Kay Ivey: Firsts for Alabama

NASA rocket space

In the first months of the 2017 calendar year and at the first of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session, I have found myself reflecting on some of the “firsts” our State has been able to achieve.

Alabama is sometimes recognized as first for all the wrong reasons. I would argue that we actually have many accomplishments to be proud of. Alabama is – and will continue to be – one of the most conservative states in the country. This is one reason I am proud to be born and raised in this State.

I am honored and proud to have played a part in serving and leading this State as we continue to implement conservative policies and decisions during my time in Montgomery. Although Alabama may not be the “first” state that comes to mind when the term “innovation” is discussed, I would argue we have and we continue to be a State which leads our country and our world in many unique ways. Below are a few of the accolades and milestones our state has been first to accomplish:

Alabama was the first state to have night time flight training, started by Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1910.
Wilbur and Orville Wright opened the nation’s first civilian flying school in Montgomery, Alabama. This school began Alabama’s long and distinguished history with aerospace that has spanned over one hundred years. Today, there are 83,000 people employed with 400 aerospace companies that creates a multi-billion-dollar economic impact for our state.

Alabama workers built the first rocket engine to put humans on the moon.
The birth of NASA began when the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville was created and a young scientist, Wernher Von Braun, led the United States journey to the moon with the development of the Saturn 5 Rocket. The Marshall Flight Center is currently managing the production by Boeing to build the first SLS (Space Launch System) rocket. The SLS is expected to be more powerful than the legendary Saturn 5 rocket and take man to Mars and safely return home.

Alabama was the first city in America to assemble the Airbus A320 in 2015.
The Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility began production in Mobile, Alabama in July 2015. The $600-million, 53-acre facility at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley produces the A320 aircraft. The first customer was JetBlue in April 2016. At the beginning of this month, the Airbus Engineering Center in Mobile celebrated 10 years of operation. This was the first step in expanding Airbus to the United States. Airbus anticipates delivering four aircraft per month from Mobile before the end of this year.

Alabama was the first state to have a state-funded archives department and building.
On February 27, 1901, The Alabama Legislature created the nation’s first publicly funded state archives agency. Thomas M. Owen served as the founder and first director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The Alabama Department of Archives and History offers many services for our citizens to benefit from including: Alabama Voices exhibition allowing citizens to experience 300 years of Alabama’s history; and The Land of Alabama featuring the natural resources of our lands that shaped our State, and houses artifacts telling each story in our history. The Museum is a great way to for students and adults of all ages to experience the history of our great State.

Alabama was the first state to declare Christmas a legal holiday.
Alabama took the lead in 1836 to declare Christmas a legal holiday. Christmas was not recognized as a federal holiday until June 26, 1870. Alabama recognized the significance of time spent with family and friends while celebrating Christmas and acted on it.

Alabama was the first state to have a Veterans Day celebration and parade.
The first Veteran Day Celebration was in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947 and was organized by Raymond Weeks, a World War II Veteran. Our State stands by Veterans because they deserve the upmost respect for their sacrifice to our country. Alabama established the Alabama Veterans Executive Network (AlaVetNet) in 2013 to facilitate the delivery of unified, seamless, and systematic access to services for those who have served our country and our state. In the last year, Alabama announced a new way of recognizing veteran owned businesses in our state with the distribution of display decals. I am proud Alabama has taken the lead in respecting and honoring the sacrifice of our veterans.

Alabama was the first state to have an educational television network.
The Alabama Educational Television Commission was created by the Alabama Legislature in 1953. With the first broadcast as a network in 1955 on Alabama Public Television (APT), Alabama became first state in the nation with an educational television network. APT continues to serve Alabama citizens by enriching their lives with high quality instructional content. The Capitol Journal, a program of APT, reports top Alabama news, events, issues, legislative sessions and all happenings in state government.

Alabama was the first state to have an Emergency 911 call system.
The first 911 call in the United States was made by Alabama Senator Rankin Fite in Haleyville, Alabama, on February 16, 1968. In 2012, the Alabama Legislature created the Statewide 911 Board to facilitate and promote an effective, efficient, and reliable 9-1-1 service to all resident and visitors in Alabama. I am proud that through endeavors like the Alabama First Responders Wireless Commission, Alabama has and will continue to support the safety of our citizens and law enforcement.

Alabama introduced Mardi Gras to the western world. The celebration is held on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins.
As we celebrate Shrove Tuesday (commonly referred to as Fat Tuesday) today, it is appropriate to recognize it all began in Mobile, Alabama, with the Carnival Celebration started by Frenchman Nicholas Langlois in 1703. The two weeks of Mardi Gras are celebrated with elaborate costumes featuring purple, gold and green. There are parades of extravagant floats with beads and moon pies thrown to the public while society balls host grand celebrations.

The first open heart surgery in the western hemisphere was performed in Alabama.
Dr. Luther Leonidas Hill performed the first open heart surgery on a young boy in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1902. With advances in technology regarding open heart surgery, I am proud Alabama was first in the efforts of saving lives.

Alabama was the first state to have an air conditioned theater.
In 1917, The New Empire Theater in Montgomery, Alabama, was the first to have air conditioning in the world. The theater later became famous as the first venue Hank Williams, Sr., performed and the actual site where the bus was located when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. After the New Empire Theater’s demolition, the site now hosts Troy University’s Rosa Parks Library and Museum. The Alabama Theater was built in 1927 as the largest movie theater in Birmingham and is the only one of its size remaining from that era. The Alabama Theater was also the first public building in Alabama to have air conditioning. Alabama is home to many historic theaters such as the Bama Theater in Tuscaloosa, Davis Theater in Montgomery, Ritz Theater in Sheffield and Lyric Theater in Birmingham to name a few.

In closing, you do not have to hold a political office or accumulate great wealth to make a difference and help our State become “first” in more ways. As a citizen of Alabama, I encourage you to look for ways through your church, your family, your job or a volunteer opportunity in which you can help your community and your State become first in something we can all be proud to recognize.

In the future if you hear a fact or reference that is not very flattering about our great State, take a moment to share a positive note or perspective about the place we call home.

I am hopeful you will join me in taking great pride in calling Alabama your home.


Kay Ivey is the lieutenant governor of Alabama. Elected in 2010, she was the first Republican woman to hold the office in Alabama’s history.


  1. Kaye, I enjoyed your article very much. I came across it while doing some research on the Empire Theater. I knew it was the first air conditioned movie theater in America. I worked at the Empire for four years while attending Lanier High School in the sixties. It was a great place for a kid to work.

    Many times I had patrons come up and ask if I could turn the thermostat up, it was to cold. It was a monster in the basement. I would tell them of course I would. There was only two positions. On and off. What to do? If I turned it off people would complain it was to hot. Human nature and temperature is a strange thing. I just let it run. No more complaints.

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