A Tradition 90 Years in the Making
The first national spelling bee was organized by the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1925, and the Bee has been held continuously since, except during the World War II years of 1943, 1944 and 1945. In 2017, the Bee celebrated its 90th year and did many exciting things throughout Bee Week to commemorate this significant anniversary. Scroll down to learn more about the nine decades of spelling bee competition.
5 New York
2 North Carolina
1 New Jersey
1 Puerto Rico
47 Male (49%)
49 Female (51%)
19 9-letter words
13 10-letter words
13 8-letter words
11 7-letter words
10 11-letter words
9 12-letter words
7 6-letter words
7 13-letter words
2 5-letter words
1 4-letter word
1 15-letter word
1925: The Louisville Courier-Journal organizes the first national spelling bee.
1930: NBC broadcasts the final hour of competition on the radio.
1940: The Bee moves from Smithsonian's National Museum to the National Press Club.
1941: Scripps-Howard Newspapers takes over ownership of the program.
1943: The Bee takes a three-year hiatus during World War II.
1946: The Bee is first broadcast on television on NBC.
1948: Benson S. Alleman, director of forensics at Bellarmine College, becomes official pronouncer.
1950: After hours of head-to-head spelling, Colquitt Dean and Diana Reynard are declared the first co-champions.
1952: The 25th national spelling bee takes place in the U.S. Department of Commerce auditorium.
1961: Richard Baker, professor of philosophy at the University of Dayton, becomes official pronouncer.
1974: A taped version of the finals appears on PBS.
1975: Hugh Tosteson of Puerto Rico becomes first spelling bee champion from outside the 50 states.
1980: The Bee moves from the Mayflower Hotel to the Capital Hilton.
1981: Alex Cameron, professor of English at the University of Dayton, becomes official pronouncer.
1987: A record 185 participants forces Bee officials to eliminate the practice round of spelling.
1991: CNN provides live coverage of the finals.
1994: The Bee begins broadcast partnership with ESPN.
1996: The Bee moves from the Capital Hilton to the Grand Hyatt Washington.
1998: Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica becomes first international speller to win the Bee.
1999: Spellbound documentary films the national spelling bee.
2002: The Bee implements a written test for the first time.
2003: Jacques Bailly, associate professor of classics at the University of Vermont, becomes official pronouncer.
2006: The championship finals air live in primetime on ABC.
2011: The Bee moves from the Grand Hyatt Washington to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
2013: The Bee adds vocabulary to the written test.
2017: 5-year-old Edith Fuller becomes the youngest to ever qualify for the national finals.
Spellers from Around the World
Spelling bee programs are administered by Bee-selected sponsors in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Department of Defense Schools in Europe.
We also work in cooperation with sponsors in countries across the globe. During our 90th year, we welcomed spellers from the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea to the Washington, D.C., area. We have also had spellers from China, Mexico and New Zealand compete in years past.
In 1998, Jody-Anne Maxwell became the first international speller to win the Bee!