Learn More

More Philly Firsts

Want more Philly firsts? Check out these history-rich sources here, here, here, and here.


Join Us

At the Citizen of the Year celebration on January 30, 2024

Individual tickets for this special event cover dinner and access to an intimate conversation with MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi and actor/activist George Takei. All proceeds will benefit The Philadelphia Citizen, Philly’s only nonprofit, nonpartisan, solutions-focused civic media outlet.

Read More

Solutions for better citizenship

One of the founding tenets of The Philadelphia Citizen is to get people the resources they need to become better, more engaged citizens of their city.

We hope to do that in our Good Citizenship Toolkit, which includes a host of ways to get involved in Philadelphia — whether you want to contact your City Councilmember about the challenges facing your community, get those experiencing homelessness the goods they need, or simply go out to dinner somewhere where you know your money is going toward a greater good.

Find an issue that’s important to you in the list below, and get started on your journey of A-plus citizenship.

Vote and strengthen democracy

Stand up for marginalized communities

Create a cleaner, greener Philadelphia

Help our local youth and schools succeed

Support local businesses


To this story in CitizenCast

Jessica highlights inventions from Philadelphia in her enhanced audio edition

And go here for more audio articles from CitizenCast

Philly Was First

Philadelphians invented Girl Scout Cookies, bubblegum, the American schoolhouse, the computer — and the research that led to Covid-19 vaccines. Here are ways to celebrate the many firsts from our city on the first of this new year

Philly Was First

Philadelphians invented Girl Scout Cookies, bubblegum, the American schoolhouse, the computer — and the research that led to Covid-19 vaccines. Here are ways to celebrate the many firsts from our city on the first of this new year

In 1751, Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond opened Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in what was then the American colonies. It was one of many firsts in America’s first city — from gardens to libraries to schools to Girl Scout cookies! — that last year included a Nobel Prize for the research that led to the first Covid-19 vaccines in the world. (All hail scientists Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó.)

On this, the first day of a new year, we look back at some of our city’s many “firsts” — and how we can all weave that history into our modern-day citizenship.

The first paper mill

McDowell Paper Mills.

In 1690, William Bradford made the Wissahickon, near Germantown, the site of North America’s first paper mill.

You can make your resolution to exercise more nature-filled by exploring the Wissahickon’s many walking and hiking trails. The nonprofit Friends of the Wissahickon offers these free maps, guides, and even an app, so that you can find the best trail for your time and fitness goals.

The first schoolhouse

In 1698, the country’s first schoolhouse was built on 4th Street, south of Chestnut.

You can rally behind Philly public schools by contributing to a cause dear to you through The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia. Or, call your closest public school and ask if they need volunteers, supplies, or resources of another kind.

The first treatise against slavery

Photo by Tasha Jolley for Unsplash.

More than 300 years ago, in 1720, Ralph Sandiford wrote the first treatise against slavery here.

Today, you can get involved with nonprofits like the Abolitionist Law Center, a public interest law firm and community organizing nonprofit that strives to remake our criminal justice system.

The first botanical garden

Bartram’s Garden. Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.

John Bartram founded America’s first botanical garden in 1728, on a bank of the Schuylkill.

You can visit the 50-acre Bartram’s Garden year-round, for free, in Southwest Philly. Check out their Visitors’ Guide.

The first library

The Parkway Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Photo by J. Smith for Visit Philadelphia.

The Library Company of Philadelphia was founded here in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Hopkinson and Thomas Cadwalader, among others.

Today, the Free Library of Philadelphia offers an incredible array of programs, from author visits and teen clubs to computer workshops and business courses.

The first hospital

Pennsylvania Hospital. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The nation’s first hospital, Penn Medicine’s Pennsylvania Hospital, was founded here in 1751; Penn opened the country’s first School of Medicine in 1765.

You can further its legacy by donating to whatever medical area you’re passionate about.

The first theater house

John Jarboe in Rose: You Are Who You Eat courtesy of the Fringe Festival.

In 1766, the first permanent theater house was built in Southwark.

Today, you can enjoy our thriving theater arts scene by taking in a show, attending Philadelphia Fringe Festival, or even simply local schools’ productions.

The first daily newspaper

The U.S.’s first daily newspaper, The Philadelphia Packet and Daily Advertiser, began in Philadelphia in 1784.

Keep the spirit of local journalism strong by donating to become a member of The Philadelphia Citizen, joining us at one of our 2024 events, listening to our podcasts, or subscribing to our free weekly newsletter. Thank you!

The first seltzer

Photo by Karim Ghantous for Unsplash.

Today we have La Croix, Perrier, Spindrift — but in 1807, Joseph Hawkins made history for making America’s first carbonated water here.

Related to water … You can help keep oceans clean by shopping for your clothing and accessories at United By Blue, the beloved Philly-based B-Corp that removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways for every item purchased.

The first children’s hospital

Artwork by Fresh Artists at the CHOP Policy Lab in Philadelphia
Fresh Artists, a project at the Chidlren’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) legacy dates back to 1855, when it became the first pediatric hospital in the U.S.

Today, CHOP is a beacon of hope for children and families around the world, and you can drive its work further.

The first eraser

Photo by David Pennington for Unsplash.

We all make mistakes. Thank goodness for Hyman Lipman who, in 1858, patented the first pencil with a built-in eraser!

You can donate erasers, pencils, and more supplies to schools in your neighborhood — just give one a call and find out what’s on their teachers’ wishlists. Or search for Philadelphia (or your zip code) at Donors Choose.

The first carousel

Dentzel Carousel at Please Touch Museum. Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.

The very first merry-go-round in the U.S. was built by Gustav Dentzel in 1860.

You can go for a ride on the merry-go-round at the Please Touch Museum, the nonprofit, interactive children’s museum that serves families and children throughout the region.

The first ice cream

Franklin Fountain. Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.

Ice cream was invented here in 1861.

Support local businesses by going for your next scoop at shops like Franklin Fountain, The Milk Jawn, or Bassett’s, a history maker unto itself at the Reading Terminal Market.

The first zoo

Philadelphia Zoo. Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.

When it opened in 1874, Philadelphia Zoo was the nation’s first.

Now, it’s home to more than 10,000 animals, countless conservation efforts, and a gorgeous holiday light display.

The first Thanksgiving parade

The Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.

New York and Macy’s may try to steal our glory, but the country’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade was actually in Philadelphia, in 1920.

Take in the 2024 parade; details will go live at Visit Philly as the holiday approaches.

The first bubblegum

Photo by Marlene Bauer for Unsplash.

Bubble gum was first invented here by the Fleer Chewing Gum Company in Fairmount, in 1928.

If seeking the sticky confection — and assorted other litter — on the sidewalk bums you out, organize a street cleanup with your neighbors, or simply head out with rubber gloves, a garbage bag and a trash picker.

The first Girl Scout Cookies

Photo courtesy of the Girls Scouts.

Everyone has their favorite: Thin Mints, Do-si-dos, Tagalongs. Beloved Girl Scout Cookies date back to 1933, when the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia Council baked cookies and sold them in the city’s gas and electric company windows. The price? 23 cents for a box of 44 cookies.

Go ahead and shell out a wee bit more to encourage a local Girl Scout in your community.

The first Slinky

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The classic Slinky is still a crowd pleaser — just as it was when engineer Richard T. James first built it in 1943 and showed it off at Philly’s Gimbels department store in 1945.

You can give toys of all kinds to local kids through the City’s regular toy drives.

The first computer

Pioneering computer programmer Betty Holberton
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In 1946, the first massive electric computer in the world, the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), was built at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering.

These days, you can nurture kids’ coding and tech skills through the nonprofit Coded By Kids.

The first treatment for blindness

Overbrook School for the Blind. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 2018, scientists at CHOP and Penn invented the first treatment for a form of congenital blindness.

You can help other children with blindness or low vision by donating to Overbrook School for the Blind.

The first Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough

Dr Katalin Karikó, a white woman with short brown hair and glasses in a medical coat, and Dr Drew Weissman, a white man with a bald head wearing a doctor's jacket, blue collared shirt and tie, stand together at Penn.
Drs Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman.

In 2023, scientists Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó won the Nobel Prize for their groundbreaking discoveries, which had paved the way for the development of the first Covid-19 vaccines.

You can support budding scientists by checking out the wide array of learning opportunities at University City Science Center.

What “firsts” will Philadelphia spearhead next? We can’t wait to find out!


Top row, left to right: Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania Hospital, Girl Scout cookies, ice cream. Middle row: Thanksgiving Day Parade, Dentzel carousel at Please Touch Museum, ENIAC computer. Bottom row: Bubblegum, Overbrook School for the Blind, Covid vaccine, pencils with erasers.

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.