Famous Firsts

For my first official Trivia Tuesday segment, I’ve decided to go with the theme of famous firsts. I’ll start on a galactic scale with the first planet from the sun.


Mercury is actually not the hottest planet in the solar system even though it is closest to the sun. Temperatures can reach 427oC (800oF), but Venus is much hotter – with temperatures of 462oC (864oF) due to its extremely thick atmosphere that creates high pressures and traps heat. In fact, Venus is so hot that one of the first space probes, Venera 2, was sent on a flyby mission and failed due to overheating. It took 5 more tries for the Soviets to finally successfully perform the first landing on Venus. One thing that Mercury outdoes Venus and the rest of the planets in our solar system is in temperature variation. While temperatures during the day would literally be scorching, a lack of a significant atmosphere causes Mercury to lose all of its heat, and the temperature drops to -173oC (-280oF) at night. Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system (since Pluto lost its planetary title) and also one of the most geologically interesting, actually due to its lack of geological activity.  Mercury is pocked full of craters since it has no erosion processes. It also has “wrinkles” on its surface (long cliffs through craters and plains) due to the cooling and contracting of the planet, which scientists have deemed Lobate Scarps.

Mount Everest

To continue on about enormous scales, the first recorded persons to scale the summit of the enormous Mount Everest were Sir Edmund Percival Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. A climb to the summit had been attempted a year earlier by Swiss mountaineers and Tenzing, but the group descended back down the mountain due to inclement weather. They were only 800 feet from the summit, nearly beating Hillary to the punch. After he was selected to attempt the summit the following year, Hillary nearly missed his chance to be the first person to summit Everest when he almost convinced himself not to go on the trip. He almost was forgotten in history yet again when the first assault team nearly reached the summit but had to return when one climber’s oxygen system failed. Tenzing and Hillary finally made it to the summit but only spent 15 minutes there. Tenzing posed with his ice-axe as Hillary took the first picture of a human on the summit of Everest. Hillary’s feat had no photographic evidence, since Tenzing allegedly had never used a camera before (although Tenzing claims in his autobiography that Hillary declined having his picture taken).

Charles Lindbergh

If famous firsts don’t remind you of grade school history class, these next few excerpts will. The twist is that these alleged famous firsts are actually sometimes misconceptions due to subtle nuances in the individuals’ claims to fame. Charles Lindbergh is regarded as an aviation pioneer and most trivia buffs may know him as the first person to successfully complete a transatlantic flight, flying from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh’s attempt was in response to a challenge proposed by a New York hotel owner, who offered $25,000 to anyone who could accomplish this feat. The challenge stood for five years before Lindbergh finally completed his 30 hour journey. However, the herald he receives for being the first person to successfully cross the Atlantic is misattributed. Just 8 years earlier, British pilots John Alcock and Arthur Brown from the UK flew from Newfoundland to Ireland, becoming the true first persons to cross the Atlantic. The duo were knighted and also given a cash prize, but it seems as if the two were lost in obscurity behind Lindbergh. It could be the publicity behind Lindbergh’s flight as well as his continued success in aviation prompted a wider remembrance of Lindbergh’s flight, or it could just be regional differences in who is remembered. Still, it’s not to say that Lindbergh’s achievement should be downplayed because he still has claim to the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Jackie Robinson

Many people know Jackie Robinson as the first African American to play professional baseball. What most people don’t know is that the first African American player in the Majors was actually Moses Fleetwood Walker. Walker played one season in 1884 for the Toledo Blue Stockings before the team folded and Walker was injured. There was more time between when Walker played and Robinson was born than between the Civil War and when Walker played. Walker was able to continue his career in the minor leagues until 1889, when baseball implemented its color ban. It wasn’t until nearly 60 years later that the color ban was finally lifted. Of course, Robinson played a significant role and his achievement was not made any easier just because he wasn’t technically the first African American to play professional baseball. It’s said that Robinson was the subject of derision and abuse, once even receiving a seven-inch gash in his leg from another players’ spikes during a game. To top it off, with all of the mistreatment, Robinson had an extremely successful career highlighted by multiple World Series appearances and the NL MVP award. If technicalities are relevant, Robinson can still be called the first African American to play baseball in the modern Major League and can be credited with helping integrating professional baseball.

Johannes Gutenberg

The name Johannes Gutenberg may sound familiar, and if you remember history class, you’ll remember he is often recognized as the inventor of the first moveable printing press. It’s believed that the technology of the printing press set off a new intellectual age in Europe, enabling cheaper distribution of literary works and increasing the influence of the middle class. Over 200 years earlier though, Choe Yun-ui of the Goryeo Dynasty in what is modern-day Korea invented a moveable metal printing press. There are documents printed with this technology that have survived to today. Some date as early 1377, more than 60 years before the first Gutenberg Press. There is evidence from even earlier dates in the form of paper money printed from these types of presses. What is even more remarkable is that Asia had been printing with wood block presses for hundreds of years earlier than the first metal presses were invented, while Europeans were mostly handwriting on scrolls. Gutenberg’s achievements are not to be forgotten though, since his introduction of printing to Europe likely helped spark the Renaissance era.

Further Reading:


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