Boston Firsts

  1. 1621: FIRST Thanksgiving Feast

In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as the first Thanksgiving celebration in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

  1. 1632: FIRST U.S. Windmill

The windmill is located on Copp’s hill.  This was the first windmill erected in the colony. These old windmills, in the days when corn was legal tender, were useful servants to the community and were a feature of the landscape.

  1. 1632: FIRST Public Smoking Ban

More than 370 years before Massachusetts put a statewide kibosh on smoking in enclosed public spaces and workplaces, Boston’s legislators let their anti-smoking stance be known. In 1632, the Massachusetts General Court put a ban on smoking in public places; in 1635, they outlawed the sale of tobacco. Unfortunately, neither action stuck—both laws were repealed in 1638.

  1. 1634: FIRST Public Park

The United States of America's oldest public park, Boston Common was purchased by its citizens in 1634 for 30 Pounds and officially set aside as public or "common" land by a vote in 1640. The park's original purpose was for military training grounds and a place for grazing cattle.

  1. 1635: FIRST Public School

Boston Latin School is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States. The Public Latin School was a bastion for educating the sons of the Boston elite, resulting in the school claiming many prominent Bostonians as alumni.

  1. 1636: FIRST U.S. College

Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation (officially The President and Fellows of Harvard College) chartered in the country. Harvard's history, influence, accomplished alumni and wealth have made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

  1. 1639: FIRST U.S. Post Office

While not under any governing rule (USPS as its known today), Richard Fairbank’s Boston tavern became the first post office in the country in 1639. Many small local routes were run, and eventually longer distance routes were briefly set up. 

  1. 1639: FIRST Public Elementary School

The Mather School, established in 1639 near what is now Pleasant Street in Dorchester, was the first school supported by tax dollars and free for students. The school was originally a one-room schoolhouse, but an expanded facility by the same name was built in 1694 at a different location. A firehouse now sits on the site of the old school.

  1. 1639: FIRST Recorded UFO Sighting

In 1639, America's first UFO was sighted over the Charles River in Boston. Lights sped back and forth across the Charles River from Back Bay Fens to Charlestown. Governor John Winthrop made an entry in his journal regarding this strange event. The primary witness was described as a man of good reputation, activity and estate in Boston.

  1. 1672: FIRST U.S. Mail Route

The first U.S. mail route is opened between Boston and New York.

  1. 1704: FIRST U.S. Newspaper

America's first continuously published newspaper, the Boston News-Letter published its first issue on April 24, 1704. John Campbell, a bookseller and postmaster of Boston, was its first editor, printing the newspaper on what was then referred to as a half-sheet. It originally appeared on a single page, printed on both sides and issued weekly.

  1. 1714: FIRST American Restaurant

Ye Olde Union Oyster House, open to diners since 1826, is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in the United States of America. It is located at 41-43 Union Street in downtown Boston and continues to serve classic New England seafood dishes to its patrons. The building was listed as a National Historic Landmark on May 27, 2003.

  1. 1716: FIRST Inoculation in America

On June 26th 1721, after much research with Reverend Cotton Mather, the first inoculation in American history was completed by Dr. Zabdiel Boylston at Boston. This first inoculation in Boston is very historic for two reasons: Religious faith opposed experimentation on the human body at that time, and the medical profession had not yet even conceived the use of laboratory analysis to treat diseases back then.

  1. 1721: FIRST U.S. Lighthouse

Boston Light is a lighthouse located on Little Brewster Island in outer Boston Harbor. The first lighthouse to be built on the site dates back to 1716, and was the first lighthouse to be built in what is now the United States.

  1. 1765: FIRST U.S. Chocolate Factory

Baker Chocolate Factory in the United States was founded in 1765 in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

  1. 1780: FIRST State Constitution

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the fundamental governing document of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the 50 individual state governments that make up the United States of America. It was drafted by John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin during the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention between September 1 and October 30, 1779. Following approval by town meetings, the Constitution was ratified on June 15, 1780, became effective on October 25, 1780, and remains the oldest functioning written constitution in continuous effect in the world.

  1. 1784: OLDEST Pub in U.S. Opens

The Bell in Hand bar was established by Jimmy Wilson, Boston's last known town crier (so it's not just a clever name), who was among the first to report on such Colonial American milestones as the Boston Tea Party. In the Bar's early days it was a favorite among politicians, lawyers and students, with a long list of patrons that included such notables as: Paul Revere, Daniel Webster and William McKinley. Located on Union Street (Boston's oldest operating street), The Bell In Hand still plays host to Boston patrons, including trendy 20 and 30-somethings.

  1. 1790: FIRST Americans to Circumnavigate the Globe

On August 9, 1790, after a three-year voyage, the ship Columbia returned to Boston after circumnavigating the globe. Captain Robert Gray and his crew made history, being the first Americans to make such a voyage. The goal was to sail to the American Northwest for trading purposes, which then led to further passage west to Canton, China. Trade routes to both destinations thrived quickly after this journey.

  1. 1797: OLDEST Commissioned Navy Warship Launches

The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the United States Navy. She was launched in 1797, after three years construction. Authorized by the Naval Act of 1794, she and her sister ships were designed to be capital ships. Therefore, although classified as a frigate, she is more heavily armed than other counterparts of the day.

  1. 1806: FIRST African-American Meeting House

The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill was built in 1806 in what once was the heart of Boston's 19th century African American community. It is the oldest existing black church building in the country built primarily by black artisans. The meetinghouse hosted numerous prominent abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas and still operates as a historic landmark open to the public.

  1. 1806: FIRST Ice Exporters 

Recognizing the abundance of ice in New England and the lack there of in warmer climates, Frederic and William Tudor started the Tudor Ice Company in 1806. They shipped ice across the country and around the world, essentially inventing the market for ice.

  1. 1816: FIRST Mutual Savings Bank

The Provident Institution for Savings was organized by wealthy Boston philanthropists at the request of John Cheverus, the Catholic Bishop of Boston. The bank was created to encourage industry and prudence in the poorer classes, and to give them the means to save part of their earnings for a later period of life when they will be less likely to earn a support (retirement did not exist for the working classes at that time).

  1. 1827: FIRST U.S. Swimming School

The first swimming school and pool was established in Boston on July 23, 1827, by German-American intellectuals Francis Lieber and Charles Follen, who believed that fitness of both mind and body was important. The concept of a swimming school was so novel at the time that it warranted a visit from President John Quincy Adams. In a similar vein, Lieber and Follen also introduced gymnasiums to Boston education.

  1. 1829: FIRST School for the Blind

Perkins School for the Blind, in Watertown, Massachusetts, is the oldest school for the blind in the United States. It has also been known as the Perkins Institution for the Blind. On Oct. 15, 2012, the global NGO (non-governmental organization) shortened its name to simply Perkins, to reflect a mission that extends beyond the school in Watertown, into 67 countries. The name change also reflects the international organization's growing advocacy for worldwide literacy through braille.

  1. 1835: FIRST Public School for African-American Children

Abiel Smith School, founded in 1835, is a school located at 46 Joy Street in Boston, adjacent to the African Meeting House. It is named for Abiel Smith, a white philanthropist who left money (an estimated $2,000) in his will to the city of Boston for the education of black children. The city constructed the school building with Smith’s legacy. In 1835, all black children in Boston were assigned to the Smith school, which replaced the basement school in the African Meeting House.

  1. 1837: FIRST College for Women

Mount Holyoke Female Seminary was originally founded in 1837 by Mary Lyon. It received its collegiate charter in 1888 as Mount Holyoke Seminary and College and became Mount Holyoke College in 1893. Mount Holyoke's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established in 1905.

  1. 1837: FIRST City Police Department

The Boston Police Department (BPD), established in 1838, holds the primary responsibility for law enforcement and investigation within the city of Boston.

  1. 1839: FIRST Coined the Term “OK”

It was on March 23, 1839, in a Boston newspaper, that the newspaper first used 'o.k.' and explained those as an abbreviation for 'all correct.' And, of course, the joke was that 'o' is not the beginning of 'all' and 'k' is not the beginning of 'correct.' So this thing supposedly all correct was not all correct."

  1. 1846: FIRST Sewing Machine

Elias Howe came up with another way to make clothes; he patented the first practical sewing machine. The sewing machine industry based on his original invention made possible the mass production of clothing on a much larger scale than had ever been possible with hand-stitching.

  1. 1846: FIRST Use of Ether for Surgery

On October 16th, 1846 a crowd of doctors and students gathered in the surgical amphitheater at Massachusetts General Hospital to watch as a dentist named William T.G. Morton instructed a patient to inhale the fumes from an ether-soaked sponge. After the patient was sufficiently sedated, a surgeon removed a tumor from his neck. When the patient awoke from his ether-induced stupor, the surgeon asked how he felt, to which he reportedly replied, “feels as if my neck’s been scratched.”

  1. 1852: FIRST Electric Fire Alarm System

On April 28, 1852 the first municipal electric fire alarm system using call boxes with automatic signaling to indicate the location of a fire was placed into operation in Boston. Invented by William Channing and Moses Farmer, this system was highly successful in reducing property loss and deaths due to fire and was subsequently adopted throughout the United States and Canada.

  1. 1854: FIRST Public Library

The Boston Public Library (est.1848) was the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States, the first large library open to the public in the United States, and the first public library to allow people to borrow books and other materials and take them home to read and use.

  1. 1856: FIRST Boston Cream Pie

The Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House Hotel), claims to have served Boston cream pies since their opening in 1856. French chef Sanzian, who was hired for the opening of the hotel, is credited with creating Boston cream pie. This cake was originally served at the hotel with the names Chocolate Cream Pie or Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie. This was the first hotel in Boston to have hot-and-cold running water, and the first to have an elevator.

  1. 1860: FIRST Aerial Photo

The first aerial shot was taken in 1860 by James W. Black from the balloon, Queen of the Air, owned by Samuel Archer King. The image is the first successful aerial photograph taken from a balloon in the United States (Black had attempted to photograph Providence Rhode Island from the air before this). The original photo is part of the Boston Public Library collection.

  1. 1862: FIRST Organized Football Club

In 1862, the first football club in America was organized at Boston. Three of the original team members attended Mr. Dixwell's Boston Private Latin School located at Boylston Place (opposite Central Burying Ground on Boston Common). Other team members were recruited from Boston Latin and English High Schools, comprising a total squad of 15 people. The name of the team was the Oneida Club.

  1. 1862: FIRST US Professional Architecture Training Program

Robert Ware of M.I.T. began the first professional training program for architects in 1865. His groundbreaking work laid the foundations for all future US architects, allowing American aesthetics to flourish in the coming centuries. Prior to this, architects trained in Europe or learned through apprenticeship.

  1. 1863: FIRST free African-American Military Unit 

The 54th Massachusetts Colored Regimen was the first unit in the Union Army made up of free Black soldiers in the Civil War. They fought with great honor and bravery, as did so many in that conflict. Their story was told in the movie "Glory" with Mathew Broderick.

  1. 1867: OLDEST School of Music in the U.S.

The New England Conservatory of Music, founded in 1867, is the oldest private conservatory of its kind in the U.S. and one of the nation's leading schools of music. Located in Boston, America's capital for music and higher education, the New England Conservatory of Music attracts talented young musicians from all over the world, preparing them for all types of careers in the professional world of music. Concert halls and faculty offices are located in three buildings in downtown Boston.

  1. 1875: FIRST Church of Christ, Scientist

The Church of Christ, Scientist is a religious organization founded in Boston in 1875 by Marry Baker Eddy. Commonly known as Christian Scientists, the church’s teachings focused on rejecting modern medicine in lieu of innate mental capacity and prayer to combat ailments. The First Church, is most recognizable by its all granite Neo-classical extension; a large ornate domed structure on Mass. Ave that can seat up to 3,900 people.

  1. 1876: FIRST Christmas Card Published in the US

In 1875 Louis Prang, a prominent lithographer, published the first American Christmas card from his shop in Boston. His cards were considered works of art achieved domestic and international renown by the late 19th century.

  1. 1876: FIRST Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson first transmitted sound over wires. This successful experiment was completed in a fifth floor garret at what was then 109 Court Street and marked the beginning of worldwide telephone service.

  1. 1877: FIRST Cookbook

The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896) by Fannie Merritt Farmer is a 19th century general reference cookbook, which is still available both in reprint and in updated form. It was particularly notable for a more rigorous approach to recipe writing than had been common up to that point.

  1. 1877: FIRST Woman to Earn a Ph.D.

Helen Magill White became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in the U.S. (Boston University)

  1. 1881: FIRST Body Building Class

The first YMCA buildings constructed with gymnasiums opened in 1869. In 1881, Boston YMCA staffer Robert J. Roberts coined the term “body building” and developed exercise classes that anticipated today’s fitness workouts.

  1. 1891: FIRST Fig Newton®

The first Fig Newton’s were created in 1891 at Kennedy Biscuit Works in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The cookie was named Newton after a nearby town. It was trademarked as the Fig Newton in 1914.

  1. 1897: FIRST U.S. Marathon

On April 19, 1897, the first Boston Marathon was run in Boston, Massachusetts. John J. McDermott of New York ran the 24.5-mile course of the all-male event in a winning time of 2:55:10.

  1. 1897: FIRST Subway System in the U.S.

The Tremont Street Subway is a tunnel in Boston's subway system, and is the oldest subway tunnel in North America, opening on September 1, 1897. It was originally built as a tunnel to get streetcar lines off the streets, rather than a rapid transit line. It now forms the central part of the Green Line, connecting the Boylston Street station to Park Street and Government Center.

  1. 1901: FIRST Disposable Razor

King Camp Gillette (1855-1932) and William Emery Nickerson invented the world's first disposable razor blade in 1901.

  1. 1903: FIRST World Series Game

The 1903 World Series was the first modern World Series to be played in Major League Baseball. It matched the Boston Americans of the American League against the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League in a best-of-nine series, with Boston prevailing five games to three, winning the last four.

  1. 1912: OLDEST Major League Ballpark

Fenway Park is a baseball park near Kenmore Square in Boston, Massachusetts. Located at 4 Yawkey Way, it has served as the home ballpark of the Boston Red Sox baseball club since it opened in 1912 and is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium currently in use.

  1. 1917: FIRST ‘Fluffernutter’ Sandwich

The sandwich was first created in the early 20th century after marshmallow crème, a sweet marshmallow-like spread, was invented in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Archibald Query of Somerville, Massachusetts, invented a product he called Marshmallow Crème in 1917, and Emma and Amory Curtis of Melrose, Massachusetts, invented Snowflake Marshmallow crème in 1913. During World War I, Emma Curtis published a recipe for a peanut butter and marshmallow crème sandwich, which is the earliest known example of a Fluffernutter.

  1. 1924: FIRST American NHL Team

The Boston Bruins are members of the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL). The team has been in existence since 1924, and is the league's third-oldest team and is the oldest in the United States. It is also an Original Six franchise, along with the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadians, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins have won six Stanley Cup championships, the fifth most of all-time and second most of any American NHL team (behind the Red Wings, who have 11). Their home arena is the TD Garden, where they have played since 1995. Prior to 1995, the team played its home games at the Boston Garden for 67 seasons, beginning in 1928.

  1. 1924: FIRST U.S. Mutual Fund

In 1924, Massachusetts Investors Trust began operating in Boston, the first mutual fund company in the United States. A mutual fund pools the savings of a large group of individual investors, and uses the capital to buy a basket of many different stocks. This allows a single investor to diversify their investment, and not buy just one or two stocks, which is more risky. Another great benefit of a mutual fund is that it is managed by professionals in the industry.

  1. 1930: FIRST Modern Frozen Foods

The first quick-frozen vegetables, fruits, seafood’s, and meat were sold to the public for the first time in 1930 in Springfield, Massachusetts, under the trade name Birds Eye Frosted Foods®.

  1. 1936: FIRST Chocolate Chip Cookie

The chocolate chip cookie was accidentally developed by Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1930. She owned the Toll House Inn, in Whitman, Massachusetts, a very popular restaurant that featured home cooking in the 1930s. Her cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes, was published in 1936 by M. Barrows & Company, New York. It included the recipe "Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie", which rapidly became a favorite to be baked in American homes.

  1. 1941: FIRST Jet Engine Made in the U.S.

GE engineers in Lynn successfully tested the engine they called by the innocuous name "I-A." It was the first jet engine built in the United States. An English scientist had designed a jet engine in 1941. When an Air Force general saw it power a plane, he was impressed enough to award General Electric a contract to adapt the design to American specifications. Installed with two of these I-A engines, a Bell P-59A aircraft made its maiden flight in the fall of 1942. Building on its success in Lynn, GE's Aircraft Engine division has since become the world's leading producer of jet engines used in commercial and military aircraft.

  1. 1947: FIRST Microwave Oven

Percy Spencer is the self-taught scientist who discovered the power of microwave technology. Orphaned as a small boy, Spencer had little schooling before he entered the workforce. But a fascination with electricity and nights of studying on his own led to a job with a new firm in Cambridge — Raytheon. During World War II, Spencer and his co-workers developed technology that gave the Allies a critical edge in radar detection. Later, a set of simple experiments based on everyday experiences resulted in the first microwave oven, the 750-pound, five-foot-tall Radar Range.

  1. 1947: FIRST Instant Photography

In 1932, Edwin H. Land and his Harvard physics professor, George Wheelwright, III established the Land-Wheelwright Laboratories to commercialize Land’s polarizing technology. The company was renamed the Polaroid Corporation in 1937. In February 1947, Land introduced Polaroid instant film for use in his own Polaroid Land Camera. The Land camera (patent #2,543,181) was first offered for sale on November 26th, 1948.  Polaroid film processes chemicals in a flat, hermetically sealed compartment attached to the photosensitive paper. A pair of pressure rollers spreads the chemicals uniformly across the paper when exposed, and the completed print is ready a minute later.

  1. 1950: FIRST Dunkin’ Donuts®

In 1950, Bill Rosenberg opened the first Dunkin' Donuts shop in Quincy, Massachusetts. Dunkin' Donuts licensed the first of many franchises in 1955. Dunkin' Donuts is the world's leading baked goods and coffee chain, serving more than 3 million customers per day. Dunkin' Donuts sells 52 varieties of donuts and more than a dozen coffee beverages as well as an array of bagels, breakfast sandwiches and other baked goods.

  1. 1954: FIRST Kidney Transplant

In 1954, at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, a special kidney transplant case would be the first to succeed. Richard and Ronald Herrick were identical twins, but Richard was dying of kidney disease. Ronald donated one of his kidneys, and it was successfully transplanted into Richard. Because they were identical twins, the organ did not appear foreign to Richard's body, which did not reject it.

  1. 1955: FIRST U.S. President to Win the Pulitzer Prize

John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29, 1917. Graduating from Harvard in 1940, he entered the Navy. In 1943, when his PT boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy, despite grave injuries, led the survivors through perilous waters to safety. Back from the war, he became a Democratic Congressman from the Boston area, advancing in 1953 to the Senate. He married Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12, 1953. In 1955, while recuperating from a back operation, he wrote Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history.

  1. 1960: FIRST Modern Computer

The Whirlwind computer was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is the first computer that operated in real time, used video displays for output, and was not simply an electronic replacement of older mechanical systems. Its development led directly to the United States Air Force's Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system, and indirectly to almost all business computers and minicomputers in the 1960s.

  1. 1960: FIRST Minicomputer

The term “minicomputer” evolved in the 1960s to describe the smaller computers that became possible with the use of transistors and core memory technologies, minimal instructions sets and less expensive peripherals such as the ubiquitous Teletype Model 33 ASR. The first successful minicomputer was Digital Equipment Corporation's 12-bit PDP-8, which was built using discrete transistors and cost $16,000+ when launched in 1964. Digital Equipment Corporation’s headquarters was located in Maynard, MA during the 1990’s until they were acquired by Compaq.

  1. 1964: FIRST Nuclear-Powered Surface Vessel

USS Long Beach (CLGN-160/CGN-160/CGN-9) was a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser in the United States Navy. She was the only ship of her class. Her keel was laid down on December 2, 1957 by Bethlehem Steel Co. in the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA. The USS Long Beach was launched on July 14, 1959, and commissioned on September 9, 1961, with Captain Eugene P. Wilkinson in command. The ship was deactivated on July 2, 1994 at the Norfolk Naval Station.

  1. 1972: FIRST TV Show with Closed Captioning

The Public Broadcasting System (PBS), with federal funding, took the lead in captioning broadcast programming in the 1970s. The Caption Center, a service of WGBH Boston, captioned programs such as The Captioned ABC News, a late-night rebroadcast carried by more than 190 PBS stations, and Zoom, a children's series.

  1. 2004: LARGEST Social Media Network Conceived

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with more than 900 million users. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in 2004 while he was attending Harvard University.

  1. 2006: First Successful In-Utero Cardiac Implant

Boston was the site of yet another medical breakthrough in 2006, when a team of 16 specialists performed heart surgery on Grace VanDerwerken—while she was a fetus still in utero. Their job was to thread a lifesaving stent, which they completed successfully at Children’s Hospital Boston.

  1. 2008: FIRST Full-Face Transplant

Construction worker Dallas Wiens suffered severe burns to his head when a piece of machinery he was operating crashed into a power line. Three years later, following 22 surgeries to smooth out his skin and prepare for surgery, the 25-year-old became the first person to successfully undergo a full-face transplant in America, which took place at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Burn Center. Considered science fiction as recently as the 1990’s, this procedure was truly a medical breakthrough

  1. 2011: FIRST Bionic Lower Leg System

Powerfoot BiOM, is billed as the world’s first bionic lower leg system. Its combination of microprocessors, sensors, motors and springs mimic the actions of the ankle, Achilles tendon and calf muscle