Review by Linda Cannon

I am a bit of a trivia nut, so I was pleased to see Robertson’s Book of Firsts: Who Did What the First Time by Patrick Robertson in the library. According to the jacket, it is “The one-of-a-kind encyclopedia of the first time for everything, from advertisements to zippers.” Oddly, the first listing is not advertising, but (the first) Abortion, Country to Legalize and the last is not zipper, but “zoo”. Odd that they would fib about the book on its own jacket, and I can see why they maybe didn’t want to mention the actual first entry, but zoo? Maybe they’re afraid of PETA.

At any rate, it is pretty extensive, covering a lot of ground in over 500 pages. The author apparently plans to continue to compile firsts, as he asks readers to contribute to supplementary future volumes. As far as the listings are concerned, the first “whatever” in the world is covered, along with the first in the United States (when it isn’t the first, period).

For the rest of this space, I’ll cover some of the entries I found more interesting. The first ATM was installed in Manhattan in 1939 but was withdrawn due to lack of demand. The first modern ATM was installed in London in 1967, and the first modern ATM in the U.S. was installed on Long Island in 1969.

The first children’s book is said to have been The Book of Curtesye (sic) printed in London in 1477 or 1478. It contained advice on what to do when getting up in the morning, for example “Comb your head, clean your ears and nose and don’t pick it. Wash your hands; don’t keep your nails dirt-black or too long,” and such dining table advice as “Don’t break wind up or down.” The first children’s picture book was published in Heidelberg in 1580. The first book of children’s fiction was Histoires ou contes du temps passé by Charles Perrault which contained stories including (English titles) Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella among others. Believe it or not, the first children’s magazine was published in 1751! It contained short stories, riddles, jokes, songs, and pictures and was only published for a little over a year.

The first laudromat? The Washateria in Fort Worth, Texas opened in 1934 with four washing machines, paid for on an hourly basis by means of paying an attendant. The first coin-operated laundromat was the Launder-Ur-Own in Buffalo, New York. The first unattended 24-hour laundromat? Austin, Texas in 1949.

What would some of us do without our microwave ovens? Patented in 1945, the first commercially home model was produced by Tappan in 1955. About the size of a refrigerator, it required a 220-volt outlet and plumbing for a water-cooled power tube. Moreover, it cost $1,295 dollars! That’s about $11,000 in 2012 dollars, which helps explain why only 11,000 microwaves were sold from 1953 to 1967, including commercial units like the original Radar Range (which cost $3000 in 1947).

Given my vocation, it’s not surprising that I would look at the information on library firsts. First public library in the United States? Boston, established in 1658. It wasn’t a lending library and contained only religious works that probably only clergy were allowed to use. The first lending library in the U.S. started in 1672 in Concord, Massachusetts, also apparently only religious works. The first secular lending library was a subscription-based library in Philadelphia founded in 1731. Only subscribers could take books out, but any “civil gentleman” could read in the library. The first municipally supported library was started by a private citizen and later maintained by the city. That was the Bingham Library for Youth in Salisbury, Connecticut which was also the first children’s library in the world. The first library to be established by a municipality began in 1833 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The library committee started the book collection by buying 370 books for $197. Two percent of the collection was fiction, the rest history and biography and other educational subjects.

All in all, I found this an interesting book, although not one I would suggest reading cover-to-cover in a few sittings! It’s well suited for browsing, but there is an excellent index to help you find specific information you’re interested in. Happy reading!