A colorful and dynamic scene depicting a variety of people from different backgrounds and professions, all engaging in high fives. In the center, two astronauts are giving a high five, symbolizing the NASA team's celebration. To the left, a group of athletes in various sports uniforms are high fiving each other, representing sports victories. On the right, there's a pair of scientists in lab coats, high fiving over a successful experiment. In the background, people in casual attire are high fiving in a social setting, illustrating the everyday use of the gesture. The image captures the universal and diverse nature of the high five as a symbol of celebration, teamwork, and joy.

By Larry Billinger

The Genesis of the Gesture

Long before it became the universal symbol of “job well done,” the high five was merely a twinkle in the eye of human social interaction. But how did this hand-happy custom come to be? Let’s slap our way back through time!

The First Palm Press

The first high five is widely credited to have occurred in professional baseball in the 1970s. The specific instance most often cited took place on October 2, 1977, involving Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Dusty Baker and his teammate Glenn Burke.

Dusty Baker’s Homer and the Spontaneous Celebration

On the last day of the regular season, Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run, making the Dodgers the first team in history to have four players with at least 30 home runs in a single season. As Baker crossed home plate, his teammate Glenn Burke, waiting on deck, lifted his hand enthusiastically. In a moment of spontaneous celebration, Baker reached up and slapped Burke’s raised hand. This slap of hands, without prior planning, is what many believe to be the first recorded high five.

Glenn Burke’s Contribution and Legacy

Glenn Burke, who was known for his vibrant personality and charisma, is said to have played a significant role in the popularization of the high five. Despite his short career in baseball, his impact on the game went beyond his athletic achievements and included this contribution to sports culture.

The Occasion: A Symbol of Joyful Team Spirit

The high five that day wasn’t just a celebration of a home run; it was a symbol of the joy and team spirit that sports can foster. The gesture perfectly encapsulated the excitement of the moment and the camaraderie between teammates.

Cultural Ripple Effects

The high five quickly caught on, not just in baseball but across all sports, as a non-verbal way to communicate congratulations, solidarity, and shared joy. It became part of the cultural lexicon, a gesture understood across languages and cultures.

This celebratory gesture, born out of a historic sporting achievement, has since become a universal sign of celebration, camaraderie, and mutual respect, used by millions of people around the world every day.

A Handshake from the Heavens

Interestingly, some historians speculate that the high five has celestial origins. In ancient murals, gods are depicted giving a similar gesture, perhaps bestowing their divine approval with a sky-high smack.

The Mile-High Club of Five

  • 1970s: The high five’s modern debut on the sports field.
  • 1980s: A decade that saw the high five become a cultural cornerstone.
  • 1990s to Now: From internet high fives to emoji, the gesture has gone digital.

Top High Five Moments in History

  • NASA’s Curiosity Rover Team (2012): After the successful landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, the team at NASA celebrated with high fives, a moment that not only marked a monumental achievement in space exploration but also displayed the gesture’s use in celebrating scientific milestones​​.
  • National High Five Day (2002): Started by students at the University of Virginia, National High Five Day is celebrated on the third Thursday in April to spread joy through high fives and raise funds for charity​​.
  • Guinness World Record (2012): Pete Timbs set the record for the most high-fives in 24 hours, totaling 14,607 during the Bridge to Brisbane fun run, demonstrating the high five’s role in bringing communities together and supporting good causes​​.
  • Techmo Super Bowl(1991): Touchdown high five is one of the more memorable moments in video game history. This highlights the popularity the high-five had gained since its first known use in the 1970’s.

A High Five to Masculine Milestones

While the high five is a universal gesture of celebration, it’s noteworthy that many of the documented high-five moments in history predominantly feature men. From the sports field to movies, these slaps of solidarity have echoed through the annals of predominantly male achievements. This isn’t to say that women don’t partake in this palm-pressing practice, but rather that the high-profile high fives that make anyone top high five lists tend to spotlight men’s moments.

A Slap of Solidarity

So next time you raise your hand for a high five, remember you’re partaking in a rich history of human triumph and togetherness. Keep those palms ready and those spirits high—because the high five isn’t just a gesture; it’s a legacy.

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