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Authors: Wilson Casey

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BOOK: Firsts
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Bank Robbery
In 1302 and 1303, while Edward I was away fighting the Scots, Richard de Podelicote and his criminal gang, assisted by good monks gone bad, broke into the vaults of Westminster Abbey in London, England, and stole as much as they could take of the English Crown Jewels. This was the fist big bank raid in history. The vaults were believed to be the most secure depository in the country because they were protected by the Church and were physically located under Westminster Abbey. The gang, with insider help from the monks, initiated work on the robbery at Christmastime and commenced removing goods from the vaults over a period of several months. The robbery was not discovered until mid-May 1303. Upon capture, Richard de Podelicote, along with his gang and 40 monks from Westminster Abbey, were executed.
Bar Code
The universal product code (UPC), or bar code, was invented in 1948 by Bernard Silver, a graduate student of Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along with Joseph Woodland, his partner. They developed a circular, bull’s-eye-style code and received a patent in 1952 titled “Classifying apparatus and method.” The patent described techniques for creating machine-readable item identification codes. The first UPC- marked item ever scanned at a retail checkout was a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum at Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio, on June 26, 1974. The gum was simply the first item the cashier picked up from the shopping cart full of various bar-coded items.
The straight-line bar code we know today came about in 1970, thanks to work by consulting firm McKinsey and Co. and the Uniform Grocery Product Code Council, an organization of leading trade grocery associations.
Barbed Wire
Single-strand barbed wire was first introduced in France in 1860, but only on a very limited scale. The first semi-successful form of the product, two-strand barbed wire, appeared in the United States in 1867 and was patented by blacksmith Michael Kelly in 1868. In 1873, Henry M. Rose patented his version of the two-strand type and exhibited it at a county fair in DeKalb, Illinois. American businessmen such as Joseph F. Glidden, Jacob Haish, and Isaac L. Ellwood were among the fair’s attendees, and they took the barbed wire concept further and launched the barbed wire industry. Not only did they improve the product, but they also paired it with successful marketing and advertising. Glidden’s U.S. patent was issued on November 24, 1874, and for his business savvy, he became known as “the father of barbed wire.”
Barber Pole
In 1642 England, the first barber poles were really bloody rags on a stick or pole hung outside the barber’s door to dry. Bloodletting, or the bleeding out of a disease, was one of the barber’s principal duties. During their practice of “surgery,” a white cloth was used as a wrap or bandage, and in those days of primitive sanitation, the cloth was used repeatedly. The barber/surgeon simply rinsed out the cloth and hung it on a pole in the doorway of the shop to dry. The bandages would often flop, blow, and twist together, forming a spiral pattern around the pole. This subsequently led to the painted red-and-white-striped barber’s pole we know today.
Barbie Doll
The first Barbie doll debuted at the New York International Toy Fair on March 9, 1959 (Barbie’s official birthday). Created by Ruth Handler, cofounder with her husband, Eliot, of Mattel, a toy company in El Segundo, California, the doll appeared in a black-and-white striped swimsuit with her signature ponytail. The doll was marketed as a “teenage fashion model” and was available either as a blonde or brunette. Barbie came about because in the 1950s, Ruth Handler had noticed that her daughter, Barbara, preferred to play with dolls that resembled adults rather than babies. During that era, most three-dimensional dolls looked like newborns or small children. Handler pushed the Mattel directors in the direction of a three-dimensional adult-bodied doll after seeing the Lilli doll while on a trip to Germany. Handler named her doll Barbie after her daughter, Barbara. It sold for $3, and during the introductory year of 1959, 351,000 Barbie dolls sold.
The first barometer for measuring atmospheric pressure was invented around 1644 in Florence, Italy, by Evangelista Torricelli, Galileo’s secretary. Galileo had suggested that Torricelli use mercury in his vacuum experiments. Torricelli filled a 4-foot-long glass tube with mercury and turned it upside down into a bowl. The tube was sealed at one end and left open at the other. The mercury flowed partly into the bowl and left a vacuum at the sealed top of the glass tube. Some of the mercury did not escape the tube, and after daily observations, Torricelli realized that the mercury was rising and falling due to changes in the weather. Thus the first barometer, reacting to changes in atmospheric pressure, was born.
Baseball Card
The first true baseball card sets were issued beginning in 1886 by Goodwin and Company of New York City. They numbered several hundred and featured sepia-toned photographs of baseball players. These cards were essentially photos glued to stiff cardboard backings and were popularly called the “Old Judge” cards because the photos were stationary, not action, shots. Some of the cards featured players posing in studio-created backgrounds with props. Action shots showing catches and batter swings were made using innovations such as a baseball suspended on a string, and in many instances, you could see the string in the photo. Other sets featured full-color lithographs of the game’s top stars. These first and foremost cards were quite popular with a public that was increasingly interested in America’s favorite pastime.
Baseball Glove
In 1870, Doug Allison, a catcher for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, used the first baseball glove in a game because of an injured left hand. That first glove was an adapted leather work glove without full fingers—a far cry from today’s baseball gloves. It was flesh colored to be as inconspicuous as possible, and had a large, round opening in the back for ventilation. Small sheets or strips of leather were inserted into the glove for extra padding. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact first player to wear a glove for fielding purposes, but it’s logical that the catcher would have been the first position player to wear one because he handled hundreds of pitches and dealt with foul tips. Although at first, wearing a glove labeled the player as a “sissy” by many, it slowly caught on to more and more players.
Baseball Stadium
The first stadium, or enclosed baseball park, opened on May 15, 1862, after proprietor William Cammeyer put a fence around the Union Grounds in Brooklyn, New York. (With the fence came the over-the-fence homerun; before then, batted balls hit between outfielders could seemingly roll forever.) This crude stadium’s farthest outfield wall was 500 feet from home plate, and the right-field wall was 350 feet away. The stadium featured wooden bleachers (a fire hazard) behind home plate and partially up the foul lines for spectators. The stadium’s capacity was around 1,500, and on April 18, 1869, Union Grounds featured the first non-All-Star game that had a cover charge. Admission was 10¢, and the game featured local players. Onlookers and fans who didn’t get to sit lined the outfield fences four and five deep. In winter, this first baseball stadium was used as an ice-skating rink.
Baseball Uniform
It was April 24, 1849, when the first professional team, the Knicker bocker Base Ball Club of New York City (New York Knickerbockers), officially adopted team uniforms. Owner Alexander Cartwright chose white flannel shirts with a black collar, blue wool pantaloons (loose-fitting pants gathered at the ankle), and chip (straw) hats for his players to wear. It was a simple outfit, but the choice of wool had an underlying meaning. Cotton would have been less expensive and made more comfortable uniforms, but during this time, it was strongly associated with work clothing. Cotton was not fashionable and respectable dress. The early baseball clubs wanted to distance themselves from the working class. Wearing wool aligned the players with organizations of a higher status.
Around 250 B.C.E., the first battery was used by the Parthians who ruled Baghdad. Now famously called the “Baghdad battery,” it was made of a clay jar (for support) about 5½ inches high and 3 inches in diameter with a 1½-inch opening at the top. Inside this opening, and held in place with asphalt, was a tube made of a copper sheet. This tube was sealed at the bottom with a copper disc held into place by more asphalt. An iron rod suspended from the asphalt lid hung down inside the center of the copper roll. The use of asphalt sealing indicates that the apparatus must have contained some liquid, most likely vinegar, which is acidic. The pottery jar and its contents, the world’s first battery, successfully produced an electric current of approximately 1.5 volts. There are a couple fields of thought as to the use of this first electrical current, from enabling primitive jewelers to electroplate precious metals to assisting physicians in medical therapy.
Admiral Yi Sun-shin of Korea invented the first armored battleship in 1592. It was called a Kobukson, or “turtle ship,” because of its appearance and toughness. Its crew was usually 50 to 60 fighting marines and 70 oarsmen. Turtle ships were propelled by oars or sails or both and were decked with iron plates that deflected incoming cannon fire. Spikes and knives were attached to the armored plates to discourage enemies from boarding. The bow of the ship had a large iron ram in the shape of a dragon. The ship was equipped with at least five different types of cannons and guns that could be fired in any direction. For camouflaging purposes, clouds of sulfur smoke could be emitted through the bow’s dragon head to obscure the ship’s position in short-distance combat. These first battleships were pretty much impervious to any other weapons or seaworthy vessels of the time, and Admiral Yi Sun-shin initially had five turtle ships built.
Beauty Pageant
The first beauty contest was around 475 B.C.E. in Susa, the capital of Persia. The Persian king, Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes I, became drunk one night and sent for his beautiful queen, Vashti, to appear at a royal banquet. She refused to come. Disgraced by her action, the king banished her, and held a beauty contest at Shushan, the palace, to find the most beautiful girl to become his new queen. Many fair young maidens gathered together for the king to judge, and the king chose a young Jewish girl called Esther. As winner of this first beauty pageant, she became queen and was showered with gifts and servants.
Beer is the first alcoholic beverage known to civilization, with mentions dating to thousands of years ago. Nearly every culture developed its own version of beer, using various grains like millet, maize, cassava, rice, and barley. It’s not known when the first alcoholic beer was created, but it was the first product humans made from grain and water, even before they learned to make bread. The Egyptian texts of 1600 B.C.E. contained medical prescriptions calling for beer. In 1935, the first canned beers by Krueger went on sale in Richmond, Virginia.
In 1790, Comte Mede de Sivrac of France constructed a wooden scooter-like device with two wheels, no pedals, no brakes, and limited steering ability. Between the two wheels, the rider straddled a wooden seat. The top of this first bicycle was only about 30 inches above the ground, and the rider propelled himself by kicking the ground with his feet. Because there was no steering, the passenger had to lean and shift his weight to the left or right to turn. That helped a little, but skilled riders could turn the bicycle in transit by lifting the front wheel in a hopping or jumping motion. While the wheel was slightly off the ground, they shifted the bicycle into the direction they wanted to go. They, in fact, were doing the first-ever wheelies.
Around 1760, Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, created his “double spectacles,” or bifocals. They were a combination of both concave and convex lenses for two types of vision correction: a top lens for distant viewing and a lower lens for reading. Franklin had become annoyed at having to keep up with two pairs of glasses, and his double spectacles remedied the problem. He equipped an eyeglass frame with lenses that consisted of two parts with different focusing powers. The semicircular glass lenses joined horizontally. The line separating the two lenses was evident, but the concept worked superbly. The upper and lower semicircles provided different magnification strength, and wearers only had to move their eyes up or down to see clearly, far or near.
Big-Box Store
In 1962, Thrifty Acres, the first big-box store, opened in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Meijer’s pioneered the store as a hypermarket or superstore concept that offered both groceries and department store goods. This first big-box store is still in operation today at the corner of 28th Street and Kalamazoo and encompasses some 180,000 square feet. Meijer’s had been founded as a supermarket in 1934 in Greenville, Michigan, by Dutch immigrant Hendrik Meijer. Meijer also trademarked the phrase “one stop shopping.” Thrifty Acres was built with 6-inch-thick floors so that if the concept failed, the nongrocery half could be converted into an indoor car dealership.
The bikini, under that name, made its first proper introduction to the world of fashion design on July 5, 1946, worn and displayed at a Paris fashion show by blond French model Micheline Bernardini. The first bikini was printed with images of newspapers and designed by Louis Reard, a mechanical engineer who dabbled in ideas for swimsuits. He called his two-piece swimsuit “four triangles of nothing,” and sent out skywriters over the French Riviera with the message “Bikini—smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.” That clever wording made the name
the official tag for the two-piece swimsuit. Only three weeks earlier, Jacques Heim, a fashion designer and beach shop owner in the French resort town Cannes, introduced his bikini-like swimsuit creation, the Atome. Heim also used skywriters, proclaiming the new Atome “the world’s smallest bathing suit.” Heim never called it “bikini”; Reard did.
BOOK: Firsts
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