Fear is one of the greatest motivators in the world. It can make a person act irrationally, and it can breed paranoia and distrust. And sometimes it just has really bizarre and unexpected effects that echo throughout history. All because someone was afraid of what might happen if they let things play out a certain way.
10. Elevator Operators Had Their Jobs Due to Fear
Once upon a time, if you were taking an elevator in a building, you just stood there while someone else did the hard work of pressing buttons and opening the doors. Elevator operators were a staple of any building that had an elevator because, of course, they were. An elevator was a giant metal box hanging from a cable that could potentially rise hundreds of feet into the air. Obviously someone with skill needed to operate it, right?
In 1945, elevator operators in New York went on strike. This crippled the city and cost a hundred million dollars. Millions of people couldn’t go to work. Because no one could operate an elevator. They were afraid to use one because they didn’t know any better.
The elevator industry had to start educating people. They had to learn they could press a button on their own, and eventually they did. Tens of thousands of elevator drivers lost jobs that only existed because people were afraid to use an elevator on their own.
9. After 9/11 Fear of Flying Caused an Increase on Driving Deaths
September 11, 2001 is a day none of us who experienced it will ever forget. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York produced a fear unlike anything America had experienced before. Planes had been turned into weapons on American soil and for a long while afterward, no one knew what was safe. This had a profound effect on air travel and, in turn, automobile fatalities.
Fear of more terrorist attacks shut down the airline industry for days. Even when it reopened, people were reluctant to take to the skies again. The result was more Americans driving than flying. That, in turn, led to a significant rise in accidents and road deaths. In fact, 1,600 more road deaths occurred in the year following September 11 than should have happened based on statistics, or about 242 additional fatalities per month, depending on data sets used.
8. Danes Feared Damnation So They Committed Murder Instead of Suicide
If you’re a religious person, you may be of the belief that suicide is a mortal sin and will condemn you to hell. Catholics believe this and, in the 18th century, the very idea of suicide was extremely taboo for this very reason. But that didn’t mean people weren’t contemplating it as much as people might today. They just had to think of a loophole to get out of damnation. That came in the form of murder.
If suicide was wrong, then the solution was to murder another, get sentenced to death, and be executed after repenting of their sins. Sure, someone else had to die, but your soul would be clean. Suicide left no time for repentance, so it was simply not an option.
In many cases, the unfortunate victim would be the child of the murderer/suicide, or maybe just someone random. Certainly no one who had done anything to deserve death. According to Lutheran beliefs at the time, as long as someone confessed their sins and repented just before death, they had no chance to sin again and could look forward to heaven. So their fear of doing the wrong thing led them to believe taking an innocent life was the right thing. No word on whether God thought exploiting a dogmatic loophole was a sin or not.
7. Eugene Lazowski Terrified the Nazis with Fake Typhus
We know that, during the Second World War, there were a handful of people working with the Nazis who were covertly working against them and doing whatever they could to save Jewish lives. One of those people was Polish doctor Eugene Lazowski who preyed on Nazi fears to save 8,000 villagers, including Jews that were hidden among them.
Lazowski was forbidden from treating Jews, but he did so anyway and, at the height of a typhus outbreak, a colleague discovered something fascinating. If he injected a dead strain of typhus into a patient, they wouldn’t get the disease but they would still test positive for it.
Typhus was killing thousands, and the Nazis were terrified of its spread. So Lazowski came up with a plan. He could create a fake epidemic by infecting thousands of villagers in the area with the dead typhus strain. They injected people at a rate meant to mimic a real typhus epidemic and sent patients to other towns to confirm blood tests, giving the whole scheme legitimacy. The Nazis quarantined over a dozen towns as a result, and they remained quarantined until liberation.
The entire plan nearly fell apart at one point due to the fact there were so many cases, but no reported deaths. Lazowski partied with the Gestapo who came to investigate, keeping them drunk and well-fed enough for them to not care about the discrepancies.
6. A Baker’s Dozen Exists Because Bakers Were Afraid of Short Changing Customers
A dozen means 12, coming from a French word which itself can be traced to Latin, all meaning 12. So it’s perplexing then that a baker’s dozen also exists, but that means 13.
The reason a baker’s dozen has an extra individual added to the group is strictly fear-based.
This one goes back to bakers in medieval times. The price of bread was directly tied to the price of wheat. A baker couldn’t legally rip you off by giving you a smaller loaf but charging the same price. If they short changed a customer, they faced punishment.
The law, called the Assize of Bread and Ale, was re-established in 1266 by Henry III. If a baker short weighted their bread, they could be fined or even flogged. So, when selling loaves by the dozen, bakers would toss in an extra loaf to ensure there was no chance of short changing anyone by accident. If they sold an individual loaf, the customer might get an extra crust.
5. The Fear of Losing Beer Was the Reason Pilgrims Settled at Plymouth Rock
Beer has been an important part of civilization for years. In fact, it’s been argued that civilization exists because of beer. So make no mistake, people take it seriously today and they took it a lot more seriously in the past. So seriously that the fear of running out was a major contributing factor to the decision to settle at Plymouth Rock.
You need to remember that getting a drink of anything was a lot more difficult back when America was first settled than it is today. Safe, clean water was not a kitchen faucet away and a nutritional beverage was even harder to find. Beer fixed both of those problems. For many, it was treated something like liquid bread. Even Puritans weren’t opposed to beer when they might turn their nose up at wine. And if the beer ran out or went bad, then the potential to die of dehydration or starvation was all too real.
4. Motorcycle Speeds Are Limited Over Fears of Getting Out of Hand
Have you ever heard a motorcycle tearing down the road, the engine roaring, and wondered how fast it was going? Today, the answer is probably 186 miles per hour. Or less. But that wasn’t always so. Once upon a time there was a speed war between motorcycle manufacturers and it was only through fears of what would happen if it continued unchecked that the major companies agreed to impose a 186 mph speed limit on all production bikes.
In the 1990s, Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-11 could reach 175 miles-per-hour. It was the world’s fastest bike. Until Honda came along with the 179 mph Super Blackbird. Suzuki leapt into the fray with the 193 mph Hayabusa. Then Kawasaki returned with the ZX-12R, rumored to be able to crack 200 mph. Before the bike even existed, people became concerned. They feared this incredible speeds would lead to death and mayhem if companies kept one upping each other. So what is known as the “Gentleman’s Agreement” was born.
Though not all parties admit to it, word is BMW, Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki all got together to agree to limit their bikes to 300 km/h or 186 mph. A number of European manufacturers have since ignored this number, but the Japanese companies still keep their street bikes limited to 186.
3. Chicago Gangs Feared Crack Would Run Them Out of Business
Remember the War on Drugs? Is it still going on? Maybe. But there was a time when crack hitting the streets of major cities in America was still big news, as it seemed to reach epidemic proportions. But Chicago was slower to give over than other cities for a very unexpected reason.
Though drug dealers did eventually worm their way throughout the city, it was believed that Chicago held the drug at bay for some years thanks to the influence of major drug kingpins and cartels. The gangs that sold powder cocaine and heroin refused to let crack gain a foothold for fear of losing business. The belief was that smaller dealers would pose a threat to their overall control of the city’s drug trade. In fact, it was estimated that 90% of the crack in the city was made at home and not meant for citywide distribution.
2. Blessing After a Sneeze Comes From the Fear of Losing Your Soul
You’re in the kitchen seasoning that steak you’re about to grill when suddenly you get a snoot full of pepper and bust out a vicious sneeze. Your friend in the other room says “bless you” and your day proceeds as normal. Whether you realize it or not, your friend may have just saved your soul from the Devil. In theory, anyway,
The habit of saying “bless you” or “God bless you” after a sneeze dates back to ancient times. Even the Romans and Greeks did it. It was long believed a sneeze put you at risk of launching your soul from your body and leaving you an empty husk of an abomination.
There was a fear that when you shot your soul out with a sneeze, that crafty old imp Satan would use the opportunity to creep inside you and take up residence. So blessing someone was a method of protection against such a stygian migration. Once blessed, the fear of being possessed and soulless was gone.
1. Fear Scrapped a Plan to Assassinate Hitler
One of the most popular thought experiments of the last century has been Baby Hitler. If you could go back in time, would you kill Hitler as an infant? This even popped up in Deadpool. People argue both sides of the issue. But that’s all theoretical. What about when we really could have killed Hitler? Why didn’t that ever happen? It wasn’t because no one ever had the idea. There was a plan, but it was scrapped out of fear.
A number of plans to take out Hitler were tossed around during the war, one of which was Operation Foxley. Winston Churchill himself was a proponent of it and the plan was, on paper, fairly simple even if the logistics were hard to work out. A sniper would be sent to the Bavarian Alps to a place where Hitler went to get away from it all. Intelligence said he took daily walks, so the sniper would simply shoot him on his walk.
The plan was never executed out of fear of what would happen next. The Allies believed Hitler was actually a pretty terrible strategist and that many of their successes were thanks to how bad the man was at commanding his own forces. They feared that Hitler’s death would open the door for a more competent leader and that would turn the tide of war against the Allies.