New England Milestones

Courtesy of:

Tom Paine, ASLA

Brown Richardson & Rowe, Inc

Landscape Architects and Planners

Boston, MA

We invite your suggestions and feedback.

The Cradle that Rocks the World

by Thomas M. Paine © 2006

Since 9-11, we all appreciate more than ever what we cherish about this country, for all its imperfections. Unlike other nations, we are bound together first and foremost not by the bond of one blood and one religion, but by the belief in something that transcends blood and religion, that we are “a new nation,” as only Lincoln could put it, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. We are the first such nation born of that belief.

What this region we call “Boston” has done in the service of that belief, and done with that belief, forms an extraordinary legacy of innovation across all fields, a legacy that ought to inspire us to aim higher still. Alas, for want of the opportunity, Bostonians forget just how pivotal their role has been in delivering on the promise of freedom and equal opportunity, both long before and long after the Revolution that grabs all the attention. This greater Boston is truly America’s Motherland of Invention, America’s Homeplace. The last time a native really bragged about Boston, he called it the Cradle of Liberty, the Hub of the Universe. These metaphors have found their way into an official State web page: the New World's hub of liberty and culture, its cradle of commerce and industry.  And that starts to suggest just how wide the range of innovation is: technology, education, medicine, sports, the arts, environmentalism. When I say Boston, I have in mind a region whose heart, conscience, and intellect concentrates here as nowhere else, but a region nonetheless that is much bigger than municipal Boston, which has expanded its turf both literally and metaphorically over the centuries, until now many Boston-based organizations call themselves “Massachusetts” this or “New England” that.

Truly an idea this big deserves a place in the heart of the nation’s oldest city—as well as in the hearts of its citizens. We are not overreaching if we choose to celebrate Boston as the front door of New England, through which the regional legacy has spread, sometimes in a tidal wave, sometimes in ripples, from this well-harbored metropolis to the far shores of the globe.

To the designers of such a space, I say this: feel free to grab ideas from the list that follows but please do not reduce the ideas to a statue or a plaque. No large cradles, please. Let the idea spread across the space like a treasure hunt.  Let there be a parade of historic images projected on unexpected surfaces, perhaps different each night, even interactive with real-time images. Let the space be infused with content and meaning, not burdened or overwrought, but subtly saturated, in keeping with Boston’s traditional restraint.

Boston Firsts, Favorites, Heroes and Celebrities

Gathered together like a who’s who gala, the list that follows is a what’s what of New England ideas and accomplishments that ought to be celebrities. Not all are from literally Boston proper.  But all are from within the Boston orbit.  Most are “firsts”, a few more are “oldest existing,” but few will be “biggest.” That, in the main, I leave to others. If the word “first” seems pushy and petty, maybe “earliest” feels better. I hasten to add that just because a thing is first does not mean that all after-versions are beholden to it.  Adding a category for “seconds” would add depth, even accuracy, to the story, pointing to regional trends and rivalries, but I leave that for another day. There are bound to be errors, and competing claims (who invented the steamboat, hamburger, frisbee, etc.) And there are certainly omissions, especially among the other five New England States.  These are matters of judgment, but the list is open to nominations in all categories that represent what is most admirable about us.

Whose “first”? The “firsts” apply at least to the United States. Firsts of the first order of significance are in boldface. Worldwide firsts, or persons or works of global stature, in common judgment, are boldface and underlined. We look forward to correcting and adding to the list. It is over 400 items long and growing, a work in progress. They are organized by rough categories. Fasten your seatbelts. 


Respect for Native Americans

First Native American/Anglo friendship (Plymouth)

First Systematic Study of Native Languages, Translation of Bible into Native Language, Preaching in Native Language (Roger Williams, John Eliot)

First State/Colony to Adopt Native American name (MA, CT)


Freedom, Equality, and Human Rights

Beginning of New England Democracy (Civil Body Politic via Mayflower Compact, 1620) preceded by Virginia in 1619

First Town Meeting or home rule (Dorchester, 1633)

First Complete Religious Freedom  (Roger Williams, RI, 1636)

First Town Founded by a Woman (Taunton, MA, Elizabeth Poole, 1637)

First Colony Founded by a Woman (Portsmouth RI, Anne Hutchinson, 1638)

First Written Constitution to embody democracy (Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, 1639)

First Detailed Protection of Rights (Body of Liberties, Nathaniel Ward, 1641)

First Articles of Confederation (United Colonies of New England, 1643)

Oldest Structure Used for Worship (Lothrop House, now Sturgis Lothrop Library, Barnstable, 1644)

First Quakers (MA, 1656 persecuted/RI 1657 welcomed)

First Synagogue (Touro Synagogue, Newport, RI, 1763)

First Liberty Tree Day (Boston, August 14, 1765)

First Public Gallery in a Government Building (Old State House, 1766)

First Steps Toward Independence (Cradle of Liberty, Boston)

First Formal Protest to Crown  (Suffolk Resolves, Milton, 1774)

First Display of “Liberty and Union” on a flag (Taunton Green, 1774)

First Bloodless Expulsion of British authority (many towns, MA, 1774)

First Shot in American Revolution (Lexington, April 18, 1775) shot heard round the world

First Display of Grand Union Flag (Prospect Hill, Somerville, New Years Day, 1776)

First Signer of Declaration of Independence (John Hancock, MA, 1776)

First Racially Integrated Institution (Fourteenth Massachusetts Continentals, Marblehead area, 1776)

First State Constitution to Outlaw Slavery (VT, 1777)

First State Constitutional Convention of, for and by the people (NH, 1778)

Oldest Constitution in Continuous Use (John Adams, MA, 1780)

First Bill of Rights (at beginning of Massachusetts Constitution, John Adams, MA, 1780)

First Judicial Decision Declaring Slavery Violates Constitutional Guarantee of Liberty (Justice William Cushing, MA Supreme Court, 1783) (MA had been first colony to legalize slavery in 1641)

First Event to Focus Attention on Urgency of a Constitutional Convention (Shays Rebellion, Massachusetts, 1787)

First State to Ratify Bill of Rights (Hancock presided, 1788)

First State to Abolish Slave Trade (MA, 1788)

First State to Join the Union (VT, 1791)

First Church Built by Free Blacks (African Meeting House, Boston, 1806)

First Public Anti-Slavery Speech (Garrison, Park Street Church, 1829)

Most Famous Speech in US Senate History: Liberty and Union, Now and Forever”  (Daniel Webster, MA, January 26, 1830)

First Abolitionist Newspaper (William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, 1831)

First Association for Immediate Abolition (New-England Anti-Slavery Society, 1832, followed by Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society a month later)

First School for Blacks (Abiel Smith School, Boston, 1835)

First Black Admitted to Bar (Macon Bolling Allen, ME, 1845, then first in MA)

First Black Lawyer to Win a Jury Trial in US (Robert Morris, Boston, 1847)

Civil Disobedience (Henry Thoreau, Concord, 1849) to Gandhi , back to Martin Luther King, Jr.

First National Women’s Rights Convention (Worcester, 1850)

First Lawsuit to Win School Desegregation (Robert Morriss lawyer, William Cooper Nell historian, Benjamin Franklin Roberts printer, in Roberts v. Boston, 1850)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, CT and ME, 1852)

First Use of phrase “Of the people, by the people for the people” (Theodore Parker, New England Anti-Slavery Convention, Boston, 1850), adopted from Lincoln by Sun Yat-sen, Father of Modern China (Three Principles of the People)

First Integrated School (Phillips and Abiel Smith Schools, Boston, 1855)

First Union Troops in Civil War (Massachusetts Sixth, April 18, 1861) combat-ready in DC

First Black Union Troops in Civil War  (Gen. Benjamin Butler of MA, Louisiana, 1862, Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, 1863)

Most losses of any Union regiment (Fifth New Hampshire Regiment)

First joint celebration of North and South Civil War Veterans (Bunker Hill Centennial, Boston, 1875)

First Woman U. S. Legislator (Edith Nourse Rogers, MA, 1925) introduced GI Bill of Rights

First Jew on U.S. Supreme Court (Louis Brandeis, MA, 1916)

First Region to Claim Philosophical Suitability as “Global Capital” (UN search for HQ site, Boston, Newport RI, 1946)

First Woman Elected Senator in her own right (Margaret Chase Smith, ME, 1948)

Peace Corps (JFK, 1961)

First Black Senator since Reconstruction (Edward W. Brooke, MA, 1966)

First Woman Governor without inheriting office from spouse (Ella Grasso, CT, 1975)




First Public School (Boston Public Latin School, 1635) closed briefly 1775-1776

First College for Men (Harvard College, 1636)

First Free Public School (Mather School, Dorchester, 1639)

First Private School, oldest continuous school (Roxbury Latin School, 1645)

First Campus Quadrangle (Harvard, 1718)

First Academic Honor Society (Phi Beta Kappa, oldest continuous branches, Harvard and Yale, 1779)

First Independent Boarding School (Governor Dummer Academy, South Byfield, 1763)

First University (Harvard, 1780)

First Medical School (Harvard, 1782)

First Higher Education for Women (Emma Willard, Middlebury VT, 1815)

First Law School (Tapping Reeve, Litchfield CT, 1784, Harvard, 1817)

First Sunday School (Park Street Church, Boston, 1818)

First High School (English High School, Boston, 1820)

First School for the Blind (Perkins Institute, 1829)

First College for Women (Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, 1836)

First Public Training Facility for Teachers (now Framingham State College, Horace Mann, 1839).

First Agricultural Experiment Station (Yale, 1847)

First State with compulsory education for children ages 7-14 (1852)

First Kindergarten (Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, 1860)

First Technology School (MIT, 1861)

First Training Facility for Female Doctors (Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, New England Hospital for Women and Children, 1862) now Dimock Community Health Center

First Architecture School (MIT, 1865)

First U. S. Fish Commissioner (Spencer Baird, Woods Hole, 1871) first step to National Marine Fisheries Service, First Fisheries Program

First Female Technology Graduate (Ellen Swallow Richards, B.S., MIT, 1873)

First Black to receive a Ph.D. (Edward Bouchet, physics, Yale, 1876)

First Female PhD  (Helen Magill White, BU, 1877)

First branch, founded 1776 at William and Mary, interrupted 1780-1851, 1862-1893

First Marine Biological Laboratory (Wood’s Hole, 1888); second is Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution, Henry Bryant Bigelow, 1930)

First Landscape Architecture School (Harvard, 1900)

First College of Social Work (Simmons College, 1904)

First Business School (Harvard, 1908)

First Private Nonprofit Adult Education Center (Boston Center for Adult Education, 1933)

First Vocational High School (MA, date??)

First Day Care Center (North End Boston, ??)


Secular Belief Systems


Transcendentalism (Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Concord-Boston, 1836-60)

Nature (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Concord, 1836)

Self-Reliance (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Concord, 1841)

The Dial  (Margaret Fuller, editor, 1840-42)

Walden (Henry David Thoreau, Concord, 1854)

Pragmatism (Charles Sanders Pierce, William James, Cambridge, 1878-

Pragmatism, William James, 1907

Psychology (William James

                  Theory of Justice (John Rawls, Harvard, 1971)




First secular vital records—births, marriages, deaths—for everyone

First use of metaphor of the City on a Hill (John Winthrop, on Arbella, 1630)

First Published Poet (Anne Bradstreet, Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, 1650)
First Published Black Poet (Phyllis Wheatley, first published poem 1767, first book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773)
First American Novel  (The Power of Sympathy by William Hill Brown, Worcester, 1789)
First American Novel by a Woman (Hannah Webster Foster, The Coquette, or the History of Eliza Wharton, Brighton, 1797)
First Published Female Historian (Mercy Otis Warren, History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, 1805)

First Dictionary (Noah Webster, CT, 1783, also Merriam, Springfield)

First National Pharmacopoeia (Jacob Bigelow, 1820).

First Historical Novel (Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times, 1824)

Invention of term “Technology” (Jacob Bigelow, Harvard, 1828)

First Woman’s Magazine edited by a woman/ First Woman Editor (Ladies Magazine, Sarah Josepha Hale, Boston, 1828-30)
First Published Article on Photography (Boston Daily Advertiser, February 23, 1839)
First Literary/Cultural Capital of US (Boston, Athens of America, 1850s)

Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (bookseller John Bartlett, Cambridge, 1855)

First Novel on Electronic Romance (telegraphic: Ella Cheever Thayer, Boston, Wired Love, 1879)

First Printing Press (Stephen Daye, Cambridge, 1638)

First Post Office (Richard Fairbanks, appointed by Charles I, Boston, 1639)

First Beacon (Beacon Hill, 1639)

Oldest Library Building (Lothrop House, Barnstable, 1644, Sturgis Lothrop Library since 1863)

First Public Library (Boston, 1653)

First Newspaper (Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestic, Boston, 1690, followed by Newsletter, 1704)

First Gazetteer (The American Gazetteer, Jedidiah Morse, Boston 1797)

First Law Library (Social Law Library, Boston, 1803)

First Telecommunication (Jonathan Groat, Jr., Vineyard to Telegraph Hill Dorchester, 1801) 16 semaphore beacons in 9 minutes

First Color Printing (Jacob Bigelow, 1817)

First Typewriter (Charles Thurber, Worcester, 1840)

First Free Public Library (Peterboro, NH 1833, Boston 1854)

First Telephone (Alexander Graham Bell, Boston, 1876), first line State Street office to Somerville residence, 1877,  first long distance call, Boston to New York City, 1884

First International Wireless Communication (Theodore Roosevelt and Marconi, South Wellfleet, 1903) Marconi father of radio, grandfather of cellphones

First Radio Broadcast (Reginald Fessenden, from transmitter south of Boston/Brant Rock, Marshfield, 1906).

First Triode Tube, Birth of Radio (Lee de Forest, ed. MA and Yale, 1912)

First Commercial Radio Station in New England (WBZA, Springfield, WNPH New Bedford, both 1921)

First Polaroid Camera (CT, 1934)

First Instant Camera (Edwin Land, Polaroid, Cambridge, 1948)

First Color Television (CT, 1948)

First Vision of the Internet (MIT, 1960)

First Internet Prototype, ARPANET (Bolt Beranek & Newman, 1969)

First Email (Ray Tomlinson, Bolt Beranek & Newman, 1971)

First Reading Machine (Ray Kurzweil, 1976)



First Oceangoing Vessel Launched in New World (Virginia of Sagadahoc, Popham Colony, ME, 1607)

First Ferry (Chelsea to Boston, 1631)

First Waterway (Mother Brook, Dedham, 1640)

First Highway (Boston Post Road to New York, now US Route 20, first delivery 1673)

First Printed Roadmap (Tulley’s Almanack, Boston, 1698)

First Schooner (Andrew Robinson, Gloucester, 1713)

First Canal (Middlesex Canal, Boston to Lowell, 1807)

First Railroad (Bulfinch’s Beacon Hill inclines, 1795, then 1805, well before long undisputed Quincy granite railway, 1826)

First Rickshaw (Worcester missionary, 1846, for South America; spread to Asia)

First Elevator (Elisha Otis, Vermont later New York City, 1853)

Fastest Clipper Ship (Flying Cloud, Donald MacKay, East Boston, 1854)

First Bicycle (velocipede, Pierre Lallemont, CT, 1866) rode from Ansonia to New Haven Green

First Major Tunnel (Hoosac Tunnel, Berkshires, 1852-73)

First Cog Railway (Sylvester Marsh, Mount Washington, 1869) thence to Switzerland

First Bicycle Club (Boston, 1878)

First Marketable Gas-powered Automobile, Rubber Tires  (Charles and Frank Duryea, Springfield, 1892)

First Mass Transit Subway (Tremont Street Boston, 1897)

First Solo Circumnavigation of Globe under Sail (Joshua Slocum, Spray, Boston to Newport, 1898-1901)

First Motorcycle (Indian Motorcycle, Springfield 1901)

First Underwater Subway Tunnel (Boston to East Boston, now T Blue Line, 1904)

First Gas Station (Jenney Building, Central Wharf, Boston waterfront, 1915)

First Liquid Fuel Rocket  (Dr. Robert Goddard, Auburn, 1926)

First Helicopter (Sikorsky, CT, 1929, 1939; K225, Charles Kamar, Hartford, 1949)

First Circumferential Highway or Beltway (Route 128, 1948-58)

First Mandated Inclusion of  Mass Transit with Federal Highway Funding (Frederick P. Salvucci, Metro Boston, 1973-4)

First Personal Transportation Device aka Segway (Dean Kamen, NH, 2000)


Celebration and Commemoration/ Arts/Icons

First Thanksgiving (Plymouth, 1621)

Yankee Doodle (lyrics, CT, 1755)

First July 4th Parade (Bristol, R.I., 1785)

First Public Display of American Eagle Icon (Bulfinch’s Beacon Hill Column, 1789)

First Historical Society (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1791)

First Domed Capitol (Boston State House, Charles Bulfinch, first native-born and educated professional architect, 1795)

First Hilltop Siting of Capitol (ditto)

First Museum (Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, 1799)

Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington and Martha Washington (Athenaeum Portraits)

First County Fair or Agricultural Fair (Topsfield, MA 1818)

Mary Had A Little Lamb (Sarah Josepha Hale, Newport NH, 1823)

First Historical Museum (Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, 1824)

First Obelisk and First Major Revolutionary War Monument (Bunker Hill Monument, 1825) prototype of Washington Monument, DC

First call for Thanksgiving as National Holiday (Sarah Josepha Hale in her Boston Ladies Magazine, by 1827, then Godey’s Lady’s Book after 1846, finally proclaimed by Lincoln in 1863)

My Country ‘Tis of Thee (Samuel Francis Smith, Newton, 1832)

First College Art Museum (Yale, New Haven, 1832)

First Christmas Tree (Charles Follen, Boston/Lexington, by 1835)

Over the River and Through the Woods (Lydia Maria Child, Medford, 1844)

First Genealogical Organization (New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1845)

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (Edmund Hamilton Sears, Wayland, 1849)

Jingle Bells (James Pierpont, Boston, 1857)

Battle Hymn of the Republic (Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1862)

O Little Town of Bethlehem (Phillips Brooks, pre-Boston, 1867)

First Proposal for Mother’s Day (Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1872)

Minuteman Statue (Daniel Chester French, Concord, 1875)

First Pops Orchestra (Boston Pops, 1885)

Pledge of Allegiance (Rev. Francis Bellamy, Boston, 1892)

America The Beautiful (Katherine Lee Bates, Falmouth, 1893)

First  Society of Arts and Crafts (Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, 1897)

First Outdoor Christmas Caroling (Beacon Hill, Boston, 1908)

Lincoln Memorial (Daniel Chester French, Stockbridge, 1920)

First Outdoor Museum (Wayside Inn area, Sudbury, Henry Ford, 1923)

First Living History Museum (Pioneer Village, Salem, 1930)

First Feminist Superhero: Wonder Woman (William Moulton Marston, b. Cliftondale MA, Harvard trained, 1941)

Four Freedoms (Norman Rockwell, Arlington VT, Stockbridge MA, 1943)

First Self-Guided Walking Tour (journalist William Scofield, Freedom Trail, Boston, 1954)

First Historic Districts in north (Beacon Hill and Nantucket, 1955)

First New Years Night Celebration (Boston’s First Night, 1976)

"That the hymn has gained, in these twenty odd years, such a hold as it has upon our people, is clearly due to the fact that Americans are at heart idealists, with a fundamental faith in human brotherhood." (Bates)


Vigilance Defense and Safety

First Fire Engine (Joseph Jencks, Lynn, 1654, offered  Selectmen of Boston after Great Fire)

                  First Armory (centralized firearms)

First Military Society (Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, Boston, 1637)

First Lighthouse (Boston Light, 1716)

First Street Light (Boston)

First Minutemen

First Ship of the U.S. Navy (schooner Hannah, Beverly, 1775)

First Submarine (David Bushnell, Turtle, CT, 1776)

Oldest commissioned Navy vessel (U.S.S. Constitution)

First Rifle Manufacture in first U. S. Armory (Springfield Armory, 1795)

First Revolver (Samuel Colt, Hartford, 1835-6)

First Gas Streetlights and Sewer System (Boston, 1837)

First Electric Fire Alarm System (Boston, 1857)

First Town Lit by Electric Street Lights (Great Barrington, 1886)

First Fire Truck (Knox Mfg. Co., 1907)

First Nuclear Powered Submarine (USS Nautilus, Groton CT 1954)

First Nuclear Powered Surface Vessel (USS Long Beach CG (N) 9, Quincy, 1961)


Medicine and Public Health

First Inoculation (Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, smallpox, Turkish method, Boston, 1721)

Oldest Continuously Operating Medical Society (Massachusetts Medical Society, 1781)

First Board of Health (Paul Revere first President, Boston, 1799)

First Public Health Drive (Milton, Smallpox inoculation, 1809)

First Anesthesia (Horace Wells, Hartford, 1844)

First Modern Surgery (Dr. William T. G. Morton, Massachusetts General Hospital, 1846)  first use of ether in surgery; site is restored

First Appendectomy (Dr. Reginald Fitz, Massachusetts General Hospital, 1866)

First TB Clinic (New England Medical Center, 1899)

First Treatment of Lead Poisoning (Massachusetts General Hospital, 1926)

First Hinton Syphilis Test (New England Medical Center, 1927)

First Successful Operation for Hyperthyroidism (Massachusetts General Hospital, 1929)

First Diagnostic Medical Clinic (New England Medical Center, 1938)

First Test Tube Fertilization (Free Hospital for Women, 1944)

First Chemotherapy (Dr. Sidney Farber, 1947)

First Human Organ Transplant (kidney by Dr. Joseph Murray, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, 1954)

First Chemical Synthesis of Penicillin (MIT, 1957)

First Immunosuppression (New England Medical Center, 1958)

First Birth Control Pill (Gregory Pincus and John Rock MD, Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, 1956-60)

First Reattachment of Severed Arm (Massachusetts General Hospital, 1962)

First Freezing of Blood for Storage (Massachusetts General Hospital, 1964)

First Medical Infusion Pump (Dean Kamen, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 1976)

First Laser in Open Heart Surgery (New England MedicalCenter, 1983)

First Proposed Decoding of Human Genome (Whitehead Institute, Cambridge, 1990)

First Intra-Operative Magnetic Resonance Imaging System (BWH, 1994)

First Implantable Artificial Heart (Abiomed, Danvers, 2001)


Other Technology and Invention of High Tech

First Manufacturing (Saugus Ironworks, 1646) first toolmaking patent, Joseph Jenks, Saugus 1646

                  First Forge (James and Henry Leonard, Taunton, 1652 ) for first business woman (below)

                  First Paper Manufacture (Boies & MacLean mill, Neponset, 1728)

Birthplace of American Industrial Revolution (Samuel Slater, Blackstone River, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 1793)

First Copper Rolling Mill (Paul Revere, Canton, 1801) hence the name Revere Ware

First Accurate Global Positioning System (Nathaniel W. Bowditch, American Practical Navigator, Newburyport, 1802)

Birthplace of Integrated Manufacturing/First Venture-Funded High-Tech Company (Boston Manufacturing Company, Waltham 1813) then Lowell 1822

First Platform Scale (Thaddeus Fairbanks, Vermont, 1830)

First Steam Shovel (William Otis, Canton, 1836)

First Vulcanized Rubber (Charles Goodyear, Woburn, 1839) allows lawn tennis

                  First Monkey Wrench (Loring and Aury Coes, Worcester, 1840)

First Hydraulic Turbine (James B. Francis, Lowell, 1849)

First Cylinder Lock (Linus Yale, Shelburne Falls, 1860)

First Vote Recording Machine and Stock Ticker (Thomas A. Edison, 109 Court Street, Boston, 1868-9)

First Square-Bottom Paper Bag Machine (Margaret Knight, Boston, 1879), among 90 inventions

First Commercial AC Transformer (William Stanley, Great Barrington, 1886)

First Color Photograph (CT, 1881)

First Major Acoustical Engineering Project (Symphony Hall, Boston, Wallace Clement Sabine, 1900)

First X-Ray Tube (William D. Coolidge, MIT, GE, 1913)

First Lie  Detector (William Moulton Marston, Harvard, 1915)

First Ethyl Gasoline (Thomas Midgley, MA??, 1922)

First Mechanical Computer (Vannevar Bush, MIT, 1928)

First Polarized Filter (Edwin Land, 1929) for sunglasses, 3D photography, glare free headlights

First Strobe Flash (Harold Edgerton, MIT, 1931)

First Gyroscopic/Inertial Navigation System (Charles Stark Draper, MIT, 1930s)

First Programmable (Digital) Computer (Howard Aiken, Harvard, 1944)

First Computer Magnetic Core Memory (Jay Forrester, MIT, 1948) then An Wang, 1955

First Snowmaking Machine (Larchmont Engineering, Lexington, 1952) at Great Blue Hill

First Computer Compiler (Grace Hopper, ed. Yale, 1952) also invented COBOL

First Desktop Calculator, Word Processor (An Wang, 1965 ff)

First Electronic Spreadsheet (Dan Bricklin, HBS, “Visicalc”, 1978-9)

First to Decode DNA (Walter Gilbert, Harvard, 1970s) Nobel Prize, 1980, founder of Biogen

First Open Source Linux Operating System (Richard Stallman, Cambridge, 1984)

First Haptic Computer Interface PHANToM, (Thomas Massie, MIT grad, 1995)


Food, Clothing and Shelter

First Classic Portico (Redwood Library, Newport RI, Peter Harrison, 1748)

First Calico Printery (Boston, 1712)

First Cotton Gin (Eli Whitney of Westboro, in New Haven, 1793)

Bartlett Pear (imported from England by Enoch Bartlett, Dorchester, 1812)

First Steam Powered Loom (Waltham, 1813)

First Canned Food (William Underwood, Russia Wharf, Boston, 1821)

First Indoor Shopping Mall (Russell Warren and James Bucklin, Providence Arcade, RI, 1828)

First ‘Modern’ Hotel (Tremont House, Isaiah Rogers, 1829)

First Rattan Furniture (Cyrus Wakefield, S. Reading later Wakefield, 1844)

First Steam Heated Building (Eastern Hotel, Boston, 1845)

First Sewing Machine (Elias Howe, Boston, 1845)

First Shoe Lasting Machine (Jan Matzeliger, 1883) revolutionizes shoe industry

Fig Newtons (Nabisco, Newton, MA, 1891)

First Hamburger (New Haven, CT, 1895) although some claim 1885 in Wisconsin

First Safety Razor (King Camp Gillette and William Emery Nickerson, Boston, 1901)

First Fried Clams (Essex, MA, 1914)

First Bra (Mary Jacob, Boston, 1914) sold to Maidenform Co.

First Commercially Successful Electric Clock (Henry Ellis Warren, Ashland, MA,1916)

First Baby Formula (Similac, New England Medical Center, 1919)

First Frozen Food (Clarence Birdseye, MA, 1925)

First Commercial Yogurt (Andover, MA, Columbo?)

First Microwave Oven (Percy Spencer, Raytheon, 1946)

First Indian Pudding

First Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner

First Lobster Meal

First Clam chowder

First Tollhouse cookie (Whitman, MA, 1937)

First Corn on the Cob

First Cranberry Sauce

Necco Wafers

Marshmallow Fluff  (Archibald Query, H. Allen Durkee, Fred L. Mower, Lynn, MA, 1920)

First Shredded Wheat (Worcester, Henry Perky, ??)

First Graham Crackers (Sylvester Graham, CT, 1829)


Recreation, Entertainment, and Culture

First Public Park (Boston Common, 1634)

                  First Art Museum (Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, 1842)

First Major American Composer (William Billings, 1746-1800)

First Summer Resort (Wolfeboro, Lake Winnipesaukee, NH, 1760s) and vacationland (ME, NH, MA)

First Circus (Newport, 1774)

First Large-scale Designed Public Landscape (Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, 1831)

First Commercially Produced Board Game (Mansion of Happiness, S. B. Ives, Salem, 1843, later bought by Parker Brothers)

                  First YMCA (downtown Boston, 1851)

First Roller Rink and first turning roller skates (James Plimpton, MA and Newport, 1863)

                  First Playground of the Super Rich (Newport, RI, 1870s)

                  First Vaudeville Theater (Gaiety Museum, Boston, 1883)

                  First Country Club (Brookline, 1881)

First Humor Magazine (Harvard Lampoon, 1876) Lampoon style goes national with National Lampoon 1970 and Hollywood thereafter (Simpsons et al.)

First Artists Association (Copley Society, Boston, 1879)

First Non-Profit Crafts Organization (Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, 1897)

First Public Playground (Olmsted, Charlesbank, Boston, 1892)

                  First Public Beach (Charles Eliot, Revere Beach, 1896)

                  Best Acoustics in a Symphony Hall (Symphony Hall, Boston, 1900)

                  First Dance Festival (Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, 1932)

                  First Craft Fair (Lake Sunapee, NH, 1932)

First Ski Area (rope tow, Woodstock VT 1934, aerial tramway Cannon Mountain NH, 1938)

First Festival Marketplace (Faneuil Hall Marketplace, James Rouse and Ben Thompson, 1976)

First Rail-Trail (Cape Cod, 1979)


Sports and Fitness

                  First Baseball  (Pittsfield, 1791) record discovered 2004 overturns Manhattan reference of 1823

First Swimming School (Francis Leiber, 1827)

First Intercollegiate Event (Harvard Yale Crew Race, Lake Winnepesaukee, 1852)

First Intercollegiate Baseball Rivalry (Amherst-Williams, 1859)

First Football (Gerrit Smith Miller, Dixwell School’s Oneida team vs Latin School, 1862, Boston Common)

First Baseball Dynasty (Boston Red Stockings, 4 straight National Association of Professional Baseball Players championships, 1871-1874)

First High-School Football Rivalry (Needham-Wellesley, 1882)

First Grass Tennis Court (Newport, RI)

First Triple-Win of America’s Cup (Eastern Yacht Club, Marblehead, Puritan 1885, Mayflower 1886, Volunteer 1887)

First Candlepin Bowling (1888 Worcester)

First Public Outdoor Gymnasium (Dudley A. Sargent, Charlesbank, Boston, 1889)

First Basketball (James Naismith, Springfield, 1891)

First Volleyball (William Morgan, Holyoke, 1895)

First American Olympic Team (Boston Athletic Association, 1896)

First Marathon (Boston, 1897)

First Polar Bear Club (L Street Brownies, 1902)

First World Series Victory (Boston Pilgrims, 1903)

First Football Stadium (Soldiers Field, Harvard University, 1903)

First International Figure Skating Champion (George H. Browne, Cambridge MA, 1914)

First Frisbee (Yale, 1940s, pie tin from local William R. Frisbie Bakery)

First Public Sailing Program (Community Boating, Charles River Basin, 1937)

First Snowboard (Jake Burton Carpenter, VT, 1970s)

First Marathon to Admit Women (Boston, 1972)

Biggest Comeback in Sports History (Boston Red Sox win World Series, 2004)


Conservation, Preservation, Environment

First Conservation land (commons)

Town Common/Village Green

First Cluster subdivisions (17th c, 20thc and now)

First Public Park (Boston Common, 1634)

First public shade tree planting in New World (Liberty Tree, Boston, August 14, 1765)

First Urban Renewal (Alexander Parris, Quincy Market, 1824-26, copied by Covent Garden London)

                  First Rural (Garden) Cemetery (Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, 1831)

                  First Public Botanical Park, (Boston Public Garden, 1837)

First Homeowners Association (Louisburg Square Proprietors, Boston, 1844)

First Village Improvement Society (Laurel Hill Association, Stockbridge, 1853)

First Public Park by purchase (Bushnell Park, Hartford CT 1854)

First Ecologist (Ellen Swallow Richards, MIT, 1872-3) first environmental/public health research

First Conservation and Recreation Organization (Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston, 1876)

First Urban Greenway (Frederick Law Olmsted, Emerald Necklace, Boston, 1880)

First Public/Private Partnership for Public Open Space (City of Boston and Harvard University for Arnold Arboretum, 1882)

First Land Trust (The Trustees of Public Reservations, 1891)—to British National Trust and back to National Trust for Historic Preservation.

                  First Metropolitan Park System (Charles Eliot, Boston, 1893)

First Protected Saltmarsh (Neponset Estuary, 1899)

                  First State Audubon Society (Minna Hall, Massachusetts Audubon Society, 1896)

First Regional Preservation Organization (William Sumner Appleton, Historic New England, Boston, 1910)

First Multi-purpose Nature Center (Mass Audubon, Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Sharon MA, 1918)

                  First Historic District in New England (Beacon Hill, Boston, 1955)

                  First State Wetland Restoration Program (MA, 1994)

                  Leader in plant introductions (Arnold Arboretum)

Economic System/Business

First/Oldest Fishing Port (Gloucester, 1623)

First/Oldest American Metropolis (Boston) first center of capital formation

First Corporation (Harvard College, 1630)

First Business Woman (Elizabeth Poole, Iron Forge or Bloomery, Taunton, 1652)

First Powder Mill (Milton, 1674)

First Pier (Long Wharf, Boston, 1710)

First Chocolate Factory in NE (Milton, 1764)

First Bell Foundry (Col. Aaron Hobart of Abingdon, MA, then Paul Revere, by 1770)

First Commercial Bank (Massachusetts Bank, Boston, 1784)

First Insurance Company (Norwich, CT, 1795)

First Piano Factory (Benjamin Crahore, Milton, 1800)

First Leader in China Trade (Salem then Boston)

First American Millionaire (Elias Hasket Derby, Salem)

First Big Business (Boston Manufacturing Company, Waltham, 1815) all under one roof

First Savings Bank (Provident Institution for Savings, 1816)

First Corporate Trust Company (Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company, 1818) sets standard for trusteeship, “strict male” and “strict female” trusts

First Venture Capital Center (Railroads, AT&T, United Shoe, GE, Boston)

First Department Store (Ford’s Store, Duxbury, 1826) many claimants

                  First Planned Industrial City (Holyoke, 1848)

First Nationally Successful Woman Business Entrepreneur (Lydia E. Pinkham, Lynn, MA, 1875)  Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound

First Womens Exchange (Womens Educational and Industrial Union, Boston, 1877)

                  First Chamber of Commerce (Grain Exchange 1885 merged into COC 1909)

                  First Business Consulting and Contract research Firm (Arthur D. Little, Boston, 1886)

                                  Modernized paper industry, set up GM’s R&D, developed nonflammable film, fiberglass, cigarette filters, synthetic penicillin, inkjet printing, Slim Fast

                  First Large Scale Manufacture of Electrical Products (GE, CT)

                  First Supermarket (Upham's Corner Market, Dorchester, ca. 1920)

                  First Radio Shack (Boston, 1921)

                  First Mutual Fund (L. Sherman Adams, Massachusetts Investors Trust, Boston, 1924)

First Roadside Restaurant Franchise Chain (Howard Johnson’s, Quincy, 1935)

First Modern Venture Capital Firm (American Research and Development or ARD, Georges Doriot, Harvard Business school, 1946) funded Digital Equipment Corp.

First Master Planned Industrial Park (New England Business Center, Needham at Rte 128, Cabot Cabot & Forbes, 1948)

First Donut Chain (Dunkin Donuts, William Rosenberg, 1950) now largest coffee and baked goods chain in world

                  First Discount General Merchandise Retailer (Lechmere Sales, 1913, 1950s)

                  First Mutual Fund Check Writing (Fidelity, Boston, 1970s)

                  First Independent Biopharmaceutical Company (Biogen, 1978)


Reform, Philanthropy, Activism, Association

First Feminism (Anne Hutchinson)

First Private Charity in New England (Scots' Charitable Society, Boston, 1657)

First Temperance Society (Litchfield, CT, 1789)  many claimants

First Black Fraternal Order (Black Masons, Boston, 1790)

First Mental Hospital (now McLean Hospital, Belmont, originally in Charlestown now Somerville, 1816)

First Industrial Labor Strike (Waltham, female workers, 1821)

First Prison Aid (Park Street Church, Boston, 1824)

First State Reform School (Westboro, 1846)

First State Law Prohibiting Sale of Alcohol (ME, 1847)

First Identified Slum (Fort Hill, Boston, 1850s)

                  First YWCA (Boston, 1859, 1866)

First Free Public Bath (L Street, 1866)

First Public Agency dedicated to Public Health (Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, MA, 1869)

American Red Cross (Clara Barton, from Oxford, MA, 1881)

                  First Women’s College Club (College Club, Boston, 1890)

First Interracial Non-sectarian Youth Organization (Campfire Girls, Charlotte Gulick, Springfield, 1910)

First Nutrition Clinic (New England Medical Center, 1918)

First Tumor Clinic (Massachusetts General Hospital, 1925)

First Woman Cabinet member (Frances Perkins, Boston, Secretary of Labor, 1933



First American to Visit Japan (Captain John Kenrick, Orleans, 1791)

Discovery of Northwest/Columbia River and Capt John Kenrick, (Orleans, 1787 and/or Robert Gray, Boston 1792)

First American Circumnavigation of Globe (Columbia Rediviva, out of Boston, 1792)

First American Voyage to Hawaii (Thaddeus, out of Boston, 1819)

                  First Aerial Photography ( Providence then Boston, 1860)

National Geographic Society (Gardiner Greene Hubbard and Alexander Graham Bell, 1888)

                  First Precise Measurement of Star Distance (Henrietta Levitt, Harvard, 1912)

First Accurate Mapping of Numerous Mountain McKinley, Muldrow Glacier, Everest (Bradford Washburn, MA, 1970s-90s)

Discoverer of Titanic, Bismarck, Yorktown, Lusitania wrecks and thermal vents (Robert Ballard, Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute, Mystic Marinelife Aquarium, Mystic, CT)

First American Plant Collector to reach remote China (Ernest Henry Wilson for Arnold Arboretum, after 1899)


Everyday things

First One-way Street (Change Avenue, Boston, orig. seven foot wide Pierce's Alley, 1639)

First Mass-produced Board Game  (Milton Bradley, Springfield, 1860s)

First Postcard (Morgan Envelope Factory, Springfield, 1873)

                  First Mass-produced Christmas Card (Louis Prang, Roxbury, 1874-5)

First Toothpicks (imported from S. America by Charles Forster of Maine, Union Oyster House, Boston, 1870s)

First Mass-produced Valentine (Esther Howland, Worcester, 1840)

First Department Store Santa (James Edgar, Boston Store, Brockton, 1890)

First Quonset Hut (Quonset Point Naval Air Station, Rhode Island, 1942

Silly Putty (GE, New Haven, 1943, rights sold to Peter Hodgson for $147)

Tupperware (Earl Tupper, Leominster, 1945)

Smiley Face (Harvey R. Ball, Worcester, 1963)

American Legends and Heroes—famous for being famous, and a whole lot more, in roughly chronological order…so many omissions


The Yankee

Hannah Duston (heroine, 1697, first American woman represented in statue, two of them, 1870s)

Ben Franklin (Boston and Philadelphia)

Sam Adams (Boston)

James Otis (Cape and Boston)

Paul Revere (Boston)

John Hancock (Boston)

Nathan Hale (CT)

John Adams (Quincy)

Abigail Adams (Quincy)

John Paul Jones (NH)

Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman, Leominster, 1774)

Uncle Sam (Congress declared in 1961 that Samuel Wilson of Arlington, MA, who provided casks of beef with "U.S." for American troops during the War of 1812, was indeed the real Uncle Sam)

John Singleton Copley (Boston)

Gilbert Stuart (RI, Boston)

Samuel F. B. Morse (Charlestown, Yale)

Henry David Thoreau  (Concord)

                  Daniel Webster (NH, MA)

                  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (ME, MA)

Edgar Allan Poe (Boston)

John Brown (CT)

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Concord)

Emily Dickinson (Amherst)

Margaret Fuller (Cambridge)

Mark Twain (Hartford CT)

Henry Adams (Boston)

Henry James (Cambridge)

Louisa May Alcott (Boston)

Horatio Alger (Revere)

Susan B. Anthony (Adams)

Clara Barton (Oxford)

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (ME)

P. T. Barnum (CT)

Fannie Farmer (Cambridge)

Phillips Brooks (Boston)

John Singer Sargent (Boston)

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (Boston)

Louis Brandeis (Boston)

Amelia Earhart (Medford)

Robert Frost (NH)

Howard Johnson (Quincy, MA)

Robert Lowell (Boston)

R. Buckminster (“Bucky”) Fuller

Edwin Land (Cambridge)

Charles Ives (Danbury CT)

Helen Keller (Cambridge, Wrentham)

E.E. Cummings (Cambridge)

Cole Porter (Yale)

Norman Rockwell (Arlington VT, Stockbridge MA)

N. C. Wyeth (Needham)

Andrew Wyeth (ME)

Arthur Fiedler (Boston)

Fred Allen (Cambridge, born John Florence Sullivan)

Ted Williams (Fenway Park)

Erle Stanley Gardner (Malden)

Jack Kerouac (Lowell)

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Brookline)

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (Newport)

F. Lee Bailey (Waltham)

Theodore Geisel aka "Dr. Suess" (Springfield)

Marvin Hagler (Brockton)

Rocky Marciano (Brockton)

Leonard Bernstein (Lawrence)

Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. (Boston)

Jack Welch (Salem)

An Wang  (Lincoln)

Yo-Yo Ma (Cambridge

Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees rallied at drop-dead time in game 4 to win last 4 of 7 for pennant, then took St Louis Cardinals in 4 games to 0 for first World Series title since 1918.



"Senior Associate and Manager of the Boston Office of The Saratoga Associates, a multidisciplinary design firm, Tom Paine is currently writing the book version of this list."