Today, it’s exciting to see a comet streak across the sky. But in 1910, when Halley’s Comet approached, it sparked mass hysteria and had people rushing out to buy “comet-protecting umbrellas.” Yes, umbrellas.
Newspapers even reported that the comet would “snuff out all life on Earth,” and shady entrepreneurs were quick to smell an opportunity. Besides umbrellas, they sold things like gas masks and anti-comet pills.
The comet passed by without harm, of course—which means we can still see these great links to the original newspapers, thanks to the US Library of Congress.
In 1867, when Sarah Breedlove was born to former slaves on a Louisiana plantation, no one imagined she would found a beauty empire and become a self-made millionaire. Orphaned by seven, married at 14, and a widow by 20, young Sarah took her daughter and moved to St. Louis to join her brothers.
But when another setback caused Sarah’s hair to fall out, she wasn’t about to give up. Her search for a cure drove her to launch a business that would include training schools for sales reps and beauty advisors (years before the empire-building example of Mary Kay Ash, who would found Mary Kay Cosmetics).
By the time she died in 1919, the persistent young Sarah had become known as Madam C. J. Walker—self-made millionaire, business tycoon, and philanthropist. Check out the video and some great archival photos at Biography.