Weird History

10 Things You Didn't Know America Did Before Anyone Else 

Kellen Perry
Updated June 14, 2019 17.6k views 10 items

Everyone knows that America was the first country to, say, put a man on the moon or use atomic weapons in combat. But America was also the first country that did a lot of lesser known things, too. Historical firsts in the United States aren’t all world-changing, multi-million dollar spectacles like a moon landing: the country also pioneered a few things that may have flown under your radar.

Now, they’re not all things to feel super-patriotic about. A side effect of being one of the most powerful nations in the world is that sometimes that power gets (arguably) misused. But some things on this list just might have you randomly saluting the stars and stripes. Read on for 10 things the US did first that just might surprise you.

Require a Health Warning on Cigarette Packs
Require a Health Warning... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 10 Things You Didn't Know America Did Before Anyone Else
Photo:  Lindsay Fox/ Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In 1965, America became the first nation in the world that required health warnings on cigarette packages. America made the decision to label cigarettes as a response to the Surgeon General’s 1964 report Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service. The first warning simply read “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health” (note the word may). The law, however, also prevented any further warnings until at least 1969, a move that the New York Times called “a shocking piece of special interest legislation” meant to “protect the economic health of the tobacco industry.”

In 1969, the required warning was tweaked to “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health” (note the word is). It wasn’t until 1984 that the packs started mentioning specific diseases such as lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. In 2012, the FDA wanted to literally put pictures of dead people on the packs, but a judge ruled that this violated the First Amendment rights of tobacco companies.

Use Outer Space for Commercial Purposes
Use Outer Space for Comm... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 10 Things You Didn't Know America Did Before Anyone Else
Photo: NASA/via Wikimedia/Public Domain

America used outer space for commercial purposes when most other countries barely even had satellites. NASA launched the Telstar 1 satellite in 1962 with sponsorship from AT&T and Bell Telephone Laboratories. The move would help the companies get back what they invested a zillion times over: the Telstar 1 was the first ever satellite to transmit live TV, telephone, and fax signals. The giant antenna pictured above is how we communicated with it down here on Earth. On July 11, 1962, the first live transatlantic TV signal aired, featuring correspondents from CBS, NBC, and the BBC. The first images broadcast were the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, and the broadcast later featured a live speech from JFK.

Recover an Orbiting Satellite's Payload
Recover an Orbiting Sate... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 10 Things You Didn't Know America Did Before Anyone Else
Photo:  National Reconnaissance Office/via Wikimedia/Public Domain

Here’s a space-related “first” you don’t hear that much about: in 1960, America became the first nation to safely recover a satellite’s payload from orbit. Launches may get all the glory, but this was a pretty big deal: the Corona satellite was carrying images of the Soviet Union from space that no one had ever seen before. The Soviets managed the same feat about a week later, but with much different cargo. Korabl-Sputnik 2 was carrying two dogs, two rats, 40 mice, and several plants. (Yes, the dogs survived.)

Formally Recognize PTSD
Formally Recognize PTSD ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 10 Things You Didn't Know America Did Before Anyone Else
Photo:  Icemanwcs/via Wikimedia/CC BY SA 3.0

The US was the first country to formally recognize post-traumatic stress disorder as an actual, treatable condition, which helped thousands of soldiers get the help they desperately needed. As former marine, David Morris, wrote, PTSD is an “American invention, a product of the war in Vietnam” (the term dates back to 1978). Morris says that America was the first to acknowledge it because of where, historically, we’ve fought: far, far, from home. The distance exacerbates the problem, making a soldier feel “extra-terrestrial” when they finally return. Morris says one of the most common things he hears from veterans is, “When I got back, I felt like a Martian.”