In 1952, the First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Charleston published a small booklet called Famous Charleston Firsts. I found a copy of it in my parents’ memorabilia and thought you might enjoy some of them, too.
1. First book jackets in America were made in Charleston by Issac Hammond in 1890. He opened a book store at 10 Broad Street and designed the jackets to protect rare editions. A salesman from Harper Brothers took the idea back to his New York City publishing house.
2. First woman artist in America was Henrietta Johnson, who worked in Charleston between 1707 and 1720. Her subjects were mainly women, but her best work is a portrait of Robert Johnson, Governor-general of His Majesty’s Province of Carolina.
3. First weather observations ever to be recorded were made in Charleston by Dr. John Lining in 1738. He took a daily reading from his home at Broad Street and King Street. As a physician, Dr. Lining studied the effect of weather on the human body, seeking to find out how a rising thermometer affected people.
4. First fire insurance company was organized in 1736. Known as “The Friendly Society for the Mutual Insurance of Houses Against Fire,” the company maintained its own fire fighters, who carried buckets and ladders. After 4 years, the huge Charleston fire of 1740 consumed half the city and ruined the insurance company.
5. First American cotton exported to England was shipped from Charleston in 1748. The shipment consisted of 7 bags and was valued at roughly $875.
6. First submarine to sink a man-of-war in actual warfare took place in Charleston harbor in 1864.The Confederate submarine Hunley sank the USS Housatonic by exploding a torpedo under her. The wave thrown up swamped the submarine.
7. First railroad in America was built in 1830 from Charleston to Hamburg, SC. The first passenger train, “The Best Friend,” made its initial trip in 1831. Newspaper report said, “The passengers flew on wings of the wind, annihilating space and leaving all the world behind at the fantastic speed of 15 mph.”
8. First building in America of fireproof construction was the “Fireproof Building” overlooking Charleston’s Washington Park. It was designed in 1826 by Robert Mills, designer of the US Treasury Building and the Washington Monument. (It is now the home of the SC Historical Society.)
9. First independent government in SC, and the second in America, was formed in Charleston in 1776 in what is now the Exchange Building on Broad Street. The assembly authorized the issue of $600,000 for start-up.
Our state has much to be proud of. Its history has spanned centuries, and South Carolinians still choose to remember its influence.
At a writing conference yesterday, I read part of this list to teachers and encouraged them to look for the stories in research. Dry facts do give us information, but it is the people who make those facts come alive.
“Charleston is an extraordinary place. There is a deep connection between the residents and nearly three hundred and fifty years of history, and those ties between daily life and the distant past are strengthened by the occasional glimpse beyond the veil.”
― James Caskey, Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City