S. Grant turned his occupational failure into military success.

With a newfound patriotism at the outbreak of war, Grant attempted to enlist, but was initially rejected for a military appointment due to his previous indiscretions.

Illinois congressman Elihu Washburne took a chance on Grant and arranged a meeting with the governor of Illinois, Richard Yates. Grant was appointed to command a volunteer regiment, whipping them into shape well enough that it eventually earned Grant a spot as brigadier general of volunteers. (Grant later reciprocated Washburne’s favor by appointing Washburne to U.S. secretary of state, and later minister to France.)

Grant is credited with commanding two significant early Union victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, which earned him the nickname "Unconditional Surrender Grant."

7. Ulysses S. Grant almost lost his post at Shiloh.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant's Union Army of the Tennessee attacks the Confederate Army of Mississippi at the Battle of Shiloh
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

After the dual victories of Henry and Donelson, Grant faced harsh criticism for his leadership during the Battle of Shiloh, one of the costliest battles in American history to that point. Though the Union came out victorious, both sides suffered a staggering 23,746 total casualties—a majority of which were Union soldiers.

On April 6, 1862, Grant’s army was waiting to rendezvous with troops led by General Don Carlos Buell, with the goal of overtaking a major Confederate railroad junction and strategic transportation link in nearby Corinth, Mississippi. But before Buell arrived, Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston’s forces attacked Grant's troops. Caught off guard, the Union soldiers spent most of that day being beaten back by Confederate forces, to the point of being nearly overrun until Buell’s army showed up to provide reinforcements.

The Union won, but Grant’s lack of preparedness immediately brought about demands for his removal.

Pennsylvania politician Alexander McClure visited President Abraham Lincoln at the White House to call for Grant’s removal, saying, “I appealed to Lincoln for his own sake to remove Grant at once, and, in giving my reasons for it, I simply voiced the admittedly overwhelming protest from the loyal people of the land against Grant’s continuance in command.” McClure later recalled that Lincoln responded, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”

Despite rumors that his early blunder at Shiloh was because he was under the influence, Grant assured Julia in a letter, dated April 30, 1862, that he was “sober as a deacon no matter what is said to the contrary.”

8. Ulysses S. Grant's next few battles, including Vicksburg and Chattanooga, solidified his bona fides.

For his next major objective, Grant commandeered a six-week siege on the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in order to take the city over from General John C. Pemberton. The Union bombardment was so profound that most residents of the city were forced to leave their homes and shack up in caves. The editor of the town’s Daily Citizen newspaper was even reduced to printing the news on wallpaper. Pemberton eventually surrendered on July 4, 1863.

Later that year, from November 23 to November 25, Union forces routed the Confederates at the Battle of Chattanooga. Grant, then a major general, masterminded a three-part attack—one of which was led by Major General William Tecumseh Sherman—against enemy entrenchments on two Confederate strongholds: Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. The multi-faceted gamble worked, and the Union army was victorious.

Because of Grant’s successes, in March of 1864 he was promoted to lieutenant general with command of all Union forces. From then on, Grant would answer only to the president.

9. Ulysses S. Grant wrote the surrender terms at Appomattox.

Despite one last push by General Robert E. Lee to rally his beleaguered troops, the Battle of Appomattox Court House lasted only a few hours after Confederate forces were cut off from their final provisions and support. Lee sent a message to Grant announcing he was willing to surrender, and the two generals eventually met in the front parlor of the Wilmer McLean home in the early afternoon of April 9, 1865.

Lee arrived in full military dress—complete with sash and sword—while Grant characteristically stuck with his well-worn and muddied field uniform and boots. He then wrote out the single-paragraph terms of surrender.

Under the terms, Confederate soldiers and officers were allowed to return home; officers were permitted to keep their horses for use as farm animals (according to the National Park Service, Grant also ordered officers to allow private soldiers to keep their animals) and to keep side arms. Grant allowed starving Confederate troops be fed with Union rations.

When news of the surrender reached nearby Union troops, gun salutes rang out, but Grant, aware of the weight of the bloody war, sent out an order for all celebrations to stop. “The war is over,” he said. “The rebels are our countrymen again; and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstrations in the field.”

10. Ulysses S. Grant was supposed to be at Ford's Theatre the night Abraham Lincoln was shot.

Lincoln assassination
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Days after the Appomattox surrender, Lincoln invited Grant to see a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre. Advertisements for the Good Friday 1865 performance even boasted that Grant would accompany President Lincoln and the first lady.

The celebrated general backed out, explaining that he and Julia were to travel to New Jersey to see their children instead. (In reality, Julia despised Mary Todd Lincoln and didn’t want to be in her company. Grant didn’t particularly want to go anyway. )

Grant was supposedly a target of John Wilkes Booth’s assassination plot, and was to be taken out along with Lincoln that night.

11. Ulysses S. Grant had no political experience when he became president.

Though he was a war hero, and sat in on cabinet meetings during Reconstruction under President Andrew Johnson, Grant had no political experience to speak of when he was nominated for president in 1868. But because the Civil War still loomed large at the time, it makes sense that one of the people credited with keeping the U.S. together would be given a shot.

He was elected for a second term, but scandals—including the 1869 Black Friday incident where two financiers attempted to corner the country’s gold market while Grant’s Treasury Department sold gold at weekly intervals to pay off the national debt—and his inability to maneuver party politics plagued his terms in office.

“It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training,” he wrote in his farewell message to Congress. “Under such circumstances it is but reasonable to suppose that errors of judgment must have occurred.”

12. Ulysses S. Grant had some bad luck after his presidency.

Despite the unofficial two-term rule in use since George Washington—the 22nd Amendment, establishing an official presidential term limit, was ratified in 1951—Grant attempted a third term four years after leaving office, but couldn’t get enough votes at the Republican convention. James Garfield won the nomination and eventually the presidency.

After retiring from politics, Grant invested his savings and became a partner in a financial firm where his son was also a partner. But it eventually went bankrupt in 1884 after another of the partners swindled investors with faulty loans.

His luck didn’t seem to get any better—soon after, he learned he had throat cancer. To pay off his mounting debts and to provide for his family after he was gone, Grant began writing his memoirs and eventually signed a contract with none other than Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn author Mark Twain, whose Charles L. Webster & Company publishing house needed a hit.

13. Ulysses S. Grant died on July 23, 1885.

Grant finished his book just before he died; the two-volume Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant was a critical and commercial success, earning Julia royalties of about $450,000 (or more than $10 million today).

Grant's final resting place is a 150-foot-high tomb in New York City. According to the NPS, the tomb, designed by John Duncan, is the largest mausoleum in North America. The outside reads, “Let us have peace.” Julia was laid to rest next to her husband after her death in 1902.

16 Movies That Almost Starred Al Pacino

Steve Wood/Getty Images
Steve Wood/Getty Images

Though he’s often been called one of the greatest actors of his generation, Al Pacino will no doubt be remembered as one of the greatest actors of all time. After making his movie debut opposite Patty Duke in 1969’s Me, Natalie, Pacino would go on to become one of the most seminal figures in the “New Hollywood” movement of the 1970s (the pre-blockbuster era in which the counterculture became the mainstream) with starring roles in The Godfather trilogy, Scarecrow, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Bobby Deerfield, and …And Justice for All.

Though he’s racked up more than 50 credits in his 50-year career, Pacino has also turned down plenty of roles (including several in truly great movies). When asked about his track record for saying no in 2013, Pacino explained, “I’m not a very good judge of what’s good.” Here are 16 roles that could have been.

1. The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971)

Super-producer Robert Evans needed to call in a lot of favors to get Pacino out of the commitment he had made to playing Mario in James Goldstone’s Mafia comedy. The reason for the change of heart? Two days after agreeing to the part, he was offered the role of Michael Corleone. Eventually, Robert De Niro played the part that was meant for Pacino.

2. Lenny (1974)

In 2010, Pacino told Larry King that turning down the title role in Bob Fosse’s Lenny Bruce biopic is one of his biggest regrets. Though he didn’t originally think it was for him, after seeing a comic perform live, “I suddenly saw what I would want to do with this part.” At that point, it was too late—though Pacino calls Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-nominated performance in the part “amazing.”

3. Star Wars (1977)

For years, rumors have swirled about the many actors who turned down the role of Han Solo, opening the path for Harrison Ford to make it his own. In 2013, Pacino spoke out on why he passed on the part, telling a crowd during a Q&A, “Star Wars was mine for the taking but I didn’t understand the script.”

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Speaking of classic sci-fi flicks that Pacino declined, Steven Spielberg had a host of actors on his wish list before offering the role to Richard Dreyfuss—Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, James Caan, and Pacino among them.

5. Slap Shot (1977)

In Al Pacino, journalist Lawrence Grobel’s extended interview-turned-semi-autobiography of the actor, Pacino cites Slap Shot as a movie he still wishes he had been able to make. “But because George Roy Hill was doing it, I couldn’t do it,” he explained.

“I should have made that movie. That was my kind of character—the hockey player. Paul Newman is a great actor, it’s not a matter of that. I read that script and passed it on to George Roy Hill that I wanted to talk to him about it, and all he said was, ‘Can he ice skate?’ That’s all he was interested in, whether I could ice skate or not. That was a certain kind of comment. He didn’t want to talk about anything else. It was like he was saying, 'What the hell, it could work with anybody.’ The way in which he responded said to me he wasn’t interested.”

6. Days of Heaven (1978)

In Grobel’s book, Pacino cites Days of Heaven as one of the roles that he was truly conflicted over, saying, “I love Terrence Malick, and I love the picture.” According to Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Dustin Hoffman also turned down the lead, which eventually became a breakthrough role for Richard Gere.

7. Coming Home (1978)

Alongside Days of Heaven, Pacino also told Grobel that saying no to the lead role in Coming Home (the role that won Jon Voight an Oscar) was a tough call. But he had his reasons. “I was hoping to make Born on the Fourth of July at that time,” he said. “It was too close.”

8. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Do the math and it’s pretty obvious that the version of Born on the Fourth of July that Pacino was hoping to make back in the late 1970s was a bit different from the late 1980s film that earned Tom Cruise his first Oscar nomination. Yes, Oliver Stone was still involved, but only as the screenwriter. William Friedkin was set to direct, but when he dropped out, Pacino wanted out, too. “I had an interest in making it with Billy,” Pacino says in Al Pacino. “So, suddenly, Friedkin is out of the picture—now what? I wasn’t going to make that movie.”

9. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Pacino didn’t even have to read the script for Robert Benton’s Oscar-winning divorce drama to know it wasn’t right for him. “There were times in my life when I didn’t even read what was being offered me,” he told Grobel. “Sometimes I can smell something that’s not right for me … I had a feeling it was not for me … I didn’t feel, at this point, it would be useful.” (Dustin Hoffman won his first Oscar playing the role of Ted Kramer.)

10. Apocalypse Now (1979)

After two successful Godfather go-arounds with Francis Ford Coppola, Pacino knew enough about the director’s work habits to know that he would not be a good fit to play Willard (Martin Sheen’s part) in Apocalypse Now. “I know what this is going to be like,” Pacino told Coppola. “You're going to be up there in a helicopter telling me what to do, and I'm gonna be down there in a swamp for five months.” Pacino balked at the idea of five months of shooting, but the film actually took 16 months to be completed.

11. First Blood (1982)

Based on David Morrell’s 1972 book, and optioned quickly, First Blood is one of those movies that had a number of director-star configurations attached before finally making it into production. Martin Ritt wanted Paul Newman to do it, Sydney Pollack wanted Steve McQueen, and by 1975, Martin Bregman was attached with Pacino to star as John Rambo, when it was a much different movie. “People would have understood the character, but they wouldn’t have had empathy,” original screenwriter David Rabe explained in Douglas Robinson’s book, No Less a Man: Masculist Art in a Feminist Age. “There is a kind of violence that excites an audience and makes them feel that it’s a lot of fun. Mine was not.” Many sources say that Pacino eventually opted out because he wanted Rambo to be more of a "madman."

12. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Before it became a showcase for the comedic stylings of Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop was a much edgier crime thriller that at different times was offered to Martin Scorsese and David Cronenberg to direct. Plenty of big-name actors besides Pacino turned down the role of Axel Foley, too (Mickey Rourke, Sylvester Stallone, and James Caan apparently among them).

13. Die Hard (1988)

During a freewheeling crowd Q&A in 2013, when confronted with the list of major movies that he turned down, Pacino had only this to say about Bruce Willis’ iconic role in Die Hard: “I gave that boy a career.”

14. Johnny Handsome (1989)

Though Pacino would later go on to work with director Harold Becker in Sea of Love and City Hall, in Grobel’s book, the actor explains that he first met Becker while they were developing Johnny Handsome:

“Harold and I were trying to find a third act, and we couldn’t. The first half of that movie is great. That was my favorite role ever in movies. I loved the whole idea of someone who’s been grotesque-looking and has made a life having to cope with that kind of deformity, to then have it lifted from him, and to have to cope with the world now … I loved the role. Loved it. But once again, one of those roles that just go down the drain if they couldn’t fix the last act. Mickey Rourke did a great job on it, but that didn’t matter; the movie didn’t have the finish.”

15. Snake Eyes (1998)

In 1997, Pacino was set to re-team yet again with his Scarface and Carlito’s Way director Brian De Palma on the Nicolas Cage film Snake Eyes. Until he wasn't. On July 11, 1997, Variety reported that, “After months of talks between filmmaker Brian De Palma, Paramount execs, and Al Pacino about starring opposite Nicolas Cage in Snake Eyes, Pacino officially has passed. The studio now is eyeing a handful of other actors, including Gary Sinise, to star the action thriller written by David Koepp.” (Sinise did take the part.)

16. Pretty Woman (1990)

Before you try and picture Pacino in the role made famous by Richard Gere, it’s key to remember that Pretty Woman was originally a much darker tale. Still, in 2010, Pacino explained to Larry King that, “Sometimes it's just not the right role for you and you don't feel you belong in that part.”

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