Firsts in America

This selection is based on our editorial judgment. Other sources may list different firsts.

  • Admiral in U.S. Navy: David Glasgow Farragut, 1866.
  • Airmail route, first transcontinental: Between New York City and San Francisco, 1920.
  • Assembly, representative: House of Burgesses, founded in Virginia, 1619.
  • Bank established: Bank of North America, Philadelphia, 1781.
  • Birth in America to English parents: Virginia Dare, born Roanoke Island, N.C., 1587.
  • Black newspaper: Freedom's Journal, 1827, edited by John B. Russworm.
  • Black U.S. diplomat: Ebenezer D. Bassett, 1869, minister-resident to Haiti.
  • Black elected governor of a state: L. Douglas Wilder, Virginia, 1990.
  • Black elected to U.S. Senate: Hiram Revels, 1870, Mississippi.
  • Black elected to U.S. House of Representatives: Jefferson Long, Georgia, 1870.
  • Black associate justice of U.S. Supreme Court: Thurgood Marshall, Oct. 2, 1967.
  • Black secretary of state: Gen. Colin Powell, appointed Dec. 2000.
  • Black U.S. cabinet minister: Robert C. Weaver, 1966, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Book by an African-American is published: Phillis Wheatley, 1773
  • Botanic garden: Established by John Bartram in Philadelphia, 1728, and is still in existence in its original location.
  • Cartoon, colored: “The Yellow Kid,” by Richard Outcault, in New York World, 1895.
  • College: Harvard, founded 1636.
  • College to confer degrees on women: Oberlin College (Ohio), 1841.
  • College to establish coeducation: Oberlin College (Ohio), 1833.
  • Electrocution of a criminal: William Kemmler in Auburn Prison, Auburn, N.Y., Aug. 6, 1890.
  • Five and Dime store: Founded by Frank Woolworth, Utica, N.Y., 1879 (moved to Lancaster, Pa., same year).
  • Fraternity, Greek-letter: Phi Beta Kappa; founded Dec. 5, 1776, at College of William and Mary.
  • Gay and lesbian civil rights advocacy organization, national: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, founded in New York City, 1973.
  • Lesbian, acknowledged, elected to high local office: Kathy Kozachenko, 1974, Ann Arbor City Council.
  • Gay man, acknowledged, elected to high local office: Harvey Milk, 1977, San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
  • Indian-American governor: Bobby Jindal, 2007.
  • Law to be declared unconstitutional by U.S. Supreme Court: Judiciary Act of 1789. Case: Marbury v. Madison, 1803.
  • Library, circulating: Philadelphia, 1731.
  • Newspaper, illustrated daily: New York Daily Graphic, 1873.
  • Newspaper published daily: Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, Philadelphia, Sept. 1784.
  • Newspaper published over a continuous period: The Boston News-Letter, April 1704.
  • Oil well, commercial: Titusville, Pa., 1859.
  • Panel quiz show on radio: Information Please, May 17, 1938.
  • Postage stamps issued: 1847.
  • Public school: Boston Latin School, Boston, 1635.
  • Radio station licensed: KDKA, Pittsburgh, Pa., Oct. 27, 1920.
  • Railroad, transcontinental: Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, joined at Promontory, Utah, May 10, 1869.
  • Savings bank: The Provident Institute for Savings, Boston, 1816.
  • Science museum: Founded by Charleston (S.C.) Library Society, 1773.
  • Skyscraper: Home Insurance Co., Chicago, 1885 (10 floors, 2 added later).
  • Slaves brought into America: At Jamestown, Va., 1619, from a Dutch ship.
  • Sorority: Alpha Delta Pi, at Wesleyan Female College, 1851.
  • Space tourist: Dennis Tito, 2001
  • State legalizes same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, 2004.
  • State to abolish capital punishment: Michigan, 1847.
  • State to enter Union after original 13: Vermont, 1791.
  • Steam-heated building: Eastern Hotel, Boston, 1845.
  • Steam railroad (carried passengers and freight): Baltimore & Ohio, 1830.
  • Strike on record by union: Journeymen Printers, New York City, 1776.
  • Subway: Opened in Boston, 1897.
  • “Tabloid” picture newspaper: The Illustrated Daily News (now the Daily News), New York City, 1919.
  • Vaudeville theater: Gaiety Museum, Boston, 1883.
  • Woman astronaut appointed commander of the International Space Station: Dr. Peggy Whitson, 2008
  • Woman astronaut appointed shuttle commander: Lt. Col. Eileen Collins, Columbia, launched July 1999.
  • Woman astronaut to ride in space: Dr. Sally K. Ride, 1983.
  • Woman astronaut to walk in space: Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, 1984.
  • Woman cabinet member: Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, 1933.
  • Woman candidate for president: Victoria Claflin Woodhull, nominated by National Woman's Suffrage Assn. on ticket of Nation Radical Reformers, 1872.
  • Woman candidate for vice president: Geraldine A. Ferraro, nominated on a major party ticket, Democratic Party, 1984.
  • Woman doctor of medicine: Elizabeth Blackwell; M.D. from Geneva Medical College of Western New York, 1849.
  • Woman elected governor of a state: Nellie Tayloe Ross, Wyoming, 1925.
  • Woman elected to U.S. Senate: Hattie Caraway, Arkansas; elected Nov. 1932.
  • Woman graduate of law school: Ada H. Kepley, Union College of Law, Chicago, 1870.
  • Woman member of U.S. House of Representatives: Jeannette Rankin (Mont.); elected Nov. 1916.
  • Woman member of U.S. Senate: Rebecca Latimer Felton (Ga.); appointed Oct. 3, 1922.
  • Woman member of U.S. Supreme Court: Sandra Day O'Connor; appointed July 1981.
  • Woman secretary of state: Madeleine Albright, appointed Dec. 1996.
  • Woman suffrage granted: Wyoming Territory, 1869.
  • Written constitution: Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, 1639.

See also Famous Firsts by African Americans, Famous Firsts by American Women, Firsts in U.S. Cities, Famous Asian-American Firsts, and Famous Firsts in Aviation.


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