Real-life origin stories you would never guess

Only in comic books could a radioactive spider bite you and give you superpowers. But sometimes the origin stories for real-life groups, organizations, and products can be as bizarre as Spider-Man’s. Take these tales, for instance…

Good Humor Ice Cream took on the Mafia… and won

In the 1920s, Good Humor Ice Cream was a small company based in Ohio that was beginning to expand into neighboring states. Founder Christian Nelson had discovered that by freezing the ice cream onto a stick, they were able to create a far less messy way to enjoy their summertime treats. Driving from town to town and neighborhood to neighborhood, they sold these ice cream sticks right from the truck. Slowly, the product was starting to catch on, and with a new plant in Detroit the next obvious place to expand was Chicago.

Unfortunately for anyone wanting to do business in Chicago, the city was held hostage by Mafia bosses like Al Capone.

Pictured: Someone you don't want to mess with.

You didn’t open up so much as a hot dog stand in Chicago without paying the Mafia protection money (to the tune of $5,000). With the city’s police and judges either bought or intimidated into submission, businesses had no real alternatives. The classic “offer you couldn’t refuse”, if ever there was one.

But Good Humor refused.

Oh, the Mafia were mad. Mad enough that they car-bombed Good Humor’s ice cream trucks. At this point, most people would pay up to avoid further trouble. Thomas J. Brimer, owner of the Chicago franchise, was not most people. At great risk to his own life and that of his family and his employees, he insisted on selling the sweet treats in Chicago whether the gangsters liked it or not.

This stubbornness brought national attention to the ice cream chain that would not be corrupted. Because they stood up to the mafia, Americans from coast to coast wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Thus, the image of the squeaky-clean Good Humor Man was born, and a regional chain became a national phenomenon.

Information from Food Network’s Unwrapped

Nintendo was a century-old playing card company

When you think of “Nintendo” the first thing that probably comes to mind is video games. Video games are, after all, the heart and soul of the company, with many lovable characters like Mario and Link as well as consoles from the old NES to the new Wii U. So how could such a company have been founded in 1889?

That’s right. Nintendo was originally a maker of ordinary playing cards, just like Bicycle here in the States. Then in the 1950s, Nintendo began to branch out into other businesses. After such failed ventures as a taxi service, a line of instant rice, and even a love hotel, Nintendo eventually moved into children’s toys.

In the 1970s, Nintendo’s interest in the brand-new video game industry began in earnest as a sort of natural expansion of its toy line. Much like Mattel, makers of the Intellivision, Nintendo still didn’t see the potential in video games. That was, until a guy named Shigeru Miyamoto came up with an arcade game called Donkey Kong that proved an accidental worldwide hit.

We all pretty much know what happened from here.

Information from G4TV‘s Game Makers.

Polynesians are originally from China

Thousands of years ago, what we in the West would consider “Chinese culture” (technically Han culture) was restricted to a small area along the Yellow River in north-central China. Today, 92% of China’s population is Han Chinese and their culture has spread from Manchuria to Hong Kong. As you’ve probably guessed by now, this expansion of the Han meant lots of non-Han people were displaced and driven out.

Sounds vaguely familiar...

Among those driven out were a group of tribes collectively labeled “Austronesians” by Western anthropologists, who originated in southern China. They raised pigs, grew rice, and were apparently very good sailors and shipbuilders. When mounting pressure from their neighbors led to their eviction from the Chinese mainland, they sailed to Taiwan and settled there. From Taiwan, they expanded by sailing from island to island across the Pacific, picking up local tropical crops like bananas, coconuts, yams, and taro along the way. By 1200 BC, they had reached Samoa; by 500 AD, they reached Hawaii and Easter Island; and by 1000 AD, they reached New Zealand.

"I'm bored with this island. Let's find another one."

But they didn’t limit themselves to sailing east. In fact, the first islands they settled after Taiwan were also the closest – the Philippines. From there, they spread through Indonesia and Malaysia, and around 500 AD some intrepid Austronesians even sailed to Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, landing there centuries before the first Africans to do so.

No, no, not you.

Yes, Filipinos, Indonesians, Malays, Polynesians, and even the people of Madagascar are all part of one big lineage, that started out in China. Talk about mobility.

Information from Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

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