Awesome firsts in history
Dec 12, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
As we get closer to the end of 2018, I find myself reflecting more and more on what the past twelve months have meant to me. The new year brings with it a time for planning and the promise of new endeavors. While I’m not big on making a list of resolutions, I do like to reconsider all of the wonderful experiences I’ve had during the past year. Some of those moments may involve setting new traditions or making new friends. Some of the most cherished memories often involve firsts (like the first time visiting a city or the first time a hidden talent is discovered). Combining all of these moments create the tapestry of our individual journey and guide us as we ponder future adventures. As a vintage enthusiast, I love to take a peek over my shoulder before I look ahead. So, naturally, all of this introspection got me thinking – what are some of the awesome firsts in history? Join me as we take a look at some fun facts and let me know about your awesome firsts in the comments…
When popcorn went modern
Any historian would tell you 1945 was a very big year. Among all the feats of humanity a food-related achievement may not make the shortlist, but I think you’ll appreciate why I gave it top billing here. Percy Spencer, a self-taught engineer, finalized the patent for the first microwave oven in 1945. The very first food to be microwaved? Popcorn! Spencer’s microwave went by the catchy name of “RadaRange” and sold for nearly $60k in today’s money, weighed approximately 750 pounds, and stood a staggering six feet tall. Given the price and bulky stature, the RadaRange wasn’t a commercial success. But its technological underpinnings made our modern day microwaves (and any radar-related invention) possible. And to think it was all started by a melted chocolate bar (check out the full story here). The next time you enjoy some freshly popped goodness be sure to give Percy a shout-out!
Binge watching, pre-Netflix
Most of us would agree, the sitcom (or situation comedy) is a uniting force in media. Even if we can’t completely relate to what a character on screen is going through, we can all appreciate a good laugh (or laugh track, for that matter). So what was the first sitcom to hit the airwaves? Leave it to none other than the BBC to forge the way – in 1946 the British network debuted Pinwright’s Progress. The premise: the adventures of the world’s tiniest store. The cast: one frazzled shop owner with a beautiful daughter, one arch-nemesis, and an array of quirky & lovingly inept employees. I think it’s safe to say a reboot of the series wouldn’t go amiss. (Especially considering the original run was a mere ten episodes!)
Reaching for the stars
It’s a fact of life in our modern times: the world is getting more connected and more vertical. The title of the world’s tallest building remains a badge of honor for any metropolis and the race is often intensely competitive. But who got there first? The windy city takes the prize, with the completion of the Home Insurance Building in 1884. Coming in at ten stories (136 feet tall), the steel and brick structure was the pride of Chicago. By 1890 it was dethroned by its East Coast rival, New York City, with the New York World Building. By and large NYC has dominated the list, however in 1973 Chicago took the prize again with the completion of the Sears Tower. Sadly, the Home Insurance Building was demolished in 1931 to make way for the Field Building (now the Bank of America building). There is a plaque in the lobby noting the historic contributions of that moment in 1884, calling its creator William Le Baron Jenney the father of skyscrapers. Remember to take in the view when you are out on your adventures in the coming year and appreciate the perspective amazing buildings lend us!
Jumping out of your movie seats
This awesome first in history surprised me. When I think of a 3-D movie my mind goes to present day, conjuring up images of IMAX films. But the first 3-D film debuted in the early days of cinema: 1922. What’s even more incredible about this moment – the film in question was a romantic plot, not the swashbuckling, action-packed fare that would inspire a Jerry Bruckheimer production. Titled The Power of Love, the five reel melodrama debuted in Los Angeles to poor reviews. Rebranded as Forbidden Lover, the film enjoyed mediocre success in the less daring 2-D realm. Fun fact: 1970s television icon Noah Beery Jr’s father had a leading role in the film.
More elegant than a smartwatch
While hourglasses today are largely relegated to the world of board game nights, they were once the scientific coup of a generation. While the history of the first hourglass is a bit fuzzy, most scholars agree the timepiece debuted during the 8th century A.D. and was the invention of a French monk called Liutprand. By nature of its design, the timekeeping couldn’t be disturbed by the rocky jostling of waves on the open sea. Because of this clever feature, the hourglass played a critical role in the early days of maritime exploration. By the 1300s the average person could afford this timekeeper and families across medieval Europe began managing their household schedules with new precision.
Striking a pose
Today photography is ingrained in our daily lives and with the advent of the camera phone, anyone can be a digital storyteller. (And thanks to a plethora of Instagram filters, we can all get a little help with those blurry pictures!) So when was the first photograph taken? Frenchmen Joseph Nicéphore Niépce can lay claim to this honor with the 1826 invention of a technique known as heliography. This method involved asphalt, glass or metal, and oil of lavender (much more tactile than photography as we know it today). The subject of this first photo? The view from his upstairs window. This digitally enhanced version makes it look like quite the artistic shot – rivaling any combination of Instagram filters in my opinion!
Red light, green light debuts
While it’s easy to take traffic lights for granted (especially green arrows that last just long enough to see you through the intersection!), the world’s highways and byways weren’t always so organized. In 1868, the first street light debuted at the corner of Bridge Street & Great George Street in London. The goal was to keep people shuffling along harmoniously by the House of Parliament, but that ambition got off to a rocky start. The engineering marvel stood at an impressive twenty feet tall and naturally scared any pedestrian in its path, while the giant gas lamp proved both visually frightening and truly scary. A month into its debut, a gas leak caused an explosion and the well-intentioned idea was abandoned. A skittish, but desperate, London wouldn’t welcome their next automated traffic light until the roaring twenties.
As we compile these awesome firsts in history, I’m reminded of a few lessons to take with me into 2019 – greatness is achieved by seeing an idea through and putting in the work, time wasn’t always hyper-critical so give a nod to history & slow down every once in a while, don’t be derailed by a temporary setback, remember your roots, and enjoy the view! What are you focusing on in 2019? Give a shout in the comments…