Notable Lasts In History


People, titles, trends, and norms all come and go. Because of that, history is full of firsts, lasts, and everything in between. What’s new and innovative one day may be rendered obsolete within a few years, decades, or even longer. Plus, there are a lot of firsts in the world, but not everything has a definitive last instance of it ever happening. It’s not common that a thing will absolutely never, ever happen again.

If you’ve had enough of reading the “firsts” in history, then you may find the “lasts” more interesting. Check them out in this article!

The last recorded casualty from smallpox was an English medical photographer named Janet Parker. Parker had been exposed to the virus (that caused the smallpox) from a laboratory accident. She eventually died from the disease on September 11, 1978. The microbiologist, whose lab had leaked the virus, felt so gulity that he committed suicide while being quarantined.

On May 8, 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared smallpox completely eradicated.

An 18-year-old Marine named Kelton Rena Turner was killed in action on May 15, 1975, a couple of weeks before the evacuation in Saigon. The incident occurred in what became known as the “Mayaguez Incident,” the last official battle of the Vietnam War. Turner’s body was never recovered.

Puyi or Henry Pu Yi (b. 1906, d. 1967) reigned as the last emperor of China from 1908 to 1912. This marked the end of the centuries-old Qing (or Ch’Ing) dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China.

Pu Yi’s life is most famously portrayed in the Oscar-winning 1987 film The Last Emperor by Bernardo Bertolucci.

On May 23, 1935, Babe Ruth hit his 714th and final US major-league home run at Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

But eleven years later Ruth was hired by a Mexican baseball team, the Veracruz Blues, to come and bat once more in a game versus the Mexico City Reds.

After the pitcher threw three balls and was subsequently removed from the game, a reliever was sent to the field and made his first pitch straight down the middle. Ruth, who was 51 at that time, hit a home run and the ball fell straight right into the right-field bleachers. The 10,000-plus fans and spectators couldn’t be more delighted with what they saw — a home run by one of the baseball’s all-time legends.

So technically, Ruth’s home run in a game in Mexico City was the 715th and last home run of his career.

Nicholas II was the last czar of Russia and of the Romanov dynasty that ruled the country. He and his family were executed in 1918.

Last King of France

Last King of France

King Louis XVI’s reign as king of France will forever be associated with the end of Versailles’ royal era and the outbreak of the French Revolution. Upon sitting on the throne in 1774, the king inherited a kingdom with serious problems. Food shortages and economic crises led to the outbreak of the French revolution, and King Louis and his queen Mary-Antoinette were imprisoned in August 1792.

By September, the monarchy was formally abolished, and the French Republic was declared. He was addressed as Citizen Louis Capet for the four months before he was executed by guillotine. The revolutionaries gave him the nickname “Louis the Last.”

Past President of the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was a confederation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which became a worldwide superpower. The vast country spanned 11 time zones. However, it was dissolved in 1991, with Mikhail Gorbachev serving as the eighth and final leader of the Soviet Union. He also became the first, last, and only President of the Soviet Union from 1990 until its collapse in 1991.

Past President of the Soviet Union

You may be surprised to hear this but popes during the ancient times were sexually active during their reign. A lot of them were even married. The last married Catholic pope was Adrian II, who reigned from 867 to his death in 872. He had actually been married, but refused to follow celibacy or abandon his wife when he became pope.

Last use of the guillotine

The guillotine is often associated with the French Revolution but has been used since the Middle Ages. It’s a method of execution by beheading. The design of the guillotine was intended to make capital punishment less painful but more reliable, and it found use well into the 20th century. But the last time a blade of a guillotine came down on a convicted criminal’s neck was on September 10, 1977, when Hamida Djandoubi was executed in France. The Tunisian immigrant lived in Marseilles, France, and was sentenced to execution after the torture-slaying of his girlfriend. His death punishment was the last time the guillotine was used for execution by any government.

Last use of the guillotine

Last widow of a Civil War veteran

The Civil War ended in 1865, but the last widow of a Civil War veteran passed away in 2020. How did that happen? Helen Viola Jackson was 17 at the time when he married Civil War veteran James Bolin in 1936. At the time they wed, Bolin was 93 years old.

According to Jackson, their marriage was based on convenience and respect, noting that her husband really cared for her and wanted her to have a future. Bolin promised to leave her his pension when he passed, but she didn’t want to look like an opportunist, so she never applied to receive Bolin’s pension when he died in 1939. She didn’t remarry either and only spoke about her marriage with Bolin in 2017. Jackson died at the age of 101 in December 2020.

Last telegram ever sent

In the olden days, Western Union Telegram was the form of texting. Before completing the transcontinental telegraph line in 1861, your best bet to send or get a message across a long distance was the Pony Express, which had an average delivery time of 10 days. Western Union put them out of business overnight when more telegraph lines were laid. But as we all know it, technology in communication became much more advanced, so telegram use dropped. Western Union sent its final telegram on January 27, 2006.

But that wasn’t the last telegram ever sent worldwide. In India, the government-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited nixed its telegram service on July 14, 2013, putting an end to all telegram messages.

Last major Hollywood movie released on VHS

Since their invention in the 1970s, VHS tapes have dominated the home movie market. But when DVD technology arose during the late 1990s, VHS was deemed outdated. By 2001, DVD sales topped VHS purchases; in 2003, rental DVDs outnumbered their VHS counterparts.

The last Hollywood movie released in VHS format was David Cronenber’s A History of Violence, released in theaters in 2005 and on VHS and DVD the following year.

Last flight of the Concorde

The Concorde is the greatest passenger jet ever to exist. A joint venture between British and French entities, the Concorde was designed to fly at 1,350 miles per hour – shortening the trip from Europe to the United States to about three and a half hours. With the time difference, one could arrive in New York earlier than they left London. Only 20 jets of this type were ever built.

In 1976, Concorde’s service began, but the venture was never a commercial success because it was expensive to maintain – thus, very expensive fares. Plus, a Concorde crash in 2000, which killed all 109 passengers and staff in the plane, halted its travel. The accident pushed the passenger jet into its eventual demise in 2003. The last Concorde jet flew in October 2003 due to the decline in popularity coupled with expensive maintenance and operation.

Last prisoners held at the Tower of London

With a history that traces back to the 11th century, the Tower of London was created to guard royal possessions and even the royal family in times of war and rebellion. But it also became one of the most famous places in the world to be used for punitive confinement. Over the centuries, the Tower became a potent symbol of state authority and fear.

Prisoners held at the Tower of London included then-princess Elizabeth Tudor, Guy Fawkes, and two of Henry VIII’s wives: Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. The tower continued to serve as a prison on and off history, but a pair of twins served as its last prisoners. Ronnie and Reggie Kray were the last people to be held captive there.

Last time Alcatraz was a functional prison

Speaking of prisons, Alcatraz was a lonely island that was home to the ultimate maximum security prison. Located in the middle of San Francisco bay, Alcatraz was intended for prisoners who continuously caused trouble in other federal prisons. It would be the last resort prison to jail the worst of the worst. When it was established as a federal penitentiary in 1934, it became home to some of the most dangerous criminals in the United States.

The high-security prison in the middle of an island was the site of repeated, unsuccessful escape attempts. By the end of the 1950s, Alcatraz was deemed too expensive to operate and maintain, so the government decided to close it. The last inmates were removed in 1963. Frank Weatherman, a gun smuggler, was the last inmate to be transferred to Alcatraz in 1962 and also one of the last to leave the island.

Last native speakers of defunct Celtic languages

Manx and Cornish are two Celtic languages that have completely become extinct. The last native speaker of Cornish, Dolly Pentreath, died in 1777. Meanwhile, the Manx language continued in remote areas of Britain until 1974.

The last native speaker of Manx was Edward “Ned” Maddrell, who lived on the Isle of Man. Born in the late 1870s, Maddrell learned Manx as a boy, worked as a fisherman for most of his life, and passed away in 1974. There were recordings of Maddrell speaking in Manx, so do books and dictionaries, and there were efforts to bring back the lost language on the Isle of Man.

Last televised cigarette ad

Back then, cigarettes used to be advertised in magazines and on TV along with non-life-threatening products. Despite hazards being revealed decades prior, nobody made sure that there was some degree of responsibility in advertising these products until 1967 when a provision was enacted requiring TV stations to air anti-smoking ads for every three cigarette ads.

Since that was ineffective, bills started getting passed in Congress to ban all print and TV cigarette advertisements shortly after a time when tobacco companies were the largest advertisers on TV. The tobacco industry lobbied at first, but soon, they acquiesced. President Nixon signed the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act in 1970, mandating cigarette companies to include warnings in their packaging. On January 1, 1971, the last televised cigarette ad ran during The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson at 11:50 PM.  

Last image transmitted by the Mars Rover

The Mars Rover was responsible for feeding astronauts and scientists information about the Red Planet. One of the twin Mars exploration rovers, the Spirit Rover, was active for six years – between 2004 to 2010. It remained active for about 20 times as long as engineers hoped for and provided a ton of valuable information about the surface of Mars.

However, on May 1, 2009, the rover got stuck in some soft soil, and project engineers tried for months to get it off there, and eventually, it died. The last image transmitted by Spirit was a panoramic view of the Columbia Hills, which arrived on March 22, 2010.

The last dodo, a flightless bird, died in 1681. The animal became the inspiration for the phrase “dead as a dodo” which means obsolete or extinct.

The 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, was the last Olympics to award gold medals that were entirely made of gold.

Although the flag of California bears the image of the California grizzly bear, the animal has been long extinct. A grizzly was spotted for the last time in the Sierra Mountains in 1924, and since after that grizzlies were never seen again in the state.

The last Playboy Club in the United States was in Lansing, Michigan, which closed in 1988.

Eighteen years later, the Playboy Club opened in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2006. But it closed after six years of operation.


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