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Authors: Wilson Casey

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Coffee Bar
Kiva Han was the first coffee shop and bar; it opened in 1475 in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey. The coffee was served strong, black, and unfiltered, a style introduced to the area by the Ottoman Turks. Kiva Han’s coffee was brewed in an ibrik, a long-handled pot, and served piping hot to patrons. During this period, coffee was so important that it was legal for a woman to divorce her husband if he could not supply her with enough coffee.
Comic Book Superhero
In June 1938, Action Comics #1 came out with
He was the brainchild of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joseph Shuster. The cover of the comic book featured Superman in a red and blue costume lifting a car over his head. (Superman had powers far beyond that of a normal human being.) Siegel and Shuster had been pitching their Superman concept since 1933 and had been constantly rejected. But in 1938, the world first saw Superman with bullets bouncing off his chest. After all, he was more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.
Comic Strip
In December 1903,
A. Piker Clerk
first appeared in the sports pages of William Randolph Hearst’s
Chicago American
newspaper. This first comic strip printed in a daily paper was written and drawn by cartoonist Clare A. Briggs. The 6-days-a-week comic strip featured recurring characters in multiple panels. The storyline featured Mr. Clerk, a character with a gambling problem, who placed daily bets on a horse in the Chicago races. Even though the strip brought national fame to Briggs, it was cancelled in June 1904 because Hearst considered it vulgar.
Commercial Solar Energy
In 1939 and for years afterward, silicon solar cells were the first aspects of commercial solar energy. Although American inventor Charles Fritts invented the first working solar cell in 1884, the first commercial application didn’t really gain possibilities until 1939. That was about the time of American engineer Russell Ohl’s work with diodes, which led him to develop the first silicon solar cells. These cells allowed better conversion efficiencies of the sun’s energy than earlier attempts. In 1946, Ohl received a patent for his “light sensitive device.” As solar cells continued to improve, Bell Laboratories introduced the first space solar cells in 1950.
The Antikythera Mechanism dates from around the first century B.C.E. and is the most sophisticated mechanism known from the ancient world. The device has been proved to be an analog computer of sorts for modeling the solar and lunar cycles and predicting eclipses. This first computer was discovered in 1900 in an ancient shipwreck near the island of Antikythera, Greece. The mechanism had three main dials, one on the front and two on the back. It was comprised of numerous gears with the front dial having at least three hands, one showing the date and two others showing the positions of the sun and moon. The device is now understood to have been dedicated to tracking the cycles of the solar system.
On February 14, 1946, J. Presper Eckert Jr. and John W. Mauchly of the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, publicly demonstrated the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). The device was housed in a 30×50-foot room, contained around 18,000 vacuum tubes, and required 130 kilowatts of power per hour to operate. Soon afterward it was used by the Army Ordinance Department at Aberdeen, Maryland, for calculations and data storage.
Computer Mouse
The world debut of the first computer mouse was on December 9, 1968, at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, California. The 1,000 or so computer professionals in attendance saw a live demonstration of the mouse by inventor Douglas C. Engelbart and a group of researchers from the Stanford Research Institute of Palo Alto, California. This first mouse was a 3-button hand-operated pointing device that enabled the computer user to manipulate text or images on a computer screen. It was originally referred to as an X-Y position indicator for a display system. On November 17, 1970, Engelbart was issued a patent for his computer mouse, so named because the “tail” came out the end.
Computer Virus
In the early 1970s, the Creeper computer virus was first detected on ARPAnet, a U.S. military computer network. The virus, written for the Tenex operating system, was capable of independently gaining access through a modem and could duplicate itself to remote systems. When it infected other networks, the taunt of “I’M THECREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN” appeared. The Creeper was a malicious program that replicated itself to networked computers and deleted files. Its creator is still unknown. A copycat virus called the Reaper was released soon after the Creeper began making its rounds. The Reaper found the Creeper once inside the computer systems and destroyed it. Many think both programs were instigated by the same creator.
Concrete Highway
In 1891, the town of Bellefontaine, Ohio, experimented with the first concrete highway pavement project on sections of some of its roads, including Main Street. But it was 1909 when the Greenfield Township (now northwest Detroit) of Wayne County, Michigan, built the first mile of concrete highway on Woodward Avenue between Six and Seven Mile Roads. The first concrete highway was 1.2 miles long, 24 feet wide, 6.5 inches thick, and cost around $13,500. The success of this project furthered the development of modern automobile highways.
Contact Lenses
Believe it or not, in 1508, Leonardo da Vinci described and sketched the first ideas for contact lenses. An expert at optics and lenses, he described them as tiny removable lenses to be worn in contact with the eye, to rest directly on the cornea. Made of glass, the same as regular eyeglasses, the contact lenses would improve the wearer’s vision. His notes and illustrations were meticulously inscribed
only to be read with the aid of a mirror. Although he envisioned the product and set the precedent for others, Leonardo da Vinci’s contact lenses never came to fruition.
In 1801, Thomas Young, an English scientist and researcher, took the idea of the contact lens and made one to correct his own vision. His lens must have been terribly uncomfortable—it was a ¼-inch-long glass tube that was filled with water and strapped to his face.
A Sicilian Greek named Archestratus wrote the first known cookbook in 350 B.C.E. It was called
which meant “pleasant living” or “life of luxury,” and was recorded in classical Greek hexameters. The food in this first cookbook for “ones of the leisure class” was prepared in bite-size portions to be eaten without cutlery. (That probably meant a flat, pita-style bread for scooping up portions and a raised bread for absorbing soup.) The cookbook called for two courses. The first, or
was commonly strong-flavored appetizers served prior to the meat and fish dishes. The second, or
was wine served with specially chosen flavors and food dishes to accompany the drinking session and entertainment.
The Benedictine Order of the Catholic Church was the first corporation of any notable sort. It was founded in Italy around 529 C.E. by Saint Benedict and survives today. The order’s
Rule of Saint Benedict
is a book of precepts written for monks living in the community. The solemn commitment of the monks is referred to as the “Benedictine vow,” and includes the promise to remain in the same monastery with a conversion of manners, to practice chastity, and to show obedience to the superior. Benedict founded 12 such monasteries during his time, and they were governed by the same rules of order. This first corporation with its written-down bylaws became the standard for western Monasticism.
Correspondence School
The earliest effort of correspondence school, or distance education, appeared in 1728. Teacher Caleb Philips placed an ad in the March 20, 1728,
Boston Gazette:
“Caleb Philips, Teacher of the New Method of Short Hand” advertised that any “person in the country desirous to learn this art, may by having the several lessons sent weekly to them, be as perfectly as those that live in Boston.” If you don’t read 1728 English, Philips meant that by utilizing the then-new mail system, he would send weekly shorthand lessons to prospective students, thereby creating the first correspondence school.
Around 2100 B.C.E., both men and women wore the first corsets. They were invented on the Mediterranean island of Crete during the Minoan Bronze Age. The Minoans devised corsets that were fitted and laced tightly to better shape the human body. These first corsets were stiffened with ribs of copper and made of animal skins, the fresher the better, and worn not just for special occasions, but also daily use. Smaller versions, or corselettes, were also donned that left the breasts exposed.
Credit Card
In 1946, John C. Biggins of the Flatbush National Bank of Brooklyn in New York invented the first bank-issued credit card. Biggins was an innovative banker and consumer credit specialist who developed the first universal charge card plan, although it was limited in scope. His Charge-It program was a local community credit plan for a two-square-block neighborhood area near the bank. Participating merchants would deposit sales slips of the charged products and services into the bank, and the bank then billed the customer who had used the card. These first cards were not the plastic that’s so common today, but instead were on paper stock that contained pertinent information. Biggins’s Charge-It program was a convenience for the bank customers and a boom for the local merchants.
Croquet Set
In 1851, John Jaques and Sons, a London, England, sporting goods manufacturer, was the first to begin selling complete croquet sets. The first set was handmade, included four full-size hardwood ash mallets, a set of four challenge balls, challenge hoops, four croquet clips, ball markers, and a hand-painted winning post. Also included within the first set was a simplified rulebook that provided helpful hints on technique and the basic tactics of play. The company introduced the modern game of croquet in London at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first World’s Fair.
Cyber Café
In 1988, the Electronic Café International opened in Santa Monica, California, founded by American video artists Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway. The multimedia artists had been employing cutting-edge technology in collaborative artistic works since the mid-1970s. The first cyber café offered a coffeehouse menu, computers with modems, other telecommunication equipment, and artistic events. By 1991, the Electronic Café International (ECI) had more than 30 networked affiliates around the world.
Dance Contest
In 1907, the first dance competition of note was held in Nice, France. Camille de Rhynal, a choreographer, dancer, and composer, organized the contest, a tango tournament. Records regarding the winners and the number of participants are sketchy, along with the criteria for judging, but it is recorded that this first dance contest was such a local success that de Rhynal held a similar tournament in Paris later that year. At the second contest, there was no split between amateurs and professionals, nor among representation of areas or locales. Competitors danced as couples, no matter their nationality. For example, the lady may have been French while the man was Spanish.
Day of American Television
The official first day of American television was Tuesday, July 1, 1941. (Any broadcasting before that date was considered experimental.) On that first day, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) activated nonexperimental call letters for two stations: WCBW (later WCBS-TV ) and WNBT (later WNBC-TV ), both in New York City. Commercial advertising was permitted on the stations, and TV licenses were issued. Along with empty airings and test patterns, WNBT aired Dodgers versus Phillies baseball at Ebbets Field, and WCBW aired news, dancing lessons, and children’s stories.
Daylight Saving Time
In 1784, the idea of a daylight saving program to make better use of daylight was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin during his stopover in Paris as an American delegate. In his April 26, 1784, essay,
An Economical Project,
Franklin wrote a whimsical discourse on the thrift of natural versus artificial lighting. He did the math on the substantial money (96,075,000 livre tournois, or about $200 million today) Paris could save per 6 months on candles and oil lamp use if a daylight saving plan was instigated. But it wasn’t until April 30, 1916, that the first official daylight saving program began. On that date, at 11 P.M., Germany and Austria advanced the hands of their clocks 1 hour until the following October, when they set them back 1 hour again. The plan was not formally adopted in the United States until March 19, 1918.
In 1947, thoracic surgeon Claude S. Beck from the University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio, first successfully applied defibrillation therapy and saved a human life. The patient was a 14-year-old boy, and the procedure was an open-chest defibrillation. The defibrillator used the alternating current from a power socket and transformed the surge to the heart by way of paddle-type electrodes. Several generations of scientists and clinicians worked to accumulate the knowledge that contributed to the success of cardiac shock therapy and finally led to the defibrillator Beck used.
Dental College
On February 1, 1840, the General Assembly of Maryland chartered the world’s first dental college. Spearheaded by Dr. Horace Hayden and Dr. Chapin Harris, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery was established in Baltimore. The college originated the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. Before that time, there were only about 300 trained and scientific dentists in the entire United States. Dr. Harris had come to Baltimore in 1830 to study under Dr. Hayden and then joined his mentor in his efforts to found the college.
BOOK: Firsts
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