A visitor to Buffalo might wonder why people who live here play up our reputation, but while this city managed to turn itself into a punchline about chicken wings, snow, and football over the last several decades, there are a significant number of bragging rights we can lay claim to that hold up against even the biggest cities. If you have any trouble believing that we were once important, take a look at this list of firsts and inventions and people Buffalo produced.
1 – The internal pacemaker was invented here.
2 – Ironically, so was the air conditioner.
3 – And the windshield wiper.
4 – The roll-top desk and grain elevator were invented here too.
5 – The first American jet planes were manufactured in Buffalo in a plant on Main Street.
6 – Buffalo was the first city in the country with street lights.
7 – Presumably street lights powered by alternating current, which was invented by Nikola Tesla, whose lab was in Niagara Falls. Buffalo was also the first city in the world to use an electrified streetcar system.
8 – The first facility in the world dedicated strictly to cancer research opened in Buffalo.
9 – So did the first daycare center anywhere.
10 – At the turn of the 20th Century, 60 millionaires lived in Buffalo, which was more than any other city in the world. They all lived along a stretch of Delaware Avenue which is still called Millionaire’s Row. The houses still exist, but have mostly been outfitted as office spaces now.
11 – Buffalo is one of only three cities outside of Washington, DC to have hosted a presidential inauguration. The other two are New York City and Philadelphia, and they get asterisks on account of Washington having not been built yet.
12 – Eusebio, an honest-to-god, bona fide soccer legend whose name can frequently be heard accompanying Pele and Diego Maradona in the same admiring sigh, played the final few games of his career for the Major Indoor Soccer League’s Buffalo Stallions.
13 – Buffalo was the final stop of the Underground Railroad.
14 – Along those same lines, the first major organization for the equal rights of black people was the Niagara Movement. Their organizational meeting was held in Buffalo, although Fort Erie – right across the Niagara River from Buffalo – hosted the official founding meeting. They disbanded in 1910, but were the inspiration for the NAACP.
15 – We all know a lot of American journalism sucks, but two of the few truly respected journalists in the country, Tim Russert and Wolf Blitzer, are products of the University of Buffalo.
16 – Buffalo has produced more American professional hockey players than any other city in the United States, and the NHL has its widest audience in the city.
17 – Buffalo is the smallest city in the world to have its own subway.
18 – Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first American woman to have worked as a professional architect, lived in Buffalo. The city’s Hotel Lafayette is considered her greatest masterpiece.
19 – The Guaranty Building is the world’s oldest skyscraper.
20 – Prominent writers who have lived in Buffalo include Mark Twain, Matt Taibbi, Joyce Carol Oates, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gregg Easterbrook. The first black novelist in the country, William Wells Brown, also lived here.
21 – Christine Baranski, David Boreanez, Kyle Chandler, William Fichtner, Wendie Malick, Nancy Marchand, Chad Michael Murray, and William Sadler have called Buffalo home at some point.
22 – The first skin graft took place here in 1854.
23 – American Express founder William Fargo was once Buffalo’s Mayor.
24 – Buffalo established the first free school system in New York. (In your face, NYC!)
25 – The first railway suspension bridge in the world opened in 1855. Over Niagara Gorge.
26 – The cargo barge was created here. It turned Tonawanda and North Tonawanda into world-leading lumber ports.
27 – Both the inventor of the electric chair and the first man to be executed in the electric chair were from Buffalo. I’m not saying this to advocate the death penalty – in fact, I’m against it. But this was pretty noteworthy.
28 – The first high-speed railroad operated between New York City and Buffalo.
29 – Dog lovers, your dog licenses were first enacted by a law in Buffalo.
30 – John Nepomucene Neumann, the first canonized Saint from the United States, worked in Tonawanda. Nelson Baker, a Buffalo native, is currently a candidate for Sainthood. He set up homes for infants, unwed mothers, a boys’ orphanage, a boys’ protectory, a nurses’ home, a hospital, a basilica, a grade school, and a high school, doing work mostly in Lackawanna. He is currently designated as Venerable and, last I heard, was in the Beatification process. Our Lady of Victory Basilica is a renowned destination for devoted Catholics.
31 – Nelson Baker also invented direct mail advertising. I’m sure thoughts on this vary.
32 – The first wind tunnel was developed right across the street from Buffalo’s airport.