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Authors: Wilson Casey

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The first known bricks date to 7500 B.C.E. early Mesopotamia and were made from sun-dried clay mud in the Upper Tigris area of southeastern Turkey. Clay from deposits around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was mixed with straw, shaped into individual bricklike units, and sun-dried (similar to the way kids make mud pies). These first mud bricks did not stand up to the tough weather conditions and were in constant need of repair when used to construct primitive shelter. The first fired (cooked or heated) bricks were produced in the third millennium B.C.E. in Neolithic Jericho and were a much better product. The fired bricks meant more permanent buildings could be constructed in areas with high rainfall or with cold or very hot weather.
Broadway Musical
The earliest American musical for which a complete score and libretto survived was
The Archers,
also called
The Mountaineers of Switzerland.
It premiered in New York City on April 18, 1796, and ran for three performances at the John Street Theatre, east of Broadway.
The Archers
was a comic opera by librettist William Dunlap and composer Benjamin Carr. The musical was adapted from Friedrich von Schiller’s William Tell legend and contrasted ideas of liberty and anarchy. It followed its initial three-performance run with two nights in Boston.
Bubble Gum
In 1928, the first marketable bubble gum was invented by 23-year-old Walter E. Diemer, an accountant with the Fleer chewing gum company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Diemer spent his spare time playing around with new gum recipes and explained, in a 1996 interview with the
Lancaster Intelligencer Journal,
“I was doing something else and ended up with something with bubbles.” Pink was the one and only shade of food coloring he had nearby, so his new bubble gum became pink. It was less sticky than regular chewing gum and also stretched more easily. Diemer carried a 5-pound glop of his new gum to a grocery store and conducted demonstrations. It sold out in a single afternoon, and before long, the Fleer chewing gum company was marketing and selling Diemer’s creation, calling it Dubble Bubble.
Buddhist Monastery
Around 500 B.C.E., King Bimbisara of Magadha in India donated the great Veluvana Garden as a monastic dwelling to the future Buddha and the Order of Sangha. The Buddha humbly accepted the bamboo grove park because he wanted a residence that was secluded and quiet and not too far—nor too close—to the city. King Bimbisara was the Buddha’s first Royal Patron, and it’s said that as the king poured donation water for the facility, the earth quaked as if the main roots of Buddha’s teachings had rooted into the ground. Even though the Buddha’s new residence was known as Veluvanarama (
is used to denote a monastery), there were no permanent buildings. The Buddha and his monks resided under the shelter of the trees for 6 years during the rainy season before moving elsewhere.
Bungee Jump
Around 1000 C.E., the first bungee jump was performed on Pentecost Island in the Pacific Archipelago of Vanuatu. A man called Tamalie in the village Bunlap had a quarrel with his wife. She ran away, climbed a tall Banyan tree, and wrapped her ankles with liana vines. Tamalie followed her up the tree. The woman jumped and survived because of the vines tied to her ankles. The man also jumped, not knowing what his wife had done. He died, and the men of Bunlap were very impressed by his performance. Thereafter, the jump transformed into an ongoing death-defying religious ritual called
or “land diving,” that inspired modern-day bungee jumping.
Burger Chain
In 1921, White Castle became the United States’ first hamburger chain when Billy Ingram, a real estate businessman, and Walter Anderson, the man who first flattened hamburger into a patty with a spatula and grilled it on a bed of shredded onions, formed a partnership. With $700 borrowed money, the first White Castle opened in Wichita, Kansas, offering hamburgers at 5¢ apiece. The hamburger was considered low-class food before White Castle changed the public’s mind through targeted ad campaigns. One PR initiative was printed coupons offering 5 White Castles (what the burgers were called) for 10¢. It also helped that the customers could watch the burgers being made. Ingram and Anderson came up with the 5-hole concept of burger-making to ensure the burgers were thoroughly cooked. In 1961, White Castle was the first chain to sell a billion hamburgers. White Castle’s other firsts included the industrial-strength spatula, the mass-produced paper hat, and a marketing slogan for fast food; White Castle’s was “Buy ’em by the sack.” The founders of White Castle created a market demand for burgers and started many of the concepts still used in the fast-food industry today.
Around 3500 B.C.E., the first buttons were used more as ornaments than as fastening devices. The earliest known buttons were found at Mohenjo-daro in India’s Indus Valley. They were made of a curved shell and worn as a class status symbol. During that time, men used straps and pins to fasten their crude clothing while the first buttons just hung around, waiting for the next big clothing innovation. Later, around 700 B.C.E., the ancient Greeks and Etruscans used buttons made of wood, bone, or horn that fastened clothing via loops, not buttonholes. Fully functional buttons paired with buttonholes for fastening did not appear until the thirteenth century in Germany.
Cable Car
On March 23, 1858, Eleazer S. Gardner of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, invented the first cable car and was granted patent #19736 for his “improvements in tracks for city railways.” His cable streetcar was to run on an endless cable loop centrally housed in an underground tunnel with a series of pulleys inside. Gardner’s conceptualization was not immediately put into practical use for transporting people. It was a few years later, in 1873, that Andrew Hallidie put his own cable car system into service on Clay Street in San Francisco, California. Both gentlemen’s cable cars were based on the concept of placing a continuously moving wire rope in a conduit underneath a slot between the rails, all beneath the surface of the street. A gripping attachment connected to the cable car above could engage or disengage the cable to move the car. An engine in a centrally located powerhouse kept the cable in continuous motion.
Caesar Salad
The first Caesar salad was the 1924 creation of Italian immigrant Caesar Cardini, who had a small hotel in Tijuana, Mexico, not far from the California border. In the days of Prohibition, the Hollywood crowd and San Diego socialites would drive over the border to Tijuana to party, and they often wound up at Hotel Caesars for a meal before returning home. On July 4, 1924, an abundance of patrons arrived at Caesar’s Hotel, sending the kitchen into a panic. There weren’t enough fresh vegetables to go around, so Cardini concocted a salad he thought they’d really go for, and he would make it in public, tableside. Using basic ingredients found in every Italian kitchen, he used romaine lettuce, coddled eggs, garlic-flavored olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and croutons flavored with Worcestershire sauce. Needless to say, it was a hit.
Caesarean Operation
Around 1500, the first woman, the wife of a pig gelding farmer, Jacob Nufer, in Sigershauffen, Switzerland, is reported to have survived through a caesarean operation of baby delivery, or C-section. Nufer was so distraught by his wife’s prolonged labor that he felt no choice but to cut her open to somehow prevent his wife and baby from dying in childbirth. Utilizing his pig-butchering knowledge, Nufer successfully “operated” on his wife and delivered a healthy child who purportedly lived to the age of 77. Since ancient Roman times, the procedure had been performed only on the deceased or on women with little hope of surviving labor.
In 1642, Blaise Pascal, a noted French mathematician, built the first mechanical adding machine or calculator. It was called the Pascaline and was based on a design described by Hero of Alexandria in the first century C.E. to figure a carriage’s traveling distance. The metal device was about 14 inches long, 13 inches wide, and 3 inches high, about the size of a large shoe box. There were eight windows on its top, and through them could be seen a small drum with digits. In front of the windows, eight setting mechanisms enabled the user to enter numbers to compute. Although crude and tedious, the Pascaline could add, subtract, multiply, and divide. The basic principle of this first calculator is still used today in water meters and odometers.
Many historians believe the first calendar was inscribed on a 30,000+- year-old bone known as the Blanchard Plaque discovered in Abri Blanchard, Dordogne, France, in 1879. Marks on the bone made by Paleolithic people represented sequential phases of the moon and were engraved based on observations over 9 weeks. The inscriptions on the plaque, small dots, are the oldest known use of numbers by humans.
Camera to Use Film Rolls
In June 1888, George Eastman of Rochester, New York, announced the Kodak No. 1, the world’s first box camera to use roll film. Retailing for $25, it weighed 22 ounces and could take 100 (65mm) pictures. The shutter was set by pulling a string, and a V shape on top of the camera provided a sightline. After each exposure, the user manually turned a key on top of the camera to wind the film to the next frame. To develop the film, the user sent the entire camera back to the Kodak company. Kodak processed the film, reloaded the camera, and returned it to the user for a cost of $10.
Can Opener
In 1858, Ezra Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut, patented the first can opener, although some give the credit to Briton Robert Yeates’s design. Warner’s can opener was a crude gadget shaped like a bayonet and a sickle. The user jabbed the pointed bayonet part into the can and pushed it in up to a small metal guard that kept it from going in too much. At the same time, the sickle piece was forced into the can. The user had to saw up and down along the top edge of the can to open it. This first can opener was really hazardous to use but it became popular for grocers to have one in their stores to open customers’ cans as they left the store. The U.S. military also used it during the Civil War, saving some bullets. (Previously, they had to shoot cans open.)
Canned Beer
On January 24, 1935, the first canned beer went on sale. Two thousand cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale were delivered to faithful Krueger drinkers in Richmond, Virginia, as a test. The move was the result of a partnership between the American Can Company and the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company. The can company also distributed can openers designed to punch a hole in the beer’s lid, and the label was printed with a picture showing how to open the cans. Unlike with glass bottles, the purchase of canned beer did not require the consumer to pay a deposit. Ninety-one percent of drinkers approved of the new and first canned beer, which gave Krueger the green light for further production.
Canned Food
The first canning, or preserving, process was a product of the Napoleonic wars, when malnutrition ran rampant among the eighteenth-century French armed forces. As Napoleon prepared for his Russian campaign, he searched for a new and better means of preserving food for his troops and offered a prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could find one. Nicolas Appert, a Parisian candy maker, was awarded the prize in 1809 for perfecting his idea of corking half-cooked food in glass sealed with wax reinforced by wire.
The earliest known cannon was invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria in the third century B.C.E. It operated by using compressed air and was hundreds of years ahead of the Chinese with their crude, gunpowder-ignited cannons. Although little is known about the first compressed-air cannon, Ctesibius did mention it as an engine of war. Ctesibius’s work on the elasticity of air was extremely important. He also invented the suction pump, the water clock, and the hydraulis (a musical instrument), all using compressed air. His work earned him the title “the father of pneumatics.”
Carbonated Soft Drink
In 1807, the first flavored carbonated soft drink was made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, under the direction of Dr. Philip Syng Physick, who is also known as “the father of American surgery.” Physick had ordered a chemist to prepare a carbonated drink with flavoring added as a possible remedy for an upset stomach. Although the type of flavoring wasn’t documented, it was a soothing drink that pleased and helped the patient. It wasn’t until 1832 that carbonated beverages gained popularity. That’s when John Mathews invented an apparatus for making carbonated water and sold it to soda fountain owners.
In the fall of 1921, the Pig Stand in Dallas, Texas, was the first restaurant to employ carhops. The term
came from the practice of a waitress or waiter jumping up on a patron’s car’s running board as the car pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot. The carhops would take the order and then bring the food and drink out to the cars. Although dangerous at times, carhopping was found to be a very effective way of drawing customers to eating establishments, especially if the carhops were female rather than males. The first carhop probably delivered a Pig Sandwich and a frosty bottle of Dr. Pepper.
BOOK: Firsts
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