50 Funny, Inspiring, and Just Plain Bizarre Historic Firsts
Do you know what the first food ever microwaved was? Or who the first person to win two Nobel prizes was? Read on for the answers to these and 48 other amazing firsts.
First woman to fly solo over the Atlantic
You probably slept through your last flight over the Atlantic ocean. (Unless you’re a pilot and then we sincerely hope you didn’t.) But less than a century ago, flying was a dangerous, risky sport. And on May 21, 1932, Amelia Earhart earned her place on the list of high-flying adrenaline junkies when she became the first woman aviator to pilot a solo transatlantic flight. She was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. Congress. History buffs, do you know the true facts behind these 18 history lessons your teacher lied to you about?
First telephone call
“Mr. Watson, come here” —these dry words were immortalized in historical cannon on March 10, 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call to his assistant, Watson, who was just in the next room. We wonder if he might have chosen something a little more auspicious if he’d known how famous those first, crackly words would become? Either way, at least he didn’t have to pay for long distance!
First cell phone call
It’s hard to get excited about a landline call when you’re likely reading this article on your smartphone—a device that people use to do pretty much everything but make phone calls. Technophiles can celebrate April 3, 1973, as their holiday. On this date, Motorola employee Martin Cooper made the first cell phone call, standing outside in Manhattan, to a colleague in New Jersey. His immortal first words? “I’m ringing you just to see if my call sounds good at your end?” … and nearly 50 years later we’re still yelling, “Can you hear me now?!” Don’t miss these 100 interesting facts about practically everything.
First food microwaved
The first food ever microwaved on purpose was… exactly what you’d imagine it would be: Popcorn! On October 8, 1945, Raytheon patented the first microwave cooking oven. They revealed that their engineer Percy Spencer had first discovered the heating powers of microwaves when he was working with them in the lab and accidentally melted a candy bar in his pocket. He then tested it out officially on popcorn, which was a success, and an egg, which exploded in his face. (Don’t microwave whole eggs, kids.) For more tasty historical facts, check out these quirky facts about the history of your favorite foods.
First person to walk all the way around the world
On October 5, 1974, Dave Kunst walked back into Waseca, Minnesota, from the west, after having walked out of it from the east nearly four months earlier. He did not get lost on the way to the gas station to get a beer. Instead, he became the first verified person to walk all the way around the earth on foot. (Yes, that’s minus the oceans. He was talented but not that talented.) Already knew this one? Try these 16 history questions people always get wrong.
First television sitcom (you’ve never heard of)
People have been chuckling along to laugh tracks and the crazy antics of actors on television pretty much as long as there have been televisions. The first TV sitcom, Pinwright’s Progress, debuted on November 29, 1946, on the BBC and chronicled the adventures of the smallest store in the world. The first episode was about proprietor J. Pinwright, his pretty daughter, and his arch nemesis, along with his “helpful” staff who only made things worse. We would totally watch that.
First animal in space
Laika, the goodest good girl ever, became the first dog and animal to go into orbit on November 3, 1957. Tragically, the “charming, quiet mongrel” then became the first animal to die in space, as her ride, the Sputnik 2, was not engineered for reentry. At least she got her own monument? Check out these other brave animals that changed history.
Instagram wasn’t a thing in the 1800s but that doesn’t mean young people didn’t love to take pictures of themselves! In 1839 Robert Cornelius had some extra time on his hands while working in his family’s store and decided to take a picture of himself, the first selfie. He would have had to hold his pose for at least several minutes however, which might explain why he didn’t do the infamous “duck lips” face.
First pedestrian hit and killed by a car
In a day and age where pedestrians getting hit by cars has unfortunately become so routine it hardly even makes the news anymore, it can be easy to forget that there had to have been a first person to be killed by those new-fangled mechanical horses. And that person was Bridget Driscoll when she was struck down by a demonstration car on August 17, 1896. The car was traveling at four miles per hour which makes it even harder to understand how the tragedy happened. The coroner said he hoped “such a thing would never happen again.” Hmm.
First text message
Texting is practically as essential to modern life as water and taquitos and you have Neil Papworth to thank for your cramped fingers. On December 3, 1992, he was working on developing SMS for Vodafone and sent the first text. What did he send? “Merry Christmas!” At least it’s better than “Mr. Watson, come here”? Check out these 20 mind-blowing historical connections.
First penis transplant
On December 11, 2014, Thomas Manning became the first man to successfully get a penis transplant. He endured the 12-hour experimental surgery after losing his genitals to cancer.
First observed solar flare
We won’t be so prideful as to think that solar flares haven’t been happening since there was a sun, but humans didn’t notice them until September 1, 1859. On this date, the first observed solar flare was reported by British astronomer Richard Carrington. Fun fact: It is also the most powerful solar flare ever recorded.
Before 1884, all buildings were short, all men were tall, and the sky was much closer to earth. Or at least it felt that way until the Home Insurance Building was erected in downtown Chicago. At 10 stories and 136 feet tall, the steel-and-brick structure became the first official skyscraper. It was demolished in 1931.
First person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and live to tell the tale
Annie Edson Taylor made history on October 24, 1901, when she climbed in a barrel and sailed over the edge of the Niagara Falls. She wasn’t the first person to try the barrel drop but she was the first person to survive it! It was also her 63rd birthday but she wasn’t in a celebratory mood; she stated afterward, “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat…. I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.” OK, we’re convinced!
First national park opened for visitors
Yellowstone certainly existed before March 1, 1872, the day it was declared the first national park in the U.S. But you couldn’t probably couldn’t buy souvenir socks that look like bears before then. Thanks to Ulysses S. Grant, the park has since hosted millions of tourists, astounding them with its natural beauty and strange assortment of branded merchandise. And they’ve been repaying the love with millions of photos, including these gorgeous images of our National Parks in full bloom.
First integrated school
September 4, 1957, was the first day of class at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, but this first day was unlike any the school had known previously. The previously all-white school was becoming the first integrated school after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation was unconstitutional. The pictures of the “Little Rock 9″—the first black students to enroll—are iconic as a testament to bravery today.
First corporate sponsorship on TV
These days there are so many product placements it can be hard to know what’s an ad and what’s actually the show you thought you were watching. But June 19, 1946, was a simpler time. That was the day that Gillette sponsored the broadcast of a boxing match between Joe Louis and Billy Conn, giving Gillette the dubious honor of becoming the first televised corporate sponsor. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we need to sell some more ad space.
First author to earn $1 billion
For someone who wrote a villain so terrible he literally couldn’t be named, J.K. Rowling sure managed to write a whole lot of other things, including Harry Potter, one of the most endearing fictional characters ever. And all that writing earned her a lot of money, making her the first billion-dollar author ever. Accio gold bars! Think that’s cool? You’ll love these empowering stories of women in history.
First gold medal in the Olympics
The 1904 Olympics have the honor of being the Games when gold medals as first-place prizes were first introduced. And they were quite the prize: The medals were cast from solid gold. At least they were until 1912, at which point it was deemed too expensive. From then until the present day first place medals are cast in silver and then coated in gold.
First 3-D movie
Bring on the funny glasses! 3-D movies have been making audiences both intrigued and nauseated for nearly a century. On September 27, 1922, the first 3-D film (or stereoscopic film) premiered in Los Angeles. It was a 5-reel melodrama named The Power of Love. Thought it would have been an action flick? Us too.
First voicemail message
On April 9, 1860, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville inadvertently invented the first voice message—decades before voicemail would become the blessing and the curse it is today. What did he choose? He sang a 10-second clip of the French folk song ‘Au Clair de la Lune.’ Scientists weren’t actually able to play the recording back until 2008 though. Here’s hoping he was good because that’s one long wait!
First woman elected to Congress
Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, made political history on November 7, 1916 when she became the first U.S woman elected to a national office. The irony, of course, is that women didn’t even win the right to vote until 1920. She served for more than 60 years .and later said her proudest moment was being the only woman who was able to vote in Congress for the women’s right to vote. Want more? Start with these 20 inspiring quotes from seriously awesome women in history.
First published world map
People have been getting lost since time immemorial so it makes sense that making a map would be an early priority. Directionally challenged folks didn’t get the first published world atlas until 1570, however. The Theatrum orbis terrarum (Theatre of the world) was created by the Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius and published in a 53-page book. Love exploring but want to stay local? Check out 16 of the best American cities for history buffs.
First giant squid seen outside of nightmares
Archie, a 28-foot giant squid, was accidentally caught in a fishing net in March 2004. (We bet those were some startled fishermen!) While many people had claimed to have seen a giant squid, he was the first giant squid to be captured. He didn’t survive long, sadly, but you can see him displayed at the London Natural History Museum—well, there or in your nightmares.
First “God particle” found
The Higgs boson is an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics. Often termed the “god particle” due to its unique properties and theoretical importance, scientists had only theorized its existence. That is, until July 4, 2012, when scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider discovered the first particle they say behaves exactly as the hypothetical god particle should. More testing still needs to be done to ensure the accuracy of the discovery, but physicists around the world are breaking out the bubbly.
First roll of toilet paper
You think people who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet are gross now? Today we at least have toilet paper; in centuries past people used to just use their actual hands (and there was no antibacterial soap). You can thank Joseph Gayetty for this modern sanitation miracle. In 1857, he invented the first toilet paper that was the precursor to the toilet paper we use in the U.S. today. He named it “medical paper” and claimed it was “The Greatest Necessity of the Age.”
First robots used in military combat
Robots have been fighting wars in sci-fi novels and movies for years but they only recently became a reality. In July 2002, robots Hermes, Professor, Thing, and Fester became the first robots deployed in ground combat in Afghanistan. The robots were responsible for clearing caves ahead of human troops. They are described as heavy enough to trigger mines, tall enough to trip booby-traps, and long enough to carry 12 cameras, a grenade launcher, and a 12-gauge shotgun. Yikes.
First white ligers
A liger is an animal created when a lion and a tiger mate. The hybrids have existed for years but in December 2013, when a white Bengal tigress named Saraswati hooked up with a white African lion named Ivory, the first white ligers were born. Now, why haven’t unicorns become a reality yet? You bring the horse, we’ll bring the narwhal.
First black man to play major league baseball
Think Jackie Robinson was the first African American man to play on a major league baseball team? Nope, that honor belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker. He played his first game for the Toledo Blue Stockings on May 1, 1884. He retired after 42 games due to an injury.
Think rocks have been around forever? There had to be a first rock on earth, sometime, somewhere. And that rock was formed about four billion years ago, at the beginning of the Archaean geological period, according to geologists. Although they caution this date is estimated rather than known because very few rocks from this period remain. You don’t say?
First person to summit Mt. Everest
On May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary became the first person confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest. Although dual credit should be given to his sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, who not only made the ascent but did it while carrying a bunch of stuff for other people. And let’s not forget all the Nepalese who made the climb previously.
If no one knows what time it is, can your boss fire you for being late to work? A French monk, named Liutprand, ruined that loophole when he invented the first hourglass in the 8th century AD. The device could mark time as sand moved from one side to the other and is said to have played a big role in The Age of Discovery as it could be used on ships without being disrupted by waves, motion, or water. Find out more science facts you never learned in school.
In 1826 French photographer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took what is widely recognized as the first photograph. Although it’s up for debate how recognizable the image is—the grainy black and white photo is said to be the view from his window. Or it might be a picture of apes in a jungle. Or the moon. Or anything really, depending on how you squint. Still, he did it using a pewter plate and asphalt which is pretty ingenious!
First video game console
Video games today with their hyper-realistic gameplay and complex storylines are all descended from the Magnavox Odyssey, the first video game console. It was sold in 1972 for the equivalent of $500 today and had games including tennis, hockey, and roulette.
First national pinball competition
In the great pantheon of competitive sports, Pinball doesn’t get much love. But not only is competitive pinball a thing, it’s been around for nearly a century. The first pinball competition was held May 26, 1935. It was called “Big Wiffle” and the winner got $1,000 and a “fine bedroom suite.” Score!
First baby conceived by IVF
Before modern fertility medicine, if things weren’t working in the baby department hopeful parents were left with prayer, sketchy procedures, and more than a few dubious old wives’ tales. Then on November 10, 1977, all of that changed when Lesley Brown was impregnated with an embryo through a new technique called in-vitro fertilization. Nine months later, daughter Louise became the first baby born after IVF.
First video on YouTube
With music videos, DIY tutorials, television shows, and pretty much everything else one could ever want to see (and not see), it’s all too easy to get sucked into watching YouTube. You’d never know it though from the first video ever uploaded to YouTube. On April 23, 2005, “Meet me at the zoo” went live. It’s a scintillating 18 seconds of a boy explaining that elephants have long tusks.
First reality TV show
The Kardashians may rule the genre but they didn’t invent reality TV programming—that honor goes to An American Family. The first reality show aired on January 11, 1973, on PBS and (spoiler alert) there was no flashing, table flipping, or hot tubs. There were, however, dancing children.
First person to win two Nobel prizes
Winning one Nobel prize is considered an amazing lifetime accomplishment but winning two of the distinguished awards? Leave it to Marie Curie, the famous scientist, to be the first person to ever win two Nobel prizes when she won the Physics prize in 1903 and the Chemistry prize in 1911.
First person to run a marathon
According to legend, in 490 BC, Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, ran the first marathon. He hoofed it 25 miles from the battle of Marathon to Athens to deliver the news that Greece had won, at which point he keeled over and died from exhaustion. This happy tale inspired modern runners to follow suit by running their own 25-mile race. Modern-day marathons are now 26.2 miles, the distance between the lawn of Windsor Castle and the royal box at the Olympic stadium after a request by Queen Alexandra in 1908.
First person to score 1,000 goals in soccer
On November 19, 1969, legendary soccer pro Pelé scored his 1,000th goal in competition, making him the first (and only) player to score 1,000 or more soccer goals. By the end of his career, the Brazilian had made 1,281 goals and was voted the Athlete of The Century in 1999.
First book ever printed
In 1440 Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press, allowing the mass production and distribution of books for the first time. The first major book he published? The Bible, of course! Today we honor his legacy by purchasing all our books in electronic form and calling print “old” media. And of course, the electronic outlet has changed how we write, like this history of emojis shows.
First moon landing
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin inspired imaginations and awestruck people all over the world when on July 20, 1969, they became the first men to walk on the moon. Armstrong also created one of the first viral memes when he said “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” You don’t have to be long-winded to be profound as shown by these shortest quotes in history.
First beauty pageant (and first beauty pageant protest)
The inimitable showman P. T. Barnum staged the first American beauty pageant in June 1855. At least, he tried to. The pageant was shut down due to public outcry before a winner could be chosen. Don’t worry, despite their slow start by the end of World War II, the Miss America, Miss USA, Miss World, and Miss Universe pageants were here.
First humans to fly
On November 21, 1783, Marquis d’Arlandes and Pilatre de Rozier became the first humans to fly when they went up in a hot-air balloon. Their Parisian sky ride lasted for 20 minutes but inspired centuries of inventors, dreamers, and jigsaw-puzzle makers.
First person to reach both the north and south poles
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole in 1911 and then trekked to the North Pole in 1926, making him the first person to reach each pole and the first person to reach both poles. Good news: He set world records. Bad news: There was zero evidence of Santa Claus. Sorry, kids.
First person to break the sound barrier
Think your last plane ride went fast? On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager flew an experimental plane going at Mach 1, becoming the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound (and proving that Mach speeds aren’t just a made-up sci-fi word).
First baby born in the American Colonies
The birth of any baby is a happy day but Virginia Dare’s birth date of August 18, 1587, is particularly celebratory. On that day she became the first English person born in the American colonies. (Obviously not the first person born in America, as the large population of Native Americans can attest.) Sadly, Virginia, who was named in honor of the colony she was born in, along with all the other colonists in her group, mysteriously disappeared within three years.
First president to be elected with a unanimous vote
George Washington is well-known for being the first American president but on April 30, 1789, he also became the first (and only) U.S. president to be unanimously elected. After his death in 1799, he was eulogized as being “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Here are more stories of other ordinary people who changed history.
First Darwin Award winner
The Darwin awards were founded in 1993 to commemorate people who “protected the gene pool” by dying in “an extraordinarily idiotic manner.” The first Darwin Award winner was an unnamed man who died while trying to steal a soda from a vending machine, inadvertently tipping it over and crushing himself. Their motto—”chlorinating the gene pool”—pretty much sums it up. Read on for 58 female firsts that made history.