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The Top 10 Crazy Bastards Who Actually Changed the World (For the Better)

by mjrussel   October 02, 2009 at 10:00AM  |  Views: 135,529

5. Henry Cavendish


Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What he did:

Cavendish was an instrumental figure in the scientific community. Aside from discovering hydrogen, he also calculated the density of the planet earth with surprising accuracy using only a couple of lead balls and his own intellect. This may not sound too important, but it was influential in the field of astrophysics, because it led to many important breakthroughs, including the calculation of the gravitational constant of the universe. He also did great work with electricity, discovering the concept of voltage, the formula for the capacitance of a capacitor and a unit for it (now called the Farad), Ohms law, Coulombs Law, Richter's law of Reciprocal Proportions, Dalton's law of Partial Pressures, and Wheatstone's laws of parallel circuitry.

So, what's so crazy about him?

You may have noticed, all his discoveries are named after other people. Henry was a bit of a loner. He almost never left his house, except when he needed equipment, or to go to the Royal Society Club, where he barely talked to anyone unless they had something really important to say. He never entertained visitors at his house, and actually had a hidden staircase in his house so he could get around without encountering his housekeeper, who he communicated with via letters left on a special table. There is one account where a fan of his work ambushed him at his door in an attempt to tell him how great he was, only to have Cavendish scream and run into the woods, to be coaxed out two hours later.

All the discoveries listed above under someone else's name, are there because Cavendish didn't publish them. Instead they sat in his attic for almost a hundred years collecting dust, until a man named James Clerk Maxwell showed up, and found them. By that point, people were starting to make these discoveries on their own. In essence, Cavendish was almost a century ahead of his time, but didn't get any credit for it because of his terrifyingly bad social skills.


4. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg


Source: Project Gutenberg

What he did:

Back in the 1800s, breakfast meant one of two things. If you were rich, it meant eggs. If not, it was porridge. John Kellogg and his brother Will changed that. They invented the first cereal in the world: Corn Flakes! A cheap and tasty (albeit slightly bland) breakfast food. This paved the way for a whole new era in the land of breakfast. An era where instead of gruel, porridge, or other boiled grains, one had dozens of foods to choose from, each represented by it's own anthropomorphic cartoon animal, with dozens of games and puzzles on the back, and toys and decoder rings on the inside.

So what's so crazy about him?

The thing which no one pays attention to, and which will never make that little side-panel on the box with the explanation of how "ever since its conception, Kellogg's has been dedicated to quality" is why he made Corn Flakes in the first place.

Dr. Kellogg was a strong believer in nutrition, and felt that a simple diet low in sugar and energy, would be paramount in preventing little children from masturbating. Yes, for real. You see, Kellogg felt that masturbation was what was eating away at society and destroying all that was good in the world. You may laugh, but it's proven to cause a number of serious health problems including (but not limited to): insomnia, fatigue, excessive hair-loss, excessive hair growth, weight-loss, weight-gain, blindness, nausea, insanity, gout, cancer, homosexuality, and communism.

He was the founding father of several movements including the "Race Betterment Foundation," part of the early eugenics movement. He was also a strong advocate of circumcision. Not circumcision at birth, mind you. He felt that it should be done as punishment when little Billy is caught fiddling with his boner in the bathtub:

[The procedure] should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment. In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid [phenol] to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement.

He maintained that circumcision would work almost one hundred percent of the time, because "following the cicatrisation of the wounds, the skin will cover the organ tight...which will considerably hamper masturbation or eradicate it altogether."

For the record, it doesn't.

Along with restrictive dieting, circumcision, and his diabolical acid treatment, he also advocated tying the subject's hands together, putting their genitals in special devices that would make an erection intolerably painful, electroshock therapy, and sewing the foreskin shut.

He also once preformed a clitorectomy on a nine-year-old. If you don't know what that is, just take our word for it that you're better off not knowing.

So that's why we have Corn Flakes. Oh, his brother Will was the one who invented Frosted Flakes. Johnny flipped s***, we don't mind saying.


3. Nikolai Tesla


Source: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

What he did:

Tesla's contributions to humanity are too many to all be listed here. Among other things, he invented AC, the Induction motor, the Tesla Coil, Wireless Technology, Radio Astronomy, Radar, and Robotics. He was also the guy who thought up the Death Ray, although he never actually got around to building one (that we know of).

So what's so crazy about him?

Tesla was very OCD. And that doesn't just mean he washed his hands more often than Lady Macbeth. He had an obsession with the number 3 to an almost frightening extent. Whenever he entered a building, he first had to circle the blocks 3 times clockwise, he only stayed in a hotel room if the room number was divisible by 3, and he always used exactly 9 napkins, which he kept in three stacks of three, and spent many of his meals calculating the volume of his food before eating it. He also loved pigeons to the point that he would import special seeds for feeding them in the park, and would sometimes capture them live and take them back to his apartment with him.

He hated jewelry (especially pearls, earrings, and pearl earrings), refused to touch anything with any amount of dust on it, and was terrified of anything round and/or metal. Of course that last one could just be a healthy reaction to working in a lab where most of the round, metal objects would fry you on contact.


2. Andrew Jackson


Source: Stock Montage/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What he did:

Won a major battle in New Orleans in the War of 1812 (the one where Canada burned down the White House), securing the respect of his peers. He was elected as the seventh president of the U.S.A., where he helped form the American Political system, and got his face on the 20 dollar bill. In his term he reduced national Debt, caused several structural changes to the bureaucratic and political system (including the implementation of the Spoils System), and pushed for expansionism, allowing the US to grow to the size it is today. He also helped screw the Indians out of all their land.

So what's so crazy about him?

Jackson was what we in the Biz call a "Badass Motherf***er." He earned the nickname "Old Hickory" in his war days for being almost completely indestructible, and for regularly beating the s*** out of people with a hickory walking stick. He won the battle at New Orleans by virtue of his both being a hard-ass, and by hiring a crap-load of pirates to help out. That's right, freaking pirates. They even brought their cannons down into the artillery. His men won with only about 24 deaths.

He was also known for participating in a great many duels. Understand that back then, duels were fought with muskets, the most hideously inaccurate gun in the history of guns. This meant a duel consisted of just shooting at one another until the other guy was so scared and/or bloodied that he surrendered. During his duels, Jackson sustained so many bullet wounds that (according to biographer Chris Wallace) he was known to "rattle like a bag of marbles" when he walked, and cough up blood on a regular basis. After seeing the guy take a few shots to the abdomen, and taking a few themselves, most surrendered, and Jackson only once ever actually killed a man in a duel.

This unlucky individual was Charles Dickinson, who was convinced by Jackson's political opponents to make fun of his wife, who Jackson he married before she divorced her first husband. Jackson, who just didn't stand for that kinda s***, challenged him to a duel. Then, even though Dickinson was well known as being an award-winning marksman, he let Dickinson shoot first. Just to reiterate, he actually had made money off of being particularly good at shooting things, and Jackson let him be first to try to shoot at him. Dickinson shot him square in the chest, missing his heart by about one inch. While any sane human being would have screamed all bloody hell and called for a medic, Jackson straightened up and shot the guy in the face, killing him instantly.

Jackson was also the first president on whom an assassination was attempted. The would-be assassin (a guy named Richard Lawrence who thought he was King Richard the Third) opted to try to shoot Jackson, even though he was by now probably more bullet than actual living flesh. Lawrence ran up to him, pulled out his gun, pointed at Jackson's heart, and pulled the trigger.

The gun misfired. So he pulled out a second gun he brought with him, pointed it at his heart, and pulled the trigger. In what can only be called a statistical miracle, it also misfired. Jackson charged the man with fire in his eyes, and proceeded to beat the living s*** out of him with his walking stick until his aides pulled him off, with the help of local bystanders (including Davy Crockett). Lawrence later said that he "only felt genuine fear when he saw the 67-year-old president charge."


1. Pythagoras


Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What he did:

Pythagoras was one of the founding fathers of mathematics. Aside from being credited with writing the Pythagorean Theorem, he also conducted a great deal of work with sound and harmonics, and discovered the Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio is a number that represents the geometric relationship "A is to B what B is to C" and it appears a good deal in nature as well as art. You may recall that there was a long and overall pointless chapter in The Da Vinci Code completely devoted to the subject.

Pythagoras also created a model of the universe in which the universe was a series of glass spheres, all turning in harmony, with the earth at the center. This dominated astronomy for about 2,000 years, and was the favored view of the Catholic church who felt it was proof of God. And we all know that you can't argue with the Catholics, or they'll send the black Austrian Jews after you.

So what's so crazy about him?

He had a cult. A weird one. Not, you know, one of the average, Jesus-lives-in-a-spaceship-under-Antarctica cults. No, this was a number cult. Sure, they had all the weird rules. Have sex in the summer, not the winter, only drink water, only eat uncooked foods, don't wear wool, etc. Oh, and never ever eat beans. They make you fart and are "like the genitalia" therefore they are pure evil.

But they were also obsessed with numbers and geometry. Every number was a shape and every shape represented a number. And every number-shape had a purpose, a divine meaning, and a place in the order of everything. And Pythagoras loved them all.

Their symbol was a number-shape (of course), it was the number five, the pentagram, because the pentagram was infinite. The pentagram contained a pentagon. The pentagon, if all corners were connected, formed another pentagram, which was proportionate in every way to the original and which formed another pentagon. Pythagoras saw more numbers in music, in the ratios of the strings and the beauty of the notes. In fact, his views on philosophy can be summarized in his own words "All is numbers."

Unfortunately his idea of numbers and geometry can only allow numbers to be expressed as ratios with nice whole numbers (i.e. 2/3 instead of .66666). Decimals didn't exist. This meant that irrational numbers such as Pi, which continue forever in a non-repeating decimal fashion and can't be represented as fractions, are impossible to represent.

So when a guy named Hippasus said "hey guys, this doesn't work here..." Pythagoras did what any rational person does when someone is a threat to their beliefs. Which is to get their secret brotherhood of math nerds to kidnap him, tie him up, take him out in the middle of a lake, light the boat on fire, and disappear into the night.

That's right, they killed the guy over Pi. And he wasn't the only one. Anyone who had a proof that was a threat to Pythagoras' vision of a perfect, rational, measurable universe was to be silenced.

Pythagoras' end came when he denied a few people entry into his elite group of math nerds. They came in a mob to torch his house, and he ran away out the back with them hot in pursuit. Supposedly this continued until he came to a large field of beans. Given the option between the Angry Mob and the Bean Field, he just turned around and let them kill him.

This guy made math what it is today. Damn, eh?