50 Singapore firsts

The year Singapore became independent was also the year the first escalator arrived on this island. There’s a first worth highlighting in each of the last 50 years, including the first woman general this year. Each first speaks of a specific era that will stir nostalgia for a particular generation. Tien Chung Ping, Chng Choon Hiong and Tay Chern Hui recount some of the highlights.


1965 The opening of Orchard Theatre sees the operation of the first escalator in Singapore.

1966 The first A&W outlet opens in Dunearn Road, the first fast-food chain in Singapore.

1967 The first series of currency notes, the Orchid Series, is issued by the newly formed Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore.

1968 Singapore holds its first General Election as an independent nation. The People’s Action Party wins all 58 seats.

1969 Singapore Pools holds the first Singapore Sweep to raise funds for the construction of the first National Stadium. First prize is $400,000.

1970 Singapore's first flyover, Toa Payoh Flyover, opens to motorists on Dec 14. It costs $3 million to build.

1971 The Jurong Drive-In Cinema opens. It is the first and only drive-in cinema and the largest in Asia. It would close down in September 1985 due to poor attendances.

1972 Isetan, the first Japanese department store in Singapore, opens its doors in the Apollo Hotel complex in Havelock Road.

1973 The first Chingay procession is held from Jalan Besar to Outram Park. There are 2,000 performers from different associations.

1974 Singapore’s first live colour telecast – the FIFA World Cup Finals between West Germany and Holland – is watched by about a million viewers here.

1975 The first batch of full-time national servicemen is recruited into the police force to fight the rising crime rate in Housing Board estates.

1976 A first “dial-a-cab” service is started by the Singapore Taxi Owners and Drivers Co-operative Store Society.

1977 The first double-decker bus service – service 86 – is launched by Singapore Bus Service. The service runs from Tampines to Shenton Way.

1978 The first observatory lift with air-conditioning is installed in Lucky Plaza. It costs $300,000 – double the price of a conventional lift.

1979 Chartered Bank introduces Singapore’s first automated teller machines (ATMs). The first two machines are installed in Raffles Place.

1980 A dead whale is found off Pulau Bukom, a first for Singapore. The 19m-long giant is buried in the ocean depths by the Shell authorities.

1981 The orchid, Vanda Miss Joaquim, is chosen as the national flower. It is named after Miss Agnes Joaquim, an Armenian resident of Singapore and the first woman in the world to breed a hybrid orchid.

1982 UOB Painting of the Year competition is launched. It would become one of the most prestigious events in the region.

1983 The first 7-Eleven store opens in Upper Changi Road. There would be 477 such stores scattered throughout the country by 2015. 1984 Actor Chen Shucheng and actress Huang Peiru kiss on screen in SBC’s The Awakening, a first for local TV.

1985 19-year-old bowler Adelene Wee becomes Singapore’s first World Bowling Champion at the 1985 World Games in London.

1986 John Paul II visits Singapore, a first by a Catholic Pope. He celebrates mass at the National Stadium during his brief stop

1987 Singapore hosts the Miss Universe pageant for the first time. Held at the World Trade Centre, the event is watched by more than 600 million viewers worldwide.

1988 Swing Singapore, the first street party, is held as part of National Day celebrations. The whole event is planned in 17 days. About 250,000 people turn up.

1989 A team of veterinarians becomes the first in Singapore to implant embryos into a sow, producing seven “test-tube” piglets.

1990 The first plastic currency, a $50 note, is issued to mark the nation’s 25th anniversary.

1991 The first National Family Day carnival is held at East Coast Park. More than 50,000 people from over 10,000 families turn up for the event.

1992 Singapore’s first R-rated play, a double bill titled Renewable Women, is staged at The Substation. It is organised by the National University of Singapore Society.

1993 Singapore Airlines stewardess Lim Suet Kwee is the first Singaporean to be featured in London’s Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.

1994 Singapore’s Night Safari, the world's first wildlife night park, opens its doors.

1995 Under One Roof, Singapore’s first local English sitcom, airs its first season. It would run for a total of seven seasons and be exported to Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, France and Canada.

1996 Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong officially launches Singapore’s first professional football league at the National Stadium.

1997 Singapore’s first set of quintuplets – two boys and three girls, naturally conceived – are born at the Kandang Kerbau Hospital.

1998 Edwin Siew and Khoo Swee Chiow become the first members of a Singapore team to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

1999 The first Light Rail Transit (LRT) system launches in Bukit Panjang. People come from as far as Tampines and Ang Mo Kio, and as early as 10am, to ride the LRT.

2000 The Singapore Management University is established. It is Singapore’s first private university funded by the Government and the first university in the city.

2001 Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon is appointed the first woman mayor and heads Bukit Timah Community Development Council.

2002 Pierre Png donates almost half his liver to his then fiancee Andrea De Cruz. This is the first liver transplant from a living, non-related donor in Singapore.

2003 Khoo Teh Lynn earns her fighter wings in France, becoming the first female jet fighter pilot in Singapore.

2004 Valuair starts operations as Singapore’s first low-cost carrier. Its maiden flight is to Bangkok. It would merge with Jetstar Asia the following year.

2005 Former national swimmer Thum Ping Tjin swims across the English Channel, the first Singaporean to achieve the feat. The 35km swim takes 12hr 24min 7sec.

2006 Singapore’s first free Chinese tabloid My Paper is launched. It is aimed at working adults aged 20 to 40.

2007 Singapore Airlines becomes the first to operate the Airbus A380. Tickets to the first flight – a return trip from Singapore to Sydney – are auctioned on eBay and the proceeds donated to charity.

2008 Singapore hosts the first night race in Formula One’s history. The race has a global viewership of 500 million.

2009 Lee Li Hui, Esther Tan and Jane Lee become the first Singaporean women to conquer Mount Everest.

2010 The 105-year-old Hong San See Temple clinches Singapore’s first Award of Excellence from Unesco, after a restoration that took four years to complete at a cost of $3 million.

2011 X-SAT, the first Singapore-made satellite, blasts into space. The satellite is developed by Nanyang Technological University and Defence Science Organisation Singapore.

2012 Feng Tianwei wins Singapore’s first individual Olympic medal since Independence. She beats Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa 4-0 in the Table Tennis Women’s Singles Bronze Medal Match.

2013 Film-maker Anthony Chen wins Singapore’s first Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival with the movie Ilo Ilo.

2014 Singapore’s first Lego certified store in Suntec City is opened by Her Excellency Berit Basse, Denmark’s Ambassador to Singapore.

Click here to read more stories from this year's National Day supplement.

PHOTOS: ST FILE, NP FILE, MEDIACORP, VALUAIR, SIA & ANTHONY CHEN