American Essentials Older Than the Kentucky Derby

Pop Culture
Kentucky Derby photo by Eclipse Sportswire; all other photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Kentucky Derby, which first occurred on May 17, 1875, in Louisville, Ky., has been run every year since at fabled Churchill Downs. Often called the “greatest two minutes in sports,” 20 racehorses, all 3-year-old Thoroughbreds, compete in this iconic race on the first Saturday in May, covering a distance of 1 ¼ miles. This year, of course, the Kentucky Derby has been moved to the first Saturday in September due to COVID-19 precautions.

The Kentucky Derby is the longest continually held sporting event in America. Which got us thinking, what is older than the Kentucky Derby and still relevant today? Here are 10 inventions we discovered that predate the first running of the Kentucky Derby and which remain in use today:

1. Swivel chair

Invented in by Thomas Jefferson (the guy was a hipster artistan/multitasker before either term became trendy), the swivel or revolving chair that allows the seat to spin around is now a modern office place staple. Jefferson even apparently signed the Declaration of Independence from his own swivel chair, in 1776. What have you done in your swivel chair?

2. Crackers

First developed in 1792 by John Pearson of Newburyport, Mass., the cracker as we know it today was initially known as a sea biscuit. Made from just flour and water, the cracker proved popular with sailors for its shelf life. Today, crackers come in all shapes, sizes and flavors and are devoured with cheese, fruit and a variety of spreads, in addition to remaining a popular complement to a bowl or cup of soup.

3. Cupcake

In 1796, a recipe notation written by Amelia Simms in “American Cookery” became the earliest reference of a cupcake. Later, in 1828, Eliza Leslie’s cookbook entitled “Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats” represented the first use of the word cupcake. Most recently, the popularity of the cupcake boomed when “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw and her gal posse introduced an adult generation to the sweet offerings at Magnolia Bakery in New York City.

4. Fire hydrant

Frederick Graff Sr., chief engineer of the Philadelphia Water Works, is credited with inventing the fire hydrant in 1801. His design offered a combination hose/faucet outlet and was of wet barrel design. The modern version of the fire hydrant followed 62 years later after Birdsill Holly’s innovations changed the invention to what we generally know it as today.

5. Coffee percolator

To the pleasure of all coffee drinkers and Starbucks across the globe, Benjamin Thompson invented the percolating coffee pot with a metal sieve to strain away the grounds in 1806.

6. Lobster trap

Ebenezer Thorndike of Swampscott, Mass., invented the lobster trap in 1808. In addition to Thorndike, Swampscott has produced such notable people as Todd McShay (ESPN NFL Draft analyst) and David Lee Roth (former lead singer of Van Halen).

7. Dental floss

A dentist from New Orleans, Levi Spear Parmly, invented the first form of dental floss in 1815. A very necessary tool in extracting from in between one’s teeth the many delectable offerings of the Big Easy, including shrimp gumbo, crawfish, or red beans and rice.

8. Graham cracker

Invented in 1829 to assist his vegetarian diet, Reverend Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister, invented the high-fiber Graham bread. Graham bread was made with non-sifted whole wheat flour and cut into little squares now commonly referred to as graham crackers. Anyone else on the graham-cracker diet?

9. Doorbell

A precursor to the electric doorbell was introduced to us in 1831 by Joseph Henry. Today they come in all shapes and sizes and offering a dizzying array of sounds and songs. And in case you’re wondering, the popular childen’s game ding dong ditch probably started in 1832.

10. Doughnut

The doughnut originated with the Dutch in the 1600s, but the American version of a ring-shaped doughnut with a hole in the center, was invented in 1847 and is attributed to ship Captain Hansnn Gregory of Clam Cove, Maine. Today, the doughnut business is a multi-billion-dollar industry. That’s a whole lot of doughnuts.

Despite their relevance and popularity today, none of the above 10 items can match the excitement, thrills and fun of attending the Kentucky Derby. So put down that doughnut, take a sabbatical from your graham cracker diet, get off your swivel chair and make your plans to attend the most celebrated horse race on the planet.

Note: This story originally ran in April 2016.

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