What drives some people to always be first? That is, the first person to do or experience something.
Brooklyn-born Omero C. Catan was known by New Yorkers as Mr. First. The name is quite literal since in a career where he had been the first person to participate at 537 historic opening days across the East Coast.
On The Small Business Radio Show, I talked with Amy Padnani, a journalist for the NY Times who recently wrote an article about Omero Catan in a feature about those who are often overlooked and about always being first.
Here is what we talked about:
- How did this “being first” get started with Catan?
- Catan, who was born in Brooklyn into an Italian American family at a time of pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment didn’t let his circumstances define him. Rather, he built his legacy as a professional “firster”.
- What was his strategy? He spent cold nights in his car while staking out new infrastructure projects.
- Examples of his firsts: In 1939, he received Manhattan’s first marriage license of the year. In 1932, he was the first to buy a token on the newly opened Eighth Avenue subway. In 1936, he was the first to skate on the Rockefeller Center ice rink. In 1951, he was the first to use a token on a city parking meter. Four years later in 1955, he was the first to drive across the Tappan Zee Bridge. In 1962, he was the first to cross the lower level of the George Washington Bridge.
- Catan accused his brother of attempting to get the ‘Mr. First’ title from him. Competition between the two brothers drove them apart until they died. Catan denied his brother had anything to do with the Mr. First title. His brother, Michael, in a report from The Miami New Times, said this: “Even though he’s number one — Mr. First — we’re still tied together. That’s the way it wound up now. We’re one. We’re not two anymore. We’re one. That’s just the way it is.”
- What drives people to be first?