History is full of firsts: the first Thanksgiving, the first telephone, the first barrel ride down Niagara Falls; and all of which, whether for better or for worse, have significantly altered the course of history, often serving as trailblazing moments that set a precedent for the future.
While many firsts are now fundamental parts of our shared culture, they often did not start the way we know them today, evolving over the course of time. This week, we will look at the histories of three seemingly simple pieces of popular culture, and how they came to be. So let’s dive in!
On Feb. 15, 1903, 118 years ago, the first Teddy bear went on sale in New York, NY.
While the teddy bear is a timeless staple of the toy industry, the original “Teddy” bear or more correctly “Teddy’s bear” debuted in the early 20th century at the small Brooklyn candy shop of inventor Morris Michtom. The loveable bear’s namesake was none other than President Theodore Roosevelt, the undoubtedly most popular man in America at the time.
While politicians are no longer the universally beloved individuals of the past, it is important to remember that before Hollywood and mass media, politicians and military leaders were the celebrities of their day. Roosevelt, in particular, was widely celebrated, assuming the office of the presidency at 42 years old, the youngest president to date. Coming from an elite New York family with military experience and a love of the great outdoors, Roosevelt became the epitome of the “manly” American man.
In 1902, Roosevelt was invited on a bear hunting trip by the Governor of Mississippi. As the legend goes, the vice president (as he was before President McKinley’s assassination) was unsuccessful in catching any bears, until an assistant cornered and tied up a bear for Roosevelt to shoot. Viewing this as appallingly unsportsmanlike and unfair, Roosevelt had the bear released.
A political cartoon in the Washington Post depicted the bear as a helpless cub, and Americans across the country saw this as an act of righteous mercy, showing how good morals can be applied to the rugged wilderness. Michtom and his wife crafted the stuffed animal and petitioned the White House for use of the name “Teddy.” Upon his agreement, the name stuck, and soon enough, every child in America wanted their own Teddy bear.
On Feb. 18, 1929, 92 years ago, the first Academy Award winners were announced in Los Angeles, Calif.
Long before the Academy Awards were the decadent and glamorous Hollywood event that they are today, the Oscars were a blasé and mediocre affair consisting of a monthly newsletter with the Academy’s (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) winners on the back side of the pamphlet.
The Academy held a subsequent banquet in May of the same year, presenting the iconic golden statuettes to the honorees in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The following year, the ceremony was conducted on the same night as the awards’ announcement, with a press release to the general public at 11:00 p.m. In 1940 however, the Los Angeles Times released the winners in the Sunday paper, before the ceremony and spoiling the surprise, resulting in the implementation of the sealed envelope system still used today.
Fun fact: the Academy Awards’ nickname of the “Oscars” originated from a 1931 news article where a secretary described the awards themselves as an uncanny representation of her Uncle Oscar … and the name stuck.
On Feb. 16, 1968, 53 years ago, the first “9-1-1” emergency call in the United States was made in Haleyville, Ala.
In the world of caller ID, where dialling (and remembering) someone’s phone number is a thing of the past, the three digit phone number of emergency services is still ingrained in the subconscious of virtually every American, but this was not always the case.
As home telephones became increasingly popular, public safety officials advocated for the implementation of a simple, universal emergency hotline, similar to “9-9-9” code in the United Kingdom, adopted in 1936. The American Telephone and Telegraph company (AT&T) had a virtual monopoly on telecommunications in the United States, and since “9-1-1” was not designated as a specific area code, this number was chosen.
While 1968 marks its first use, “9-1-1” was only implemented in parts of Alabama and Alaska. Even by 1987, “9-1-1” was only used by 50 percent of the country. Today, the emergency call system is uniform in North America, reaching 98 percent of those living in the U.S. and Canada, with a vast majority of other countries following suit with their own two to three digit codes.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Suzy Hazlewood on Pexels.com.