Famous Firsts

A list of famous firsts throughout human history. Including famous firsts in exploration, science, transport, politics, sport, culture and the arts.

First in Exploration

1492 –  Reach America Christopher Colombus becomes the first European from a major power to land in the Americas (now the Bahamas). Columbus was probably preceded by others, such as the Viking Leif Erikson in the 10th Century.

1498 – 1st European to reach India by sea. In 1498, Vasco de Gama became the first European to successfully sail around the Cape of Good Hope and reach the east coast of India.

1519 – 1st Circumnavigation of the globe. In 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan completed a circumnavigation of the world by boat.

1773 – Cross the Antarctic Circle Captain James Cook – becomes the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle.

1911 – South Pole. 14th December – Roald Amundsen (Norway) first person to reach the South Pole.

1919 – First transatlantic flight by John Alcock and Arthur Brown. They flew from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. They flew in a First World War Vickers Vimy bomber


Amundsen at the South Pole

1926 – North Pole. – Roald Amundsen (Norway) recognised as being the first person to reach the North Pole.

1927 – New York to Paris flight. Charles Lindbergh – 1st nonstop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. 3,600-statute-mile (5,800 km) in a time off 33.5 hours. A flight that gained more media coverage than that by Alcock and Brown in 1919.

19321st Transatlantic solo flight by a woman  Amelia Earhart succeeded in completing the first transatlantic solo flight by a woman. Flying from Newfoundland to Ireland in 15 hours.



Mount Everest

1953 – Mount Everest Sir Edmund Hillary, with Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay, become the first men to climb Mt. Everest.


1783 – Hot air balloon. On Nov. 21 Marquis d’Arlandes and Pilatre de Rozier become the first humans to fly in a hot-air balloon for 20 minutes, in Paris.


1903 – First powered flight – 17 Dec. The Wright Brothers make the first powered flight in North Carolina in a flight lasting 12 seconds.

1947 – Faster than the speed of sound. Chuck Yeager becomes the 1st person to fly faster than the speed of sound. (670 mph in the Bell X-1 rocket.)

Firsts in Politics

508 BC – Democracy – First attempts to introduce concepts of democracy on a significant scale in ancient Greece, e.g.  democratic reforms of Cleisthenes. (see: People who shaped democracy)


Magna Carta

1215 – 15 June. Magna Carta. The 1st charter which sought to limit the power of kings by law. Magna Carta established the principle of habeas corpus (see: Key events in history of democracy)

1542 – First laws abolishing slavery. Spain enacted the first European law Leyes Nuevas‘ abolishing colonial slavery.

1777 – Religious freedom Thomas Jefferson drafted Virginia’s  Act of Establishing Religious Freedom. The first bill to explicitly allow religious freedom in the west.

1789 – Freedom of thought. 1st Amendment to US constitution allowing freedom of thought and religious belief was adopted.

1789 – 1st US Supreme Court of Justice. John Jay becomes 1st US Supreme Court chief justice.

1870  – 1st African American elected.  Jefferson Long becomes the 1st African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (for Georgia)

1946 – 1st Secretary-General of the United Nations – Trygve Lie (Norway) becomes the 1st Secretary-General of the United Nations.

1967 – 1st African American Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall the 1st African American to become a Supreme Court justice.

1981 – 1st female US Supreme Court justice. Sandra Day O’Connor – 1st female US Supreme Court justice.

Invention / Science

1656 1st Clock. Christian Huygens developed pendulum to create first reliable pendulum clocks

1668 – 1st Telescope First reflecting telescope invented by Sir Isaac Newton.

1712 – 1st Steam Engine. Developed by Thomas Newcomen. Later improved by James Watt in 17

1790 –  1st US Patent Samuel Hopkins became the holder of US Patent #1. He patented a process for making potash and pearl ashes.

1798 – First Vaccine. Edward Jenner developed a vaccine for smallpox which killed around 10% of the UK population. This led to the development of many more vaccines.

1800 – 1st Battery. Alessandro Volta an Italian physicist developed the first battery which gave a steady current using copper and zinc

1832 – 1st Electricity generator. Michael Faraday (England) and Joseph Henry (US) built models for electricity generators.

1836 – 1st Telegraph message – Samuel Morse developed morse code to send messages over telegraph wires.

18371st Stamp. Rowland Hill in UK invents a way for people to pre-pay for postage.

1862 – 1st use of Plastic. Alexander Parkes (develops) plastic made from heated cellulose.

1895 1st Radio G. Marconi – displays first radio – which uses radio airwaves for sending out audio recordings.

1925 1st Television. John Logie Baird displays the first moving pictures on a tv.

19291st Antibiotic. Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin which has anti-biotic properties.

1938Splitting the atom – Nuclear fission was first discovered by German Otto Hahn. It showed the potential energy which can occur when an element like uranium is split into different elements.

1971 – 1st Email. Ray Tomlinson (US) developed the first electronic communication message between two computers.

1982.1st Internet protocol. TCP/IP

1990 – 1st Internet browser – the World Wide Web – Tim Berners Leed developed the World Wide Web (WWW)

Firsts in Sport

490 BC – 1st Marathon. Greek legend says that Pheidippides, a Greek messenger ran from the battle of Marathon to Athens to declare Greece had won. (and collapsed and died after delivering the message.)

1896 – 1st Olympic games. Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin (French) – Organises the 1st Modern Olympic games.

1896 – 1st Olympic marathon was won by Spyridon Louis, in 2:58:50 on 10 April

1872 –  1st F.A. Cup Final. 16 March 1872 Wanderers beat Royal Engineers in the first F.A. Cup final, at the Kennington Oval. The first major football competition to be played.

1875 – Swim English Channel. Matthew Webb  (GB) becomes the first person to swim across the English Channel.

1903 –  Tour de France. Maurice Garin (France) wins the 1st Tour de France winner.

1930  – World Cup. 30 July. Uruguay becomes the first country to win the first World Cup, held in Uruguay.

1954 – Sub four-minute mile. 6 May – Roger Bannister (GB) becomes the 1st person to run a mile race in under four minutes (3 minutes 59.4 seconds). He broke the four-minute barrier at Iffley Road, Oxford on the. His time was

1968 – 100m under 10 seconds. Jim Hines (US) – First person to run 100m under 10 seconds (9.95)

1969 – 1000th football goal. 19 November  Pelé scored his 1000th goal in all competitions. Becoming the first and only player to reach that milestone.

1984 –  First women’s Olympic Marathon. Joan Benoit (US) wins first women’s Olympic Marathon in a time of 2 hours 24 minutes and 52 seconds.

usain-bolt 2012 – 100m and 200m titles. – Usain Bolt (Jamaica) becomes the first athlete in history to retain the Olympic 100m and 200m titles after winning previous 2008 games. He went on to win another three gold medals at the 2016 Olympics

2019 – First sub two-hour marathon. Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) ran the first marathon under two hours in a time of one hour 59 minutes 40 during a special event in Vienna, Austria.

Firsts in Culture

105 – Paper. Cai Lun (China) credited with the first papermaking process

1440Printing Press Johannes Gutenberg (Germany) invents the world’s first printing press which enables the mass production of books.


1455The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed in Europe with movable metal type by Johannes Gutenberg.

1597First Opera. Jacopo Peri (Italy) writes the world’s first opera in Florence in Italy. It was called Dafne.

1623 – 1st Folio of William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare’s First Folio publishes 36 of Shakespeare’s plays.

1917 – 1st Jazz music Original Dixieland Jazz band make first ‘jazz’ recording “Livery Stable Blues”

192050 Home runs in a season. Babe Ruth becomes the first player to hit 50 home runs in a season – changing the game of baseball into a big-hitting game

1927 – Talking picture. Al Jolson is the main star of the first talking movie – “The Jazz Singer.”

1939 – 1st televised presidential address. Franklin D. Roosevelt – 1st US president to speak on television.

1955  – 1st African American US Television host  Nat King Cole – 1st African American US Television host on  “The Nat King Cole Show”

2000 – Ebook readers. Amazon and Microsoft collaborate to make available one of the first ebook readers. Also, free software Glassbook ebook reader for PC is launched.

2007 – Smartphone. Apple launch first iPhone, a device that changes the way people use computers and phones.

First in Transport

1817 – 1st prototype of a bicycle. Karl von Drais (Germany) builds the first ‘wooden horse’ a prototype for the modern bicycle (though there were no pedals on this wooden horse)

1830 – 1st Railway George Stephenson builds the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The world’s first major inter-city railway.

1837  –  1st Transatlantic Steamship Isambard Kingdom Brunel launches the ‘Great Western’, – the first steamship to engage in transatlantic service

1885 – 1st Bicycle. John Kemp Starley produced the first successful “safety bicycle” – which is close to the standard used by bicycles today.

1885/86 1st Internal combustion engine. – Karl Benz built and tested the world’s first purpose-built car powered by an internal petrol combustion engine

1887 – Pneumatic tyre  John Dunlop invents the first practical pneumatic tyre, first used on bicycles and later on motor cars

1892 – 1st Diesel engine Rudolf Diesel (German) patents his first diesel engine for the motor car

1961 – 1st to Travel in space. Yuri  Gagarin (Russian) becomes the first man to travel to outer space – completing an orbit of the earth on 12 April 1961.

1963 – 1st Woman in Space. Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova – Russian cosmonaut becomes the 1st woman in space.

1969 – 1st to Land on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become first men to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo moon landing programme


1553 – 1st Queen of England. Queen Mary I –  1st reigning queen of England.

1762 – 1st female newspaper editor. Ann Franklin – 1st woman to hold the title of a newspaper editor, “The Newport Mercury” in Newport, RI.

1608 – Juliana Morell  (Spanish nun) First woman to earn a doctorate degree – Doctor of Laws degree

1849 – 1st Female Doctor in US. Elizabeth Blackwell – 1st woman to receive a medical degree in US. (from the Medical Institution of Geneva, N.Y.)

1865 – 1st UK female doctor Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836 – 1917) – Britain’s first qualified female doctor. She passed the medical exam and obtained a licence (LSA) from the Society of Apothecaries. She set up her own medical practice. In 1873 was the first women to be admitted to the British Medical Association (BMA)

1869 – 1st Female Lawyer (US) Arabella Mansfield (US) 1st American woman lawyer. A year later, Ada H. Kepley, of Illinois, graduates from the Union College of Law in Chicago. She is the first woman lawyer to graduate from a law school.

1875 – 1st women to receive a degree. Stefania Wolicka, first women to receive honours degree in the modern era – from the University of Zurich in 1875.

1893 –  First Female mayor in British Empire. Elizabeth Yates (NZ) elected Mayor of Onehunga,  the first female mayor in the British Empire. In that year, Women given the vote in New Zealand, a first for modern democracies.

1894 – 1st African-American women to be a mainstream journalist. Ida Wells becomes the first African-American women in US to write for a white, mainstream newspaper (Daily Inter-Ocean), where she denounced practise of lynching

Mariecurie 1911  – 1st to win Two Nobel prizes Marie Curie becomes the 1st person ever to win two Nobel Prizes. Curie received Nobel Prizes in Physics (1903) and the second in Chemistry (1911) She was also the first women to receive Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry.

1972 – 1st Women – sportsperson of the year. Billy Jean King – named Sports Illustrated ‘sportsperson of the year’ – becoming the first women to be given the honour.

1975 – 1st woman to climb Mt Everest. Junko Tabei (Japan)  — 1st woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

1979 – Margaret Thatcher  – 1st Female Prime Minister of UK (1979-90)

1988 – Benazir Bhutto1st Female Prime Minister of Pakistan, and first female Prime Minister of Muslim country. 1st women to give birth whilst Prime Minister.

Environmentalism firsts

1306, 1st laws to protect from pollution. the English king Edward I passed laws limiting coal burning in London due to smog and pollution.

1780 1st philosophical defence of environment. Jeremy Benthum, wrote An Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation which was first major philosophic argument in defense of argued for animal rights.

1970 1st World Earth Day – 22nd April – The first World Earth Day – raising awareness of environmental issues.

2015 – 1st School Strike. Nov. Around the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, an independent group of students advocated an international school strike.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Famous Firsts”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net Published 3 Feb. 2015. Last updated 23 March 2020.


Related pages

ramses Famous historical figures (throughout history) A list of the most famous figures throughout history.

Sir_Winston_S_Churchill People who changed the world. Famous people who changed the course of history.

Mariecurie Women who changed the world –  Famous women who changed the world, including Sappho, Marie Curie, Queen Victoria, and Catherine the Great.



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