Last McDonalds burger sold in Iceland in 2009

Iceland Did it First in the World!

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Iceland is mostly famous for its nature

What is Iceland famous for? What has Iceland done before any other nation in the world? What did Iceland do first in the world? Read on for a list of Iceland's firsts.

Iceland is known throughout the world for its beautiful and unspoilt nature, although recently, the country has gained further fame through its musical talents, its football team, its financial crisis and its erupting volcanoes. But what about Iceland's political and natural history? 

Icelanders are notorious for priding themselves for being 'the best in the world' (most often per capita) when it comes to certain feats. They're also not afraid to tell people about all the great things this tiny, but glorious, nation in the North Atlantic has already achieved.

A series of popular beer commercials in Iceland features two locals boasting their nations' feats to disinterested foreigners. 

Please be aware that many of these things are said in jest and Icelanders aren't all raging ego-maniacs, although they'd like to pretend they are. And granted, some of them might not be joking at all. 

The thing is, Iceland is a very small nation, perhaps with a small mentality (as Christiano Ronaldo so famously put it after the Portugal-Iceland match at EURO 2016), and because of its small size, it tends to be forgotten or dismissed by other, bigger nations.

Hallgrímskirkja Church in the Reykjavík City Centre is one of the most beloved landmarks of Iceland's capital.

Icelanders may, therefore, come across as always trying to 'one-up' other nationalities in conversations—but all they desire is mutual recognition.

There are a few things that Iceland has done first in the world that we'd like other nations to know about and remember. Because we're pretty proud of these things, it tends to ruffle our feathers when no-one knows anything about them.

So, without further ado, here's a list of a few things Iceland did first!

1. Iceland Discovered America

A statue of Leifur Eiriksson outside Hallgri­mskirkja church in Reykjavik City.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by AwOiSoAk KaOsIoWa. No edits made.

When people talk about Christopher Columbus' discovery of America, Icelanders shake their head (or their fists) in despair. You see, Christopher Columbus 'discovered' the New World in 1492.

While no less than 500 years earlier, the Icelandic explorer Leifur Eiríksson (Leif the Lucky) sailed to the Americas and engaged in trade. Don't believe me? Look it up. Iceland discovered America centuries before Columbus did, and we have the documents to prove it. 


2. Iceland Had the First Democratically Elected Female President in the World

Vigdis Finnbogadottir, former president of Iceland and one of the most beloved by the public persons to hold that title.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Nationaal Archief. No edits made.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, born 15th of April 1930, was elected Iceland's fourth president back in 1980. She served as head of state for 16 years until Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson took over in 1996. To this date, that also makes her the longest-serving, democratically elected female head of state worldwide.

The word elected is key here. There have been other, prior female presidents in the world, obviously (such as Eva Perón and Lidia Gueiler Tejada), but they were not democratically elected into their positions.

Vigdís is now a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and is still loved by her nation. 

3. Iceland's First All-Female Political Party

Not long after Vigdís became president, Iceland founded its first all-female political party in 1983. Although it's hard to pinpoint the first female political party in the world (there were a great number of them fighting for women's rights to vote), a number of sources mention Kvennalistinn as being the first to run for seats in parliament. 

When running for the first time, the party achieved 5,5% of the national votes, getting three women seats in the Icelandic parliament. Four years later, the party got 10,1% of the votes and six women into parliament.

In 1991, their popularity started to decline as the number of seats reduced to five women, then just three in the 1995 elections. The party then joined with two other political parties in 1998 to form Samfylkingin (Social Democratic Alliance), which is one of the leading political parties in Iceland today. 

4. Iceland Elected First Openly Homosexual Head of Government

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, former prime minister of Iceland.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Magnus Fröderberg. No edits made.

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the first openly declared gay or lesbian prime minister in the world in 2009. She was prime minister for five years, until 2013, and was listed as one of the most powerful women in the world during that time.

In 2009, Iceland also had its first government with an equal number of men and women in parliament, yet again establishing itself on the front-lines of gender equality worldwide. 

Jóhanna was succeeded by Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who has also received a bit of international fame recently, but for all the wrong reasons. We miss you Jóhanna! 

5. Iceland is Home to the First Known Geyser in the World

The geyser Strokkur erupting in South Iceland, as can be seen on the Golden Circle route.

The great geyser known as Geysir gave all other geysers their name. Geysir was the first-ever geyser to be described in a printed source, making it the first known geyser in the world (although, of course, plenty of others had been known by groups without written language).

This natural marvel has been active for around 10,000 years. Although it rarely erupts anymore, it has a neighbouring geyser that erupts every few minutes, called Strokkur.

Both Geysir and Strokkur make up an integral part of Iceland's most popular tourist route, the Golden Circle. 

6. The First Nation Under a Million to Win a Medal at the Olympics in a Group Sport and to Qualify for the Finals in a Major Football Tournament

The women's football team in Iceland have been outdoing their male counterparts for years.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Helgi Halldórsson. No edits made.

This title sentence could be rephrased in multiple ways.

Such as, Iceland is the first nation with less than 350 thousand people to win a medal in a group sport at the Olympics or to qualify for the European Championship in football. The second smallest nation to qualify for the European Championship is Slovenia, but they boast a population of just under 2 million people.

In 2008, Iceland won a silver medal in a group sport at the Olympics, and the members of the national male handball team became instant heroes in their home country.

Iceland's male football team recently competed in the European Championship for the first time, where they made it to the round of 8. Iceland's female football team has also competed at the European Championship three times. 

7. First Nation to Legalise Clinical Abortion


You can argue that the Soviet Union and Mexico allowed abortions before Iceland, as the Soviet Union made abortions legal in 1920 (on women's request) and Mexico in 1931.

The Soviet Union's law, however, didn't last (well, neither did the Soviet Union), as they changed their minds and introduced a ban on abortions later on, and Mexico only made them legal in the case of rape.

Iceland made abortions legal on January 28th, 1935. Abortions were legal in the case of rape, incest or to protect the woman's health, thus paving the way for modern abortion legalisation.

8. Iceland was the First to Jail Bankers After the 2008 Financial Crisis

27 bankers were made to serve jail time in Iceland.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by OddurBen. No edits made.

To this date, Iceland is both the first, and ONLY country to jail its bankers after the 2008 international banking crisis. Although the world likes to think we jailed all our bankers and ended corruption forever, that, unfortunately, isn't the whole story. 

However, 27 bankers served jail time in Iceland after the crash, which at the very least serves as an inspiration against corruptive financial powers in the Western World. 

9. Iceland was First to Recognise the Independence of the Baltic States


Iceland recognised the Baltic States as early as 1990.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Blomsterhagans. No edits made.

In 1990-1991 Iceland was the first country to recognise the independence of the Baltic States formerly occupied by the USSR. Those countries are Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. (By the way, if you haven't heard anything about the singing revolution that happened in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia prior to them regaining their independence, I encourage you to look it up!)

As a recognition, the square in front of the Estonian Foreign Ministry in the country's capital Tallinn is named 'Iceland Square'―and on the grounds of the Lithuanian parliament, these words are inscribed in the stones: "To Iceland - They dared while others remained silent".

But, the Baltic states are not the only countries Iceland was the first to recognise. Around the same time, Iceland was also first to recognise the independence of some of the Caucasus countries: Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Iceland also recognised Montenegro's independence from its former union with Serbia, and the independence of Croatia, before all other countries.

Furthermore, Iceland was the first Western state to recognise Palestine in 2011. 

10. First Nation to Bankrupt McDonald's

Last McDonalds burger sold in Iceland in 2009Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Hinrik. No edits made.

Last but not least, Iceland was the first nation to completely get rid of McDonald's after their arrival, as the international giant closed its last local restaurant back in 2009.

McDonald's has not returned to Iceland since―but one of McDonald's last burgers sold in Iceland can be seen on display (and a live video feed) in one of Reykjavík's hostels, the Bus Hostel.

The burger is still in pristine condition, forever reminding us why we should never, ever, eat this kind of 'food'.

The Future of Firsts in Iceland?

Iceland still wants to have a future of firsts, such as being the first nation to close the gender gap, or have the first gay president, or be the smallest nation ever to win gold at the Olympics, or the World Cup―or even the first place in the Eurovision Song Contest (that last one is probably Iceland's biggest dream!).

Perhaps Icelanders do have a small and/or naïve mentality, but as long as they keep on fighting for equality, that's fine by us.

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