A brief record of Singapore’s firsts and lasts of common things that are associated with our everyday life.
1821 – First General Hospital
The history of Singapore’s first general hospital was almost as old as the country’s colonial history. The Singapore General Hospital has its roots dated back to 1821, when it was a simple wooden shed at Bras Basah Road. The hospital was shifted numerous times in the 19th century, until it settled at Outram Road in 1882.
The hospital received its current name, as well as a bigger building, on 29 March 1926 when it had a grand opening officiated by the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Lawrence Nunns Guillemard (1862-1951).
1822 – First Market
Singapore’s first market on record was a small fish market situated at the north end of the present-day Market Street, where the sheltered river banks ensured the constant and busy tradings of market produce. It was replaced by a newer and bigger one in 1834. The new market lasted until 1894, when it was demolished due to the Telok Ayer Basin land reclamation. In its replacement, another market was constructed and it became the popular Lau Pa Sat today.
May 1839 – First Hotel
The London Hotel, located between High Street and Coleman Street, was opened by prominent British entrepreneur Gaston Dutronquoy in 1839. Also known as the Dutronquoy’s Hotel, it was Singapore’s first hotel, completed with restaurants, a small theatre and even a photographic studio. Gaston Dutronquoy himself was also Singapore’s first recorded photographer.
October 1858 – First Post Office
The functionality of a post office started as soon as Sir Stamford Raffles established a trading post in Singapore, but it was not until 1858 before the Post Office became a separate entity from the Marine Office, and functioned independently.
1891 – First Fire Station
Contrary to popular belief, the Central Fire Station at Hill Street, built in 1909, is not the first fire station in Singapore. It is neither the second as the first and second fire station in Singapore belonged to the Cross Street Fire Station and Beach Road Fire Station, completed in 1891 and 1893 respectively. Unfortunately, both fire stations were not preserved till this day.
January 1903 – First Railway Station
The demolished Tank Road Station was the first railway station in Singapore, located at the city end of the Singapore-Kranji railway line.
It served as the main rail terminus until it was replaced by the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in May 1932.
1904 – First Cinema
The Paris Cinema was Singapore’s first ever cinema when it was opened in 1904 at Victoria Street. Owned by an Indian jewellery company, it screened four movie slots per day at prices of 10c and 50c per ticket. Singapore’s first fully air-conditioned cinema, the Cathay Cinema, was opened in 1939.
1906 – First Passenger Lift
Famous businessman and philanthropist Loke Yew (1845-1917) installed Singapore’s first recorded electric passenger lift in his Winchester House at Collyer Quay in 1906. Winchester House was demolished in 1989 to make way for the construction of Hitachi Tower.
21 March 1919 – First Chinese Secondary School
The Nanyang Chinese High (Middle) School was founded on 21 March 1919 by prominent Chinese businessman and philanthropist Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961).
Originally located at a private bungalow at Niven Road, and later at its own campus off Bukit Timah Road, it was also the first Chinese-medium secondary school in Southeast Asia set up by the native Chinese community. Today, it is well-known as the Hwa Chong Institution.
1929 – First International Airport
Seletar Airport became Singapore’s first international airport when it was completed in 1929. Officially opened on 1 January 1930 as a Royal Air Force base, it received its first commercial flight a month later.
Seletar Airport continued to serve as both a military and civil airport until 12 June 1937, when Kallang Airport opened as Singapore’s first aerodrome solely for civil purposes.
Kallang Airport operated for almost 20 years, before being replaced by Paya Lebar Airport, opened on 20 August 1955.
10 January 1930 – First Public Swimming Pool
Officially opened on 10 January 1930, Mount Emily Swimming Pool was the first swimming pool in Singapore catered for the public.
Located at Upper Wilkie Road, it was converted from a municipal reservoir and proved to be extremely popular in its early days. In 1983, the swimming complex, after years of outdated facilities and low usage, was finally shut down and demolished.
December 1936 – First Public Housing
The first block at Tiong Bahru, Singapore’s first public housing built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), was completed and occupied by December 1936.
Mainly three- to five-storey tall, the Tiong Bahru pre-war flats still exist today. One of them, Block 78 at Guan Chuan Street, also possesses Singapore’s sole remaining public air-raid shelter.
1939 – First Skyscraper
The Cathay Building, completed in stages between 1939 and 1941, was Singapore’s first skyscraper, standing at a height of almost 80m. It was also once the tallest building in Southeast Asia.
Its 1300-seat Cathay Cinema, Singapore’s first fully air-conditioned cinema, had a grand opening on 3 October 1939, with more than a thousand fans packed into the theatre to catch the premier of “The Four Feathers”.
10 April 1943 – First State Lottery
During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese government, in a bid to increase revenue, introduced Singapore’s first state lottery called Konan Saiken. With the top prize fixed at $50,000, tickets were sold to the public at $1 each. It was also compulsory for every government personnel to buy the lottery tickets.
1950 – Last Gharry Owner
Horse-drawn carriages were known as gharries in Southeast Asia. By 1950, there was only one gharry owner left in Singapore. He was a 76-year-old Muslim called Hupsah, who had four ponies and three gharries mainly used for cinema advertisements. His gharries were allowed by the authorities to ply any streets in the town area except Raffles Place. During his best days, Hupsah owned nine horses and seven gharries.
During the Japanese Occupation, due to transport difficulties, Hupsah enjoyed good businesses as his gharries were used for funerals, delivery of laundry and fetching people.
1952 – First Satellite Town
The development of Queenstown, Singapore’s first satellite town, stretched from 1952 to 1968. Named after Queen Elizabeth II, it was first developed by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) before taken over by its successor the Housing and Development Board (HDB).
May 1953 – First Community Centre
The Serangoon and Siglap Community Centres shared the honour of being the first community centres to be officially opened in Singapore.
27 October 1954 – First Polytechnic
The Singapore Polytechnic (SP) was the first polytechnic to be established in Singapore after the Singapore Polytechnic Ordnance was passed in the Legislative Council on 27 October 1954. Its first classes, however, were only officially conducted three years later on borrowed premises, before its campus at Prince Edward Road was completed at an approximate $5.2 million and opened in 1959.
Singapore Polytechnic was relocated to its current site at Dover Road in 1978.
1956 – Last Street Gas Lamp
The streets of Singapore were mainly powered by the piped gas supplied by the Kallang Gas Works since 1862. It reached its peak in the 1930s, when there were more than 4,000 gas-fuelled street lamps in Singapore. Most of them were destroyed in the Second World War.
The last gas lamp in Singapore was turned off in 1956. On the other hand, electric street lighting was introduced as early as 1906.
30 March 1960 – First Tamil Secondary School
Umar Pulavar Tamil High School, Singapore’s first Tamil secondary school, was opened on 30 March 1960 by former Education Minister Yong Nyuk Lin. Prior to 1960, there were no secondary education for Malay and Tamil streams.
Named after famous 17th century Tamil Muslim poet Umar Pulavar, the school’s history went back to March 1946, when Singapore’s Indian Muslim community and Kadayanallur Muslim League set up Tamil classes at a Tanjong Pagar shophouse. Moving to its own building at Maxwell Road in 1950, Umar Pulavar Tamil School was upgraded to a high school a decade later. It was then relocated to Rangoon Road in 1975, where it operated for a further seven years before closing due to dwindling student enrolment.
14 October 1961 – First Malay Secondary School
In the following year, Sang Nila Utama Secondary School was established, becoming Singapore’s first pure Malay-medium secondary school. With an initial 18 teachers and 447 students, the school was officially opened on 14 October 1961.
In 1968, English stream classes were introduced in the school. By the early eighties, most Malay secondary schools in Singapore saw a decline in their student intakes after the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) plan to phase out all non-English-medium primary and secondary schools. Sang Nila Utama Secondary School was eventually shut down in 1988.
Singapore’s first Malay primary school had a much longer history; it was established at Telok Blangah back in 1856.
1962 – First Crematorium and Columbarium
The first crematorium and columbarium in Singapore was at Mount Veron, opened in 1962 and eventually closed in 2004.
15 February 1963 – First Television Broadcast
An one-hour-and-40-minute program by the Television Singapura was aired in the evening of 15 February 1963.
It was a significant milestone, as the first television broadcast in Singapore was viewed by thousands of people at the Victoria Memorial Hall, Princess Elizabeth Walk and various community centres. The second TV channel came on air six months later, and the daily transmission increased from an hour to several hours.
31 May 1963 – First Public Housing Complex
The Selegie House was Singapore’s first public housing complex, completed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and officially opened by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 31 May 1963.
Costing $3.8 million in construction, the housing complex was made up of three blocks of 10-storey and 20-storey flats, dozens of shops and a restaurant.
Equipped with modern sanitary services, electricity, water and gas supplies, the units, in the formats of two-room, three-room and four-room, were mainly available for rental for the lower income.
04 June 1964 – First Multi-Storey Carpark
The Market Street Carpark was the first multi-storey carpark in Singapore, officially opened in 1964 by former Minister for National Development Lim Kim San after three years of construction.
Located at the junction of Cross Street and Cecil Street, the carpark charged an hourly rate of 5c, as compared to the rate of 2c at other public open-air carparks. Its monthly season parking was fixed at $30.
Market Street Carpark was shut down in 30 June 2011 after 48 years of operation, and was subsequently demolished.
15 November 1965 – First Underground Carpark
Singapore’s first large-scaled underground carpark at Raffles Place was officially opened by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 15 November 1965. Able to accommodate 250 cars for late night shoppers, it also possessed a rooftop garden known as Raffles Place Park, which was designed with a giant flower clock donated by watch-maker Seiko.
The underground carpark was demolished in the eighties due to the construction of the Raffles Place MRT Station.
1966 – First Fast Food Restaurant
It was not McDonald’s or KFC, but A&W (Alan & Wright) that arrived in Singapore in 1966 as the country’s first ever fast food restaurant. Americans Al and Geri Lieboff seized the opportunity to introduce the franchise when they came to Malaysia and Singapore in the sixties. The hamburgers, coney dogs and A&W’s signature root beer soon became a hit among Singaporeans.
09 August 1966 – Singapore’s First Stamps
A set of postage stamps was officially issued by the new Republic of Singapore to commemorate its 1st anniversary of independence. The images of HDB flats and industrial estates were used in their backgrounds to portray a developing Singapore.
12 June 1967 – Singapore’s First Series Dollar Notes
In April 1967, the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore, was established. Two months later, Singapore had its first set of dollar notes, the “Orchid Series”, replacing the British Malayan currency that had been in circulation for decades.
Although there was a total of nine denominations ($1, $5, $10, $25, $50, $100, $500, $1,000 and $10,000), the less commonly used $25, $500 and $10,000 dollar notes were issued to the public only a few years later.
20 November 1967 – Singapore’s First Series Coins
It consisted of six denominations, ranging from 1-cent to 1-dollar, that bore designs of marine animals such as lionfish and sea horse. Its $1 coin was also Singapore’s largest coin in circulation.
1970 – First Flyover
The construction of Toa Payoh Flyover began in 1968, and was completed two years later at an estimated cost of $3m.
Spanning 1.2km long, its objective was to relive traffic congestion at the stretch between Jalan Toa Payoh and Thomson Road.
14 May 1970 – First Junior College
The construction of the National Junior College began as early as 1967. Completed 15 month later, it started admitting its first batch of students in January 1969, although the first junior college of Singapore would be officially opened only in May 1970.
In 1997, it shifted from Linden Drive to the current campus at Hillcrest Road.
1971 – First Hawker Centre
The first hawker centre, Yung Sheng Food Centre, was built in 1971 to relocate the street hawkers. It was later merged with Corporation Drive Market and Food Centre to become Taman Jurong Market & Food Centre.
The last hawker centre, completed in 1985, was the Block 505 Market & Food Centre at Jurong West Street 52, before the government’s recent announcement that ten new hawker centres will be built by 2017.
14 July 1971 – First Drive-In Cinema
The Jurong Drive-in Cinema at Yuan Ching Road was, in fact, Singapore’s first and only drive-in cinema till date. Opened by Jek Yuen Thong, former Minister for Culture, the cinema was one of the successful ventures of the Cathay Organisation.
Situated next to the Japanese Gardens, the large compound had no problem accommodating as many as 900 cars and an additional 300 audience.
After 15 years of operation, the drive-in cinema was shut down on 30 September 1985 due to poor attendance.
June 1972 – Last Firecrackers Allowed in Public
Firecrackers had been an indispensable part of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore for many years. They were also used intensively during businesses’ opening ceremonies, foundation stones’ laying and even at the official openings of the early HDB flats.
In 1970, cracker-related fires claimed a total of six casualties and 68 injuries, leading to a partial ban of firecrackers. The ban was temporarily lifted in the Chinese New Years in 1971 and 1972, but when two policemen were attacked by a group of youths letting off firecrackers without a permit, the government decided to introduce the Dangerous Fireworks Act.
After the bill was passed in the parliament in June 1972, a total ban was implemented nationwide, and all wholesalers, retailers and members of the public had to surrender their firecracker possessions.
1974 – First Condominium
The 52-unit Beverley Mai, located at Tomlinson Road, was Singapore’s first condominium. Occupying a site of almost 77,000 square feet, it was completed in 1974, fitted with modern facilities such as a swimming pool.
The condominium fetched over $200m in 2006 through a collective en-bloc sale.
1977 – First Expressway
The Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) is the first expressway in Singapore. Planned and built in several stages over a period of almost 30 years, PIE stretches 43km across the island from Changi to Tuas.
The idea of the expressway was proposed in 1964 by the Public Works Department. Five years later, the first section of PIE, linking up Thomson and Paya Lebar, was completed. By 1979, $81 million had been spent on PIE which had connected Jalan Eunos to Jalan Anak Bukit.
Today, there are 11 expressways in Singapore, including the latest Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) that will be opened in December 2013.
13 June 1977 – First Double-Decker Bus Service
A fleet of 20 double-decker buses of model Leyland Atlanteans was launched by the Singapore Bus Service (SBS) in June 1977.
The route of the new service, numbered 86, plied between Shenton Way and Tampines Way Terminal (now defunct), and its official opening ceremony was officiated by then Senior Minister of State for Communications Ong Teng Cheong.
During the first few days of their debut, the buses were almost empty as the public feared the double-deckers would topple when making a turn.
April 1978 – First Bus Interchange
The rapid development of the Jurong industrial estates in the seventies saw a need to improve the transport and infrastructure at the western side of Singapore. After the big merger of the private bus companies to form the Singapore Bus Services (SBS) in 1973, many of the overlapping bus routes abolished to improve the overall efficiency of the bus system.
The plan of having regional bus interchanges to replace multiple small terminus was also taking shape. In April 1978, the Jurong Bus Interchange, first of its kind in Singapore, was opened. It was quickly followed by the construction of other bus interchanges elsewhere, such as Bedok (1979), Ang Mo Kio, Clementi (both 1980), Hougang and Bukit Merah (both 1981).
The operation of the Jurong Bus Interchange lasted until 1990. Upon its closure, most of its bus services were relocated to Boon Lay Bus Interchange.
End-April 1978 – Last Street Pasar Malams
Unlike the pasar malams (night markets) held in the neighbourhoods today, the stallholders of the old pasar malam ran their stalls on the streets like the street hawkers, often causing traffic congestion, obstructions, noise and inconvenience. Nevertheless, the street pasar malams were an attraction to both tourists and locals.
The Environment Ministry had been licensing and clearing pasar malams off the streets since 1975. After three years of operation, by end-April 1978, the last street pasar malams at Alexandra Road and Pelton Canal were cleared.
November 1985 – First Food Court
With its official opening in November 1985, the Picnic Food Court, located at the basement of the now-defunct Scotts Shopping Centre, represented the beginning of Singapore’s “new-generation” food centres. The following years quickly saw the emergence of other food courts in the city such the Funan Centre Food Paradise and Orchard Towers’ Hawaii Food Paradise.
Equipped with more comfortable tables and chairs, air-conditioning and even music, the food courts received mixed reviews from the customers.
However, not all new food courts had enjoyed brisk businesses. While many appreciated the cleanliness and better hygienic conditions as compared to the hawker centres, others were put off by the higher prices of the food.
26 May 1986 – First Sale of Computerised 4D
Call it beh pio (horse ticket) or wan zi piao (ten-thousand number ticket), there is no doubt that 4D (4-Digit) is Singapore’s most popular betting game. Its history traced back to the 1950s, but the first computerised 4D was sold by the Singapore Pools on 26 May 1986.
Subsequently, the state lottery operator also launched Wednesday draws starting from 9 August 2000 and the ibet system on 16 June 2005.
December 1986 – Last Street Hawker
The last street hawker in Singapore was relocated at the end of 1986. By then, there were more than 100 hawker centres, built between 1971 and 1985, in the country. The government stopped building hawker centres after that.
January 1987 – Last Night Soil Bucket
Night soil bucket latrines and trucks were part of Singapore’s sewerage and sanitary system in the early days. Almost 6,500 such latrines still existed in Singapore in 1975. By the mid-eighties, the number had dropped to about 2,000. 90% of the homes in the new housing estates were fitted with modern sanitation.
The last night soil bucket was cleared in January 1987, and the system was eventually phased out.
1988 – Last Pig Farm
Pig farms used to be abundant in Singapore, especially in the sixties. In mid-1970s, the government decided to consolidate all the pig farms, most of them originally located at Choa Chu Kang and Lim Chu Kang, to Punggol.
In the early eighties, the goverment mooted the idea of closing all the pig farms in Singapore, due to the environmental threat from the pig waste and the high cost of pollution control.
In April 1985, the decision to phase out pig farming was made. A campaign called “Eat Frozen Pork” was introduced to the public, while the phasing out exercise was carried out in stages in the following years. By 1988, all of Singapore’s existing pig farms officially walked into history.
2012 – Last GEC Traffic Light
The last General Electric Company (GEC) traffic light in Singapore was finally switched off in 2012, after the old Serangoon Bus Interchange had closed a year earlier. Making their debuts since 1948, GEC traffic lights had been a common sight, serving Singapore roads well for more than 60 years.
By the early 2000s, the aging model was gradually replaced by the new LED traffic lights fitted by ATS Traffic Pte Ltd.
30 April 2012 – Last Paging Service
The beeps of pagers were last heard at the end of April 2012, after Sunpage, the remaining paging provider service in Singapore, decided to stop the paging service totally.
A type of telecommunication service that stretched almost 20 years, the pagers were hugely popular until the late nineties, when they were gradually replaced by the mobile phones. By the 2000s, the pagers were limited to those who need to be on standby or on-call duty, such as doctors and military personnel.
Published: 23 November 2013
Updated: 16 April 2022