The world has a lot of reasons to give thanks to London, not least of which is the fact that London literally gave thanks to it by publishing Samuel Johnson’s groundbreaking dictionary — and that’s just one of the many planet-changing things that’ve come out of this city over the centuries. Here are a few others. You’re welcome, world.
Subways, metros, life-sucking commuter traps — whatever you want to call them, London had the first, building the Metropolitan Line in 1863 which, to provide some context, was before Germany was even a country.
Tube not running? Why not just jump into another London-based invention, the taxi cab.
In the wake of the Great Fire of London in 1666, around 13K former homeowners realized they they were both alive (yay!) and homeless (boo!), with no one to write angry letters demanding a payout. Enter Nicholas Bardon — doctor-turned-builder-turned-economist-turned-world’s-first-property-insurance-salesman — who saw a an opportunity to protect people from the next great fire, and by the early 1680s was insuring 5,000 households.
Christmas cards, post codes, stamps… basically the entire postal service
Before Henry Cole: everyone paid for letters when they received them (meaning you would pay for your bills before you even opened them), and Christmas was a gloriously quiet lull in the post office’s year. After Henry Cole: the stamp was now a thing (thanks to a competition he ran) and, in 1843, he figured out a way to get the general public to actually use those stamps by inventing the Christmas card. Oh, and a few short years after that, London was the first city to get postal codes, too.
Daily Weather Forecasts
Talking about the weather is a national pastime (and, God willing, an Olympic sport one day), so it’s no coincidence that in 1851, The Times first printed a daily, somewhat accurate prediction ostensibly to help sailors avoid storms/serious topics of conversation.
In December 1868, the world’s first traffic light was installed outside the Houses of Parliament. Red/Green, non-electric, and manually controlled by a stationed police officer, they were short-lived and literally exploded, not to be replaced until electric ones became available.
Table tennis, football, hockey, cricket, and pretty much all modern sports
Although it’s widely debated if it was John Jaques III or James Devonshire who invented table tennis, we at least know it was in London in 1885. We also know that the “London Rules” to football (known to the FA as the “Laws of the Game”) were first drafted, surprisingly, in London, that Lord’s in St. John’s Wood is where the modern game of cricket came from, and that the combination of the two, hockey, was developed here also.
Without Lady Duff Gordon, there would be no Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. If she only knew what she started back in 1899 when she hired eight girls to parade around her show room wearing her latest designs. There was a stage, music, curtains and very quickly, her models became as famous as the dresses themselves.
Sorry Scotland, this classic has its roots in London at Fortnum & Mason back in 1738. As with other English classics, this is actually a twist of a classic Indian recipe, only with lamb instead of beef. Picnics would never be the same.
So, not to overstate it, but this is one of the most important discoveries of all time. Many before Alexander Fleming had noticed that, occasionally, moldy bread was good for curing stuff. But it took the keen eye of a Londoner to translate that into literally millions of saved lives.
Yep, no matter where you are on the globe, you can thank Greenwich for giving you something to set your watch to.
The world’s first man-made plastic? Made in Hackney.
Long before roller derby, skating waitresses, and roller discos, there was inventor John Joseph Merlin. In 1760 he wanted to make a grand entrance to a party, gliding in while playing the violin. Much closer to what we call roller blades (aka inline skates), he basically replaced the blades on ice skates with wheels, but couldn’t figure out how to steer or stop, and therefore crashed… into history.
This feature is adapted from Thrillist.