From the tiny to the eye-wateringly massive, history is just stuffed with legendary penises. But how many of these tales are really true? We consulted historians, a comedy writer and even a Pulitzer Prize winner in our attempt to discover the truth behind these stories of the oversized, the severed, the diseased and the deformed. Strap yourself in for some quality journalism.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis | French dictator and conquerer
The Penis: Since his death in 1821, Napoleon’s penis has been the subject of an urban legend that claims that during his autopsy on St. Helena, it was somehow accidentally removed and has travelled the globe in the hands of collectors ever since.
The Story: Napoleon’s penis is presently in Englewood, New Jersey… maybe. A 2015 article in The Washington Post catalogued the path of Bonaparte’s penis from Napoleon himself, to an Italian priest, to a London bookseller, to a book dealer in Philadelphia, to a French Museum in New York City. From there, after being displayed for decades, it was bought in an auction in Paris in 1977 by an American urologist, whose descendants currently live in New Jersey.
Penis Myth Accuracy: While it’s been confirmed that this mummified item is an actual penis, whether or not it’s Napoleon’s is sadly impossible to verify.
Milton Berle’s penis | comedian and icon of TV and radio
The Penis: The size of Uncle Miltie’s enormous schlong is probably a bigger part of showbiz legend than its owner.
The Story: On Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, Gottfried and his co-host, comedy writer Frank Santopadre, primarily interview guests from the golden age of Hollywood, many of whom actually worked with Milton Berle. “Whenever we have a guest on that worked with Uncle Miltie,” says Santopadre, “Gilbert will inevitably ask them if they saw his penis. Most said they hadn’t, but Jeff Ross and Alan Zweibel both said they saw it and they confirmed its legendary size.”
Penis Myth Accuracy: This story is so pervasive, and has enough eye-witnesses (Berle, it’s said, liked to hang out in his dressing room with his robe unfurled), that it seems it must be true.
Lyndon B. Johnson’s penis | 36th President of the United States
The Penis: “Numerous writers have claimed that LBJ took inordinate pride in the size of his member and would refer to it as ‘Jumbo,’” says author Robert Schenkkan, a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner and author of All the Way, a biographical play about Johnson starring Bryan Cranston.
The Story: In addition to Schenkkan, we reached out to Johnson biographer Bruce Schulman, author of Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism, who told us that, “Though stories abound, I’ve never seen a verifiable account of ‘Jumbo.’ LBJ did refer often to other people’s peckers, though — cutting them off, throwing them in drawers, etc.” As well as this apparent fixation with penises, there’s also a well-known audio recording of LBJ ordering pants, in which he instructs the tailor to leave plenty of room in the crotch:
Penis Myth Accuracy: Though Schulman and Schenkkan didn’t have direct evidence, they had both heard the stories, which have been recounted in several LBJ biographies. Still, while the audio recording is interesting, LBJ does say he wants room for his “bunghole” in the recording, not “Jumbo.” So while this legend has a good chance of being true, it could just be one of many examples of Johnson’s dirty sense of humor, for which he was famous.
Rasputin’s penis | Russian holy man and mystic; influential figure in pre-revolutionary Russia
The Penis: Rasputin was assassinated in 1916, and much like Napoleon, his penis went on its own separate odyssey after his post-mortem. Unlike Napoleon’s, Rasputin’s penis was rumored to be huge and, supposedly, magical.
The Story: After Rasputin was killed by angry nobles, his penis was allegedly discovered sans body by a maid, who preserved the 13-inch monster for posterity. From there, it was obtained by a group of Russian women living in Paris who, due to Rasputin’s reputation as a mystic and revered lover, treated it as sacred. Reportedly, it was kept in a wooden casket and bits were broken off for disciples. This apparently continued until Rasputin’s real-life daughter demanded they turn over her daddy’s dick. After her death in 1977, the penis eventually turned up again in 1994, at which point it was discovered to actually be a sea cucumber.
In 2004, another item also claimed to be Rasputin’s oversized dong — suspended in formaldehyde, no less — was purchased from a French antiquarian by the curator of the Russian Museum of Erotica for $8,000. The museum’s curator says that the mere sight of it can cure impotence.
Penis Myth Accuracy: Well, we can assume the impotency thing is bullshit. But what about the rest of it? Since the original penis was discovered to be a shriveled sea cucumber and the new one has decidedly vague origins, the whole thing is probably bogus.
Gouverneur Morris’ penis | American statesman and signer of the Declaration of Independence
The Penis: While there are plenty of stories about the sexual exploits of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, this founding father’s dick was probably what killed him. Morris, so the legend goes, was so riddled with gonorrhea that he had to pry open his peehole just to urinate, and supposedly died from an infection contracted while trying to clear his peehole.
Penis Myth Accuracy: This one seems both legit and a reason to be grateful we live in the 21st century.
Adolf Hitler’s penis | German dictator, genocidal maniac, bad person
The Penis: According to various rumors, Hitler had: a micropenis; a missing testicle; an undescended testicle; and/or hypospadias (a condition where the pee hole is situated further down the shaft).
The Story: Last year, TIME did a rundown of all the Hitler genital rumors, which date back all the way to World War II, when British troops were fond of singing “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball” to the tune of “Colonel Bogey.”
The list includes a 2008 story in British tabloid the Sun, claiming that he lost a testicle in World War I, and a 2015 book entitled Hitler’s Last Day: Minute by Minute, which claimed he may have had both an undescended testicle and hypospadias. Accounts vary, though: A battlefield medic was responsible for saying that Hitler lost a ball; his childhood doctor said he was totally normal; a prison doctor stated he had an undescended testicle; and a supposed Russian autopsy said a ball was missing. Every one of these claims has been questioned by historians.
Penis Myth Accuracy: It’s tough to say if Hitler actually had some kind of genital abnormality, or if we all just want him to have had some kind of genital abnormality. But since this is Hitler we’re talking about, whether or not he may have had a malformed penis is really the least of the questions we should be asking.