Buffalo Firsts: A List of Major
and Minor Individuals and Events
Compiled by Library Staff
Updated December 1, 2023
FirstDateDescriptionUnique to Buffalo?Source
African-American architect1912John E. Brent (1889-1962), who designed the now-demolished Michigan Avenue YMCA.NJohn Edmonston Brent.
African-American artist1857William H. Simpson (1818-1872), a portraitistN"We were in error giving the name...". Buffalo Morning Express, Dec. 28, 1857, p. 3.
African-American author1853James M. Whitfield (1822-1871) was a poet and barber. He published his first book of verse in 1853.NWhitfield, James M. America and other poems. Buffalo, NY: J.S. Leavitt, 1853
African-American composer1839Frank Johnson (1792-1844), of Philadelphia, who wrote and published The Buffalo City Guards Parade MarchNBrassard, Alexandra. The First Published African-American Composer. William L. Clements Library, 2019.
African-American disc jockey1953James A. "Ducky" RiceNGraebner, William. Coming of Age in Buffalo. Philadelphia, PA: Temple U. Press, 1990, p. 29
African-American executive drector of The Buffalo News7/28/2022Sheila RayamN"Sheila Rayam is named Executive Director of The Buffalo News." New York Times, July 28, 2022.
African-American flight attendant1957Ruth Taylor of New York City, whose first flight was from NYC to Buffalo on Mohawk Airlines YRorty, James. "The first colored air hostess." The Crisis, June-July 1958, p. 339.
African-American jury member1843Abner H. Francis (1813-1872) impaneled on a jury of the Recorder's CourtY"A colored juryman." Buffalo Daily Gazette, Sept. 12, 1843, p. 2
African-American librarian1943Frances K. Hall (1916-2007) begins her career in librarianship in Buffalo.N"Frances K. Hall, first black librarian in city of Buffalo to be certified, June 7, 1916-Aug. 6, 2007." Buffalo News, August 11, 2007
African-American man elected official1934Sherman Walker (1892-1969) elected to the Erie County Board of SupervisorsNTaylor, Steven J. L. Desegregation in Boston and Buffalo: The Influence of Local Leaders. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998, p. 36
African-American mayor2006Byron Brown (b. 1958), sworn in on January 1, 2006N"Byron Brown."
African-American member of the Buffalo School board1963Dr. Lydia Wright (1922-2006)NAfrican American History of Western New York State, 1935 to 1970.
African-American newspaper1895The Afro-American, published on Oak Street. Possibly associated with the Afro-American League. No copies are known to survive. NSeverance, Frank. The Periodical Press of Buffalo, 1811-1915. Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, v.19. Buffalo Historical Society, 1915, p.197
African-American NHL player11/1/1981Val James (b. 1957) debuts with the Sabres, becoming the first US-born Black player in the NHL.Y"Val James."
African-American on public TV1962Dr. Samuel L. Woodard (b. 1930) of WNED was the first African-American to appear on educational television in New York stateYThe Crisis, August-September 1962, p. 436
African-American playwright1845D. Paul Brown's play about slavery is performed at the Eagle St. theater 7 years before the debut of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which is usually called the first anti-slavery play in America. Brown was a barber in Buffalo who had been kidnapped into slavery while visiting New Orleans, and somehow escaped.NAfrican American History of Western New York State, 1830 to 1865.
African-American police officer1918George C. Sarsnett, appointed to the Buffalo Police DepartmentNBuffalo Police Department. History of Black Police Officers.
African-American professional baseball player1886Frank Grant (1865-1937). He signed with the Buffalo Bisons in 1886 but was forced out in 1889 when Black players were banned from professional baseball.N"Frank Grant."
African-American resident1792 or earlierJoseph Hodge (dates unknown) had a trading post and/or whiskey shop near Buffalo Creek. It is possible that he came here to escape from slavery. He may also be the first non-Native resident of Buffalo.NHill, Henry Wayland. Municipality of Buffalo, New York, vol. 1, p. 75.
New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1923
African-American teacher1897Ida D. Fairbush (1869-1845) at School 6 AnnexNNevergold, Barbara Seals. "The History of Buffalo’s First African American Teacher." The Challenger News, March 1, 2020
African-American to perform for British royalty5/10/1854Soprano Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield (ca. 1820-1876), who started her career in Buffalo, performs for Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham palace.YElizabeth Taylor Greenfield.
African-American woman bus driver1944Mildred Belcher Thomas, who was hired by the NFTA and earned an award for 30 years of safe drivingY"Mildred Belcher Thomas."
African-American woman elected official1957Cora P. Maloney (ca. 1905-1961) elected to Buffalo Common Council representing the Masten districtN"Cora Pleasant Maloney."
African-American woman meteorologist1972June Bacon-Bercey (1930-2020) at WGR-TVY"June Bacon-Bercey, 90, Pathbreaking Meteorologist, Is Dead."
African-American women's organization1837Young Ladies Literary SocietyN"Address, delivered at Buffalo, by one of our young brethren at an exhibition of the Young Ladies Literary Society, December 27, 1837." Colored American, Feb. 3, 1838
African-American/Latino baseball manager at the Class Triple-A level.1969Hector Lopez is appointed manager of the Buffalo BisonsY"First Negro Pro Baseball Pilot." New York Times, March 22, 1969
Air conditioning1902Invented by Willis Carrier (1876-1950) at Buffalo Forge CompanyY"Willis Carrier."
Airmail delivery09/25/1926Brought to Buffalo by Lieut. George R. Pond.NBuffalo Courier Express, August 20, 1956, p. 4
Airplane flight4/2/1910Took place at the polo field of the Buffalo Country Club, Main & Bailey. Presently the site of the Grover Cleveland golf course.NFox, Austin. The Country Club of Buffalo: The First 100 years, 1889-1989. Buffalo, NY: Country Club of Buffalo, 1989, p.43
Airport1926Buffalo Municipal Airport, now known as the Buffalo Niagara International AirportN"Airport history."
Allentown Art Festival1958Organized by Jason Natowitz, held in September.Y"Allentown Art Festival History."
Alternating current, commercial use of 11/26/1886Adam, Meldrum & Anderson department storeYBuffalo Courier-Express Pictorial, June 22, 1958, p.29
Apple treesca. 1760Planted at Fort Schlosser on the Niagara River, near the present-day water intakes for the New York Power Authority NTurner, O. Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York...
Buffalo, NY: Jewett, Thomas & Co., G.H. Derby & Co, 1849, p.222
Arab immigrants1894 or earlierFour Arab families are reported living in a rear house at 398 Seneca Street. It is possible that they were Syrian or Lebanese.N"Death in an Arab colony." Buffalo Evening News, April 11, 1894
Arab to be naturalized1896John Truces of Seneca Street becomes the first Arab immigrant in the US to be naturalizedY"Renounced his allegiance." Buffalo Enquirer, April 23, 1896, p. 5
Arab-American man elected to public office2009Abdulsalam Noman, who is Yemeni-American, elected to represent the First Ward at the Lackawanna city council. He was the first Arab-American elected official in NY State and the second in the country.Y"Arab American sworn into office." Buffalo News, January 4, 2010
Arab-American woman elected to public office2021Amirah Muflahi, who is Yemeni-American, is elected to represent the First Ward at the Lackawanna City Council.N"CAIR-New York Congratulates Muslims Elected to New York City, Lackawanna City Councils."
Architect1842Valentine Ream becomes the first person to identify himself as an architect in a Buffalo city directory. Before him, builders were probably functioning in this capacity.NBuffalo city directory, 1842, p. 181
Art auction10/8/1858William Coleman's store, 240 Main Street.NBuffalo Express and Daily Democracy, October 4 , 1858
Attorney1806Ebenezer Walden (1777-1857), who set up an office on Main near ExchangeNSmith, H. Perry. History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County, vol.2. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason, 1884, p.40
Automobile delivery service1898H.A. Meldrum department store becomes the first retailer to use an automobile to deliver orders to customers.NFitch, Charles Elliott. Encyclopedia of Biography of New York: A Life Record of Men and Women of the Past, v.5, p. 341. New York: American Historical Society, 1916.
Automobile garage and service station12/1/1899240 W. Utica St. in the former Brown Riding AcademyNBuffalo Motorist, February 1921, summarized in Antique Auto Club of America Spring Meet program, June 1974
Automobile insurance policy2/27/1898Issued to Dr. Truman J. Martin of Buffalo, the first in AmericaY"First auto policy sold 110 years ago today."
Automobile owned in Buffalo1897By Dr. V. Mott Pierce (1865-1942), proprietor of World's Dispensary Medical Association. N"Buffalonians recall horseless cars of '99; Pierce first owner." Buffalo Times, Feb. 19, 1928
Automobile parade1900Buffalo Automobile Club organizes Buffalo's first horseless carriage parade.N"Automobile club." Buffalo Commercial, July 7, 1900, p. 11
Automobile race8/12/1904Organized by the Automobile Racing Association at Kenilworth Race TrackN"Buffalo's record-breaking two-day meet." The Automobile, Volume 11, August 20, 1904, p. 211.
Automobile show3/10/1903At Convention Hall in Buffalo, the former 74th Regiment Hall at Elmwood and Virginia, designed by Louise Bethune.N"Buffalo show opens." Motor World, March 12, 1903, p. 912.
Automobile to cross the Peace Bridge3/12/1927Driven by engineer Edward P. Lupfer, with Mr. & Mrs. William Eckhert, H.W. Willson, John W. Van Allen, A.J. Dillenbeck, and Reed W. Cady, either as passengers or in a second vehicleY"First autos cross Peace Bridge." Courier-Express, March 13, 1927, p. 1
Aviation organization3/21/1910Aero Club of Buffalo incorporated, the first in the USYAviation History Made by the Aero Club of Buffalo.
Bakery1804?Established by John Despar on Washington St. between Seneca and ExchangeNSmith, H. Perry. History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County, vol.2. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason, 1884, p.38
Balloon launch8/5/1845Hot air balloon ascension announced at McArthur's Garden, Tuesday evening, August 5, 1845.N"Balloon ascension and fire works... Daily National, August 5, 1845, p. 2
Bank1816Incorporated as the Bank of Niagara, was in business for about 16 yearsNSmith, H. Perry. History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County, vol.2. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason 1884, p.222
Baptism, recorded1812Mary Tillinghast, baptized at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.NSt. Paul's Episcopal Church. Baptisms, 1812-1897 [microfilm]. Buffalo, NY: St. Paul's Cathedral, n.d.
Baseball game9/11/1857Played against a Brooklyn team in a vacant lot at Pennsylvania & Seventh St.N"Baseball came to Buffalo in 1857." Buffalo Evening News magazine, Sept. 30, 1961, p.1
Baseball team1850Buffalo NiagarasNLangendorfer, Paul. Baseball in Buffalo. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2017, p.30
Basketball team1895Buffalo GermansNBiesel, David B. Can You Name That Team? A Guide to Professional Baseball, Football, Soccer, Hockey, and Basketball Teams and Leagues. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2002, p.13
Basketball team at UB1916The University at Buffalo forms its first basketball team.NUB Firsts.
Beef-on-weck sandwichLate 19th c.?Developed by German immigrants in Buffalo. Its history is not well documented.YCichon, Steve. Buffalo’s Definitive Foods: The Beef on Weck.
Bicycle2/25/1869Tinkham & Huntoon open a velocpede school in St. James HallN"Velocipede school." Buffalo Commercial, Feb. 25, 1869, p.3
Black church1831Vine Street African Methodist Episcopal, now known as Bethel AME, Michigan & E. FerryN"Bethel History."
Black swimmer to cross the English Channel08/25/1981Charles "Charlie the Tuna" Chapman of Buffalo becomes the first Black swimmer to swim solo across the English ChannelYHowley, Elaine K. "The loneliness of the black long distance swimmer." Outdoor Swimmer, October 7, 2020.
Black Veterans Memorial09/24/2022The first National Black Veterans Memorial was dedicated on Sept. 24, 2022 at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval Park.Y"New monument honors service of Black Americans in 12 U.S. wars." Washington Post, October 6, 2022
Blacksmith1798William Robbins, who had a shop on Main St., probably near the Buffalo RiverNSmith, H. Perry. History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County, vol.2. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason, 1884, p.20
Boat built in Buffalo1803A schooner called "The Contractor," built at Black Rock, by either Norton & Phelps or Porter, Barton & Co.NHill, Henry Wayland. Municipality of Buffalo, New York: A History, 1720-1923, Vol. 1." New York: Lewis Historical pub. Co., 1923, p.97
Boat on the upper Great Lakes1678Le Griffon, built by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle at the mouth of Cayuga Creek on the Niagara RiverY"Le Griffon."
Boat to travel the entire Erie Canal10/25/1825The Seneca Chief leaves Buffalo for New York with Governor Clinton aboard to celebrate the completion and opening of the Erie CanalYColden, Cadwallader David. Memoir: Prepared at the Request of a Committee of the Common Council of the City of New York ... New York: W.A. Davis, 1825, p. 333
Book published in Buffalo1812The French Convert, an anti-Catholic novel published widely in 18th century EuropeND'Auborn, A. The French Convert. Buffalo, NY: H.A. Salisbury, 1812
Bookstore1811 or earlierThe first issue of the Buffalo Gazette has a list of books for sale at the Buffalo Bookstore.NBuffalo Gazette, October 3, 1811, p. 1
Bowling alley1843Established by J.C. Cornish at the American Star tavern on Water Street.N"Bowling saloon, Water St." Buffalo Courier, April 25, 1843, p.2.
Bowling pin setting machine1947Invented at American Machine & Foundry in Cheektowaga and first tested in a Depew bowling alley before going on the market YCichon, Steve. "Buffalo in the '40s: Advances in WNY helped usher in modern era of bowling." Buffalo News, April 16, 2019.
Brainstorming1933Creativity and idea generation technique developed by Buffalo advertising executive Alex Osborn (1888-1966)Y"Brainstorming."
Brewery1811Owned by Joseph Webb in the village of Black RockN"Brewing in Buffalo."
Brick building1806William Hodge's home & hotel at 1358 Main St. Presently the site of a Burger King restaurant at Main & Utica.NAtkins, Barton. Modern antiquities. Buffalo, NY: Courier Co., 1898, p. 14
Buddhist temple1999Chau Tu Hien Buddhist Cultural Center, 647 Fillmore Avenue, founded by Vietnamese immigrantsN"First Buddhist Temple in Western New York."
Buffalo Sabres regular season game10/10/1970Sabres vs. Pittsburgh PenguinsNTranter, Greg D. Makers, Moments & Memorabilia: A Chronicle of Buffalo Professional Sports. Cheektowaga, NY: Western New York Heritage, Inc. & The Buffalo History Museum, 2019, p.74
Burmese grocery store2010Lin Asian Market opened by Khin Maung Soe and his wife Thain Hla at 113 Grant StreetN"Lin Restaurant."
Burmese restaurant2010Sun Food Market at 1989 Niagara Street, later Sun RestaurantN"Sun Cuisines: Burmese, Thai."
Burmese Water Festival2005Took place in the back yard of the International Intitute on Delaware AvenueN"Buffalo Burmese Water Festival."
Butcher shop1808Opened by Gilman Folsom on Main near ChippewaNAtkins, Barton. Modern antiquities. Buffalo, NY: Courier Co., 1898, p. 16
Cancer research facility1898Now known as Roswell ParkYRoswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. History.
Catholic church1/5/1829St. Louis Roman Catholic at Main & Edward, also the first German churchNRiester, Michael A. A Brief History of St. Louis Church.
Catholic mass1821Conducted by Rev. Kelly of Rochester at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, attended by 5 familiesNEvans, Charles W. History of St. Paul's Church, Buffalo, N.Y. Buffalo, NY: Matthews-Northrup Co., 1903, p. 361
Cell phone network1984Supposedly demonstrated by Mayor GriffinNThomas Farley and Ken Schmidt. Daily Notes Archive. December 10, 2003.
Cellophane1924Not invented here, but first manufactured in the US here. Made at the DuPont plant on River Road, Tonawanda.YE.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Yerkes Plant.
"Cellophane." Rocky Mountain Druggist, November 1923, p. 43.
Cemetery, private1807First known burials took place on the private property of William Johnson, north of Exchange St. & east of Washington St.NDevoy, John. A History of the City of Buffalo and Niagara Falls: Including a Concise Account of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of This Region... Buffalo: The Times, 1896, p.102
Cemetery, public9/20/1821The Holland Land Company deeds to the Village of Buffalo a plot to be used as a public burial ground, called Franklin Square. Today it is the site of Old County Hall.NBuffalo city directory, 1836-7, p. 11.
Charity Organization Society1877First attempt to systematize charity; considered the beginning of the social work profession in America.YCharity Organization Societies: 1877-1893.
Chicken wings served Buffalo style1964Invented by Teressa Bellissimo at the Anchor BarY"Buffalo wing."
Child born to settlers2/1798Sophia Ransom, born to Asa and Kezia Ransom, near Washington & Quay St. in BuffaloNSeverance, Frank. Recalling pioneer days. Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, vol. 26. Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Historical Society, 1922, p. 323
Chinese citizen1888Mr. Tong Chuck, naturalized January 10, 1888N"The first chinese citizen..." Buffalo Commercial, January 11, 1888, p. 4
Chinese restaurant1897The earliest recorded Chinese restaurant we could find is H.T. Licht's restaurant, 476 Michigan Street.N"Chinese Restaurant." Buffalo Times, October 8, 1897, p. 6
Chinese Sunday School6/1909First Sunday School for Chinese immigrants established, 515 Michigan Street, by the Lafayette Baptist Church.N"For the Chinamen." Buffalo Enquirer, June 14, 1909, p 10
Chinese-American baby 4/1904Named Chin Gim DocN"Chin Wong Foo and the First Chinese Baby Born in Buffalo." Buffalo Times, April 17, 1904.
Chinese-American pilot1922Harry Chin, a restaurant owner, qualifies for a pilot's license after testing at Curtiss FieldY"Chinaman qualifies as aviation pilot." Buffalo Times, December 7, 1922, p. 31
Chocolate served or sold1813J.N. Bailey's shop near Main & ExchangeN"New goods. J.N. Bailey." Buffalo Gazette, June 29, 1813, p.3
Church building in Buffalo1819A short-lived wood-frame building erected by Methodists at Pearl and NiagaraNClarke, Walter. The First Church in Buffalo, Half Century Discourse, Delivered on the Evening of Feb. 3d, 1862. Buffalo, NY: Butler, 1862, p.44
Church building in Erie County1806A log cabin built by the Society of Friends (Quakers) at Potter's Corners in what is now Orchard Park.NSmith, Henry Perry, ed. History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County, vol. 1, p. 94. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason, 1884.
Circus performance7/21/1823A caravan arrived at the Eagle Tavern, featuring a lion, elephant, and camelNSmith, H. Perry. History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County... Vol. 2. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason, 1884, p.542.