"Famous Firsts" You Didn't Know Massachusetts Was Home To

Dianna Carney
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Here's a glimpse into some of America's "famous firsts" that have happened in Massachusetts!Photo byskynesher, swalls, Thuan Vo / Photo Edit by Dianna Carney

Massachusetts is home to some of our nation's most renowned "firsts." From groundbreaking medical innovations to awe-inspiring construction projects, the Bay State has played a major role in shaping various industries. Here are nine of those "famous firsts" that have happened in Massachusetts- with one of them going on to change our society forever, even being the reason you're able to read this article right now!

9. First American University (1636)

Next time you're watching Elle Woods walk around campus in Legally Blonde, you'll know you're also taking a small tour of American history. That's because Harvard University, founded in 1636, is America's first university.

According to the university itself, "despite popular opinion (and a certain statue) John Harvard did not found Harvard, but he was the first major benefactor and he donated half of his estate and his library of more than 400 books to the School. Harvard University was officially founded by a vote by the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony."

8. First Public Park (1634)

As you go about your daily errands, driving passed green spaces with families playing, dogs walking, and children enjoying nature, it may seem normal to have public spaces where the community can come together. But, it wasn't until 1634 when Boston Common was established that America had its first park. Today, the United States is home to 52 national parks, over 6,600 state parks, and thousands of community parks.

7. First American Lighthouse (1716)

Boston Harbor saw the construction of the first American lighthouse, the Boston Light, in 1716. Its purpose was to guide mariners safely through New England's busiest port. "The British destroyed Boston Light during the Revolutionary War in 1776. Rebuilt in 1783, the present light tower is recognized as the Nation's second oldest," explains the National Park Service.

6. First Student Government in America (1840)

According to the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society, The Point School was the first place where a student government was held. The journal of the student government, which is now uploaded on the Drew Archival Library's website, explains the students' everyday happenings, such as debate questions they participated in and how they decided who did which chores for their school. They even formed their own board of health among the students!

"The students at the Point School ranged in age from approximately 8 to 17, but it was only the older students who participated in the student government that produced this journal." - Duxbury Rural and Historical Society

5. First American Railroad (1826)

The Granite Railway, the first chartered railroad in the United States, began operations in 1826. It transported granite from Quincy to the Neponset River, for it to be transported by barge to Charlestown in Boston, for use in the construction of the Bunker Hill Monument. Designed by engineer Gridley Bryant, it featured horse-drawn wagons and iron-plated wooden rails. The railway later became part of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad.

4. First Public Demonstration of Surgical Anesthesia (1846)

Mass General Hospital, which accepted its first patient in 1821, is one of the nation's oldest hospitals. Over the decades, it has become known for its advances in medicine and prides itself in numerous accomplishments, including the first public demonstration of surgical anesthesia by William T.G. Morton and John Collins Warren.

This medical procedure was accomplished inside the Ether Dome. The hospital has created a digital tour available for free to the public for those looking to explore the Ether Dome's history a bit more. For a virtual tour of the Ether Dome, click here. This online virtual tour is perfect for families looking for something to do together!

3. First Basketball Game (1891)

Springfield witnessed the birth of basketball in 1891 when Dr. James Naismith introduced the game to his students at the International Young Men’s Christian Association Training School.

“I called the boys to the gym, divided them up into teams of nine and gave them a little soccer ball,” Naismith recalled in a 1939 radio interview that aired on WOR-AM in New York City. “I showed them two peach baskets I’d nailed up at each end of the gym, and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team’s peach basket. I blew the whistle, and the first game of basketball began.” - History Channel

2. First Chocolate Chip Cookie (1930s)

The chocolate chip cookie was born when Ruth Wakefield, who ran the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, made a tasty "mistake". The myth goes that Wakefield added Nestlé chocolate chips to her cookie recipe, thinking the chocolate would melt, creating a chocolate-flavored cookie. By the end of the decade, the cookie had become so popular that she had ended up on Betty Crocker's radio program in 1938, and a year later, she sold the rights to Nestlé for them to use her recipe and the Toll House name.

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1. First Real-Time Computer (1950)

The Massachusetts Institute of Art (MIT) created Whirlwind, the first digital real-time computer, meaning "a computer that can respond seemingly instantly to basic instructions, thus allowing an operator to interact with a “running” computer." According to MIT themselves, the computer was created because, "during WWII, the U.S. Navy asked MIT for help in designing a universal flight simulator that used an analog electromechanical computing system." The Whirlwind Core Memory Unit is now on view at the MIT museum, making a great family day trip!


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