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Authors: Wilson Casey

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BOOK: Firsts
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Dental Floss
In his 1819 book
A Practical Guide to the Management of the Teeth,
American dentist Dr. Levi Spear Parmly discussed the first form of dental floss. Parmly described his invention, a homemade waxed string, as “The waxed silken thread, which, though simple, is to be passed through the interstices of the teeth, between their necks and the arches of the gum, to dislodge that irritating matter which no brush can remove, and which is the real source of disease.” He also stated his belief that “a thread passed between the teeth after every meal will save more teeth from decay than all the brushes and powders that can be used where the waxed thread is neglected.” Parmly sold his dental floss to his patients and to other dentists.
Dental Record of Forensic Evidence
In 49 B.C.E., the earliest-known example of forensic dentistry, the identification of human remains using dental evidence, involved Agrippina, the mother of Roman emperor Nero. Agrippina had ordered the death of her rival, Lollia Paulina, who was in competition with her to be the wife of Emperor Claudius. After Paulina’s death, Agrippina demanded to see her head as proof of death. Agrippina wasn’t sure her rival was dead until she identified Paulina’s distinctively discolored front teeth.
Because teeth and dental structures may survive post mortem, identification by dental records is a reliable method still in use today. The procedure really began to take hold in 1924 and afterward, when August Vollmer, then chief of police in Los Angeles, California, implemented the first U.S. police crime laboratory.
Deodorant Soap
In 1894, Lifebuoy Royal Disinfectant Soap was launched in the United Kingdom. The soap was red, same as it is today. The name was later changed to Red Lifebuoy Deodorant Soap with the directions: “Add water to produce lather. Use as regular soap.” Its popularity was the result of people beginning to seek out ways to improve their personal hygiene. Lifebuoy’s advertising campaigns were also the first to use the phrase “body odor.”
Detective Story
On April 20, 1841, the first detective story,
The Murders in the Rue Morgue,
was published. Written by American author Edgar Allen Poe, it featured the first fictional detective, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin. The tale is narrated by the detective’s roommate and is about Dupin’s extraordinary ability to solve a series of murders in Paris. Through this first detective story, Poe introduced the concept of applying reason to crime solving to literature.
Dialysis Machine
In 1943, Dutch physician Willem J. Kolff invented the first practical artificial kidney dialysis machine called the Kolff Rotating Drum. Developed during World War II, the device used a 20-meter-long tube of cellophane casing as a dialyzing membrane. The tube was wrapped around a slatted wooden drum that was powered by an electric motor. As the drum revolved in a tank with dialyzing solution, the patient’s blood was drawn through the cellophane tubing. This semipermeable membrane allowed for the toxins in the blood to be removed and diffused into the dialyzing solution. The cleansed blood was then returned via the circuit back into the body. These first dialysis procedures took around 6 hours to complete.
From around 3000 B.C.E., the first dice were used for fortune-telling, in religious divination ceremonies, for gaming, and for gambling. They were crudely made from the ankle bones, often called knucklebones, of sheep, llama, buffalo, and other hoofed animals. Some of the dice’s sides contained markings, a precursor to numbering. The playing of dice games probably originated in Egypt, where marked cubes have been found in ancient tombs. Some of these first dice were even altered for cheating.
as it was called, was a popular game. Dice were particularly significant to the ancients because gambling was an integral part of society.
Digital Camera
In December 1975, Steven Sasson, an Eastman Kodak Company engineer in Rochester, New York, made a successful working prototype of a digital still camera. His 8-pound toaster-size contraption captured a black-and-white image on a digital cassette at a resolution of .01 megapixels. Sasson and his chief technician, Jim Schueckler, persuaded a female lab assistant to pose for them. The image took 23 seconds to record onto the cassette and another 23 seconds to read off a playback unit onto a connected television. It popped up on the screen, and with some minor adjustments, the first digital camera still picture was deemed acceptable.
Digital Music
In 1951, the first known example of digital music made by a computer was a crackly recording made in Great Britain, when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recorded a musical performance for a children’s radio show. The music was recorded on a Ferranti Mark I computer, whose short-term random access memory stored and played “God Save the King,” “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” and a short piece of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” The computer was built by Ferranti, a UK electrical engineering firm, in collaboration with Manchester University. The Ferranti Mark I, capable of storing digital music, was also the world’s first commercial computer; nine were sold between 1951 and 1957.
The first diner started in 1872 as a horse-drawn wagon equipped to serve hot food to employees of the
(Rhode Island)
Walter Scott, an employee of the paper, ran the lunch wagon independently. He had previously supplemented his income by selling sandwiches and coffee to his fellow pressmen from baskets he prepared at home. Scott expanded on his idea and traveled factory-to-factory and business-to-business with his lunch-diner, selling inexpensive, quickly made food to the workers. Sample menu items from this first diner included boiled eggs, cut bread, and sliced chicken.
During the 1920s, the lunch wagon was more often called a diner because of its similarity to railroad dining cars. Also during the 1920s, the diner began to take on its classic form: a stationary restaurant that included booths.
Dinosaur Fossil
Although references to “dragon” bones were found in Wucheng, Sichuan, China, more than 2,000 years ago, the first dinosaur to be described scientifically was the Megalosaurus in 1824. William Buckland, an English geologist, paleontologist, and clergyman, first announced the discovery—the fossil bones of a giant reptile. He named the genus
and published his
Notice on the Megalosaurus,
Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield,
the first full account of what would later be called a dinosaur.
Disposable Diaper
In 1946, housewife Marion Donovan of Westport, Connecticut, unhappy with leaky, cloth diapers that had to be washed, invented the “boater,” a plastic covering for cloth diapers made from a plastic shower curtain. In 1947, Donovan carried her ideas further, combining disposable, absorbent, paperlike material with her boater design, thus creating the first convenient, one-piece disposable diaper. But as a businesswoman in a man’s world, potential manufacturers ridiculed Donovan, saying her disposable diaper was too expensive to market. Determined, she went into business herself. A few years later, in 1951, Donovan sold her company for $1 million to the Keko Corporation.
Disposable Tissue
In 1924, Kleenex facial tissues were first introduced, selling at 65¢ for a package of 100 soft paper sheets. The Kimberly-Clark Company, now of Dallas, Texas, was first to popularize the product. The facial tissues came into being after the company experimented with creped wadding for gas mask filters. The resulting product was originally marketed as a cold cream remover, but people used the tissue in many other ways, especially as a disposable handkerchief. After learning that many people were using the tissues to blow their noses, Kimberly-Clark began marketing the tissues as disposable handkerchiefs.
Dog Show
The first conformation dog show was held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, on June 28 and 29, 1859. In a conformation show, judges familiar with specific dog breeds evaluate individual dogs for how well they conform to published breed standards. The 1859 show was the first that took preshow entries and offered a printed catalog of the contestants. Its organizers were two local sportsmen, and of the 60 hunting dogs who participated, all were pointers or setters. Prior to this show, there had been informal gatherings called Pot House Shows at which hunters could compare and discuss their dogs.
In the early first century B.C.E., ancient Rome first instigated a military draft. The early Roman legions were mixed volunteer and nonvolunteer enrolled units of available citizens over age 18 based on their property values. Raising the legions was an annual undertaking. The term of service was 1 year, although many of the same citizens were selected year after year. Local magistrates decided who in the tribes were to be presented for selection. If the circumstances of the state required it, the consuls could basically draft as many men as needed and abbreviate the recruitment process.
Drive-In Movie Theater
The Automobile Movie Theatre opened on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey, on June 6, 1933. With an initial creation cost of $60,000, the theater was the brainchild of young Richard Hollingshead, who worked in his father’s auto parts store. As a teen and into his 20s, Hollingshead experimented with his drive-in by placing a projector on the hood of his car and projecting a film onto a screen he’d nailed to trees in his backyard. He placed a radio behind the screen for sound. It took him a few years to perfect, but with his own funds and family help, he was able to bring his theater to life.
On opening night, the drive-in attracted 600 motorists to see the British comedy
Wife Beware!
starring Adolphe Menjou. The admission price was 25¢ per car and 25¢ per person, or $1 for a family. Three shows were offered at 8:30, 10:00, and 11:30 P.M. The first drive-in theater did not offer any in-car speakers. Instead, three large RCA Victor main speakers mounted next to the big screen broadcast the soundtrack.
Drive-Thru Restaurant
In 1926, the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop of 118 N. Pasfield Street, Springfield, Illinois, was the first restaurant to offer drive-thru service. There was no speaker box to order through like modern drive-thru; instead, drivers pulled up to the window where orders were taken and processed, told the cook what they wanted, and then sat and waited in their vehicles for their food. The order would be prepared and then handed out the window with proper payment. The restaurant, which is still in business, was listed in 1984 on the National Register of Historic Places as the first drive-thru restaurant in the country. The first drive-thru order placed was probably the original Maid-Rite loose-meat sandwich and a root beer float.
DUI Arrest
On September 10, 1897, George Smith’s swerving and eventual crashing of his cab into a building in London, England, was enough to make him the first person arrested for drunken driving. No one was seriously hurt, and Smith, a 25-year-old taxi driver, was formally charged at Marlborough Street Police Court for being drunk and in charge of an electric cab on Bond Street. He had violated a licensing act of 1872, which imposed penalties for being drunk on a highway or at other public places with any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam engine. Smith admitted to having consumed several drinks, was fined 25 shillings, and sent on his way.
In late 1971, computer engineer Ray Tomlinson at Bolt Beranek and Newman in Cambridge, Massachusetts, succeeded in sending a message from one computer to another via a network connection. The computers were literally side by side and joined with an ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency) connection, the basis of the modern Internet. Tomlinson sent a number of messages to himself from one machine to the other. He said that most likely the first message was “QWERTYUIOP” or something similar in all caps or “TESTING 1 2 3 4.” For a marker to designate the network host, he chose the @ because it wasn’t used in the spelling of a person’s name. The @ was already a standard key on the older computer’s keyboard; Tomlinson did not have to type Shift+2 to get it.
In the winter of 1873, young Chester Greenwood of Farmington, Maine, with the help of his grandmother, put together his earmuff device. Greenwood constructed the muff by bending some wire and then sewing on beaver fur for warmth covered by black velvet for comfort against the ear. Greenwood’s first attempt worked, but he refined the materials somewhat because the ears flapped too much. By using a flat, ⅜-inch-wide spring steel band, he was able to attach a tiny hinge to each earflap. This allowed the muff to fit snugly against the ear and allowed the entire device to be coiled flat to be put away in a pocket. On March 13, 1877, 18-year-old Chester Greenwood was awarded patent #188,292 for his Greenwood Champion Ear Protector.
BOOK: Firsts
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