Who was the first national spelling bee winner?

August 18, 2013 in Trivia

National Spelling Bee LogoIn 1925 Louisville, Ky. native Frank Neuhauser won the first national spelling bee with the correct spelling of “gladiolus” — a widely cultivated plant of the iris family. Nine newspapers had collaborated that year to start the event, which Scripps took over as sponsor in 1941.

Scripps’ history of spelling bees notes that they have taken place since except for the war years 1943 to 1945. Of a total 87 champions to date, 46 have been girls and 41 boys. There were co-champions in three years.

Neuhauser received $500 in gold pieces for his victory in 1925, and along with other participants met President Calvin Coolidge at the White House according to the Los Angeles Times. His winnings were to help pay for his college education, which led to his earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Louisville, and landed him work later as an engineer with General Electric.

“It was a lot easier back then,” Neuhauser told an audience years later at the 2008 national bee. “There were only eight competitors instead of 288. I’d never make it now.”

Most recently in 2013, New York City’s Arvind Mahankali won the championship by correctly spelling the word “knaidel” — a German-derived Yiddish word for a matzo ball. Sponsored by New York’s Daily News, Arvind won over $30,000 in cash and prizes for the feat.

CBS News noted in its coverage of the event that Arvind had put extra effort into preparing German spellings, which had been difficult for him in previous spelling bee events. CBS News also noted that Armind had never actually had a knaidel.