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Historic Firsts in New Jersey

Check out these New Jersey originals


New Jersey is a state of historic “firsts” that bring pride to residents both young and old. At various sites around the Garden State you can tip your hat in recognition of some “firsts” in historic preservation, sports, culture, invention, and more. Check out these New Jersey originals:

  • The Morristown National Historical Park was the first national historical park established in America, in 1933, encompassing George Washington’s 1779–80 winter headquarters, Jockey Hollow, and Fort Nonsense. See the huts the Continental Army occupied during the Revolution, and at the visitors’ center, learn how the soldiers survived the frigid winter with little food and barely any clothing. Year-round events are held for all ages, and hiking trails lead through lush woods; 30 Washington Pl., Morristown, NJ; 973-539-2016 x210.
  • In 1869, about 100 people gathered to watch the “first” game of intercollegiate football played on a field where Rutgers’ College Avenue Gymnasium now stands. To distinguish the Rutgers players from the Princeton University team, Rutgers players and students donned red scarves around their heads; Rutgers won 6-4. These days, the public is invited to the gym for athletic events and dance classes, and its swimming pool, party room, and 25-foot rock climbing wall are available to rent for birthday parties; 130 College Ave., New Brunswick, NJ; 732-932-8204 (for information about parties).
  • Richard Hollingshead, a young man who loved cars and movies, figured out a way to combine the two when he came up with the idea for the first drive-in theater in Camden. After his success, drive-ins sprang up around the country. Today, the Delsea Drive-In Theater in Vineland is the only one remaining in New Jersey; it will re-open to show movies in the spring; 2203 South Delsea Dr., Vineland, NJ; 856-696-0011.
  • In 1876, Thomas A. Edison established the world’s first research and development lab in Menlo Park. There he perfected the incandescent light bulb, made the first sound recording and phonograph, and patented hundreds of inventions. The Thomas Edison Center’s museum has been undergoing “reinvention” and is scheduled to reopen in June; restoration of the huge art deco memorial tower outside (topped by a giant light bulb) will be complete sometime this year; 37 Christie St., Edison, NJ; 732-494-4194.

The list of New Jersey’s “firsts” is even longer than those mentioned here—including the first boardwalk, condensed soup, the Colt revolver, the steam locomotive, and adhesive bandages (Band-Aids). There’s no doubt that New Jersey will continue to be a leader in invention and innovation.

Arline Zatz, from Metuchen, NJ, is the award-winning author of New Jersey guidebooks, including Best Hikes With Children in New Jersey (The Mountaineers).

Photo of Edison Memorial Tower; photo by David Glasofer.

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