Chang And Eng: The Conjoined Twins Who Profited As 'Freaks' And Owned Slaves

The Siamese twins, Chang and Eng. (Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Conjoined twins are exceedingly rare, thought to occur when a fertilized egg splits, normally resulting in identical twins, but doesn't fully separate, leaving the twins connected, usually by the abdomen or, less commonly, the skull. You may have heard these kinds of siblings called by the very defunct term "Siamese twins," but there's actually a reason for that. Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811, were the first well-documented case of conjoined twins.

Robert Hunter, Chang, And Eng

In 1824, Scottish businessman Robert Hunter was working his way through Siam when he spotted the curious sight of Chang and Eng swimming very close together in the Menam River. When he realized the 17-year-old boys were conjoined, attached at the sternum by a four-inch band of cartilage which fused their livers together, all Hunter could see was dollar signs. Human exhibitions, known as "freak shows," were an extremely lucrative business in the West, so the boys agreed to accompany Hunter to America to work as human curiosities. Although their original agreement was only for five years, they never returned to their homeland.