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Rodeo hands wearing cowboy hats Rodeo hands wearing cowboy hats (emilio labrador/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

We're left wondering, what would happen if you were to treat a good idea like an infectious disease? Could you trace it back to one individual, and one flash of insight? Jon Mooallem tells us about his quest to track down the origin of the high five--a story that starts with one of the most celebratory gestures imaginable ... and ends with a choice that pits a happy ending against a more complicated reality. Lutha Davis, Greg Harrell-Edge, Nolan Smith, and Kathy Gregory all weigh in with competing explanations. And Tim Hemmes and Katie Schaffer tell a moving story about the power of their very own first high five.

All this leaves us with an inevitable, but unsettling question. A question that Jonnie Hughes helps answer with a broadminded look at the history of the cowboy hat.

Read More:

Jonnie Hughes, The Origin of Teepees

Debbie Henderson, Hat Talk

Tim Hemmes and Katie Schaffer give each other a high five (listen before you watch the video):


Kathy Gregory, Greg Harrell-Edge, Jonnie Hughes, Jon Mooallem and Nolan Smith

Comments [9]

Sean Oliver

High Five
'Gimmie five' followed by the slap was a common sight since the 60s if not earlier. Some were low, some high, no one person invented the high five.
This might be an African American slang/mannerism borrowed by AA troops during WW2 when they went to Paris jazz clubs, since 'Negroes' were treated with farr more respect there than at home, and the nightlife undoubtedly much better!
In fact, 'homeboy' mightve been adapted from French 'homme' - man.

Dec. 24 2017 05:12 PM
Geoff Fuller

I was in an anthropology class at UCSB in 1985 where a film about chimpanzees was screened. Probably something of Goodall's. Lots of chimp socializing, including back slaps and some high 5s. It stuck in my mind because several male students came in the theater after the class, and proceeded to socialize with many of the same back slapping and high 5ing. Since then, I've thought a lot of our socializing gestures predate our species, including the high 5.

Love the show! Keep it up.

Dec. 24 2017 12:10 PM
Caroline in PA

I loved your show today, Patient Zero, including the segment on the "first high five". Thought you might want to see a video showing Rob Lathan (my brother!) doing "High Five Elevator" for Improv Everywhere in NYC about five years ago.

Nov. 16 2014 04:51 PM
ThinkWrite from PA

I listened to the program on the high five, and thought it was good that you kept digging deeper, but I was surprised by the ending of the story. After listening to the program, the answer to who "invented" this was obviously UNKNOWN...because the more you dig, the earlier you find the act. However, you weren't happy to live with the obvious conclusion, but decided to grant this inventorship to the ballplayer whose career ended due to his homosexuality. That was too bad. It's a trivial issue, but the conclusion was wrong.

May. 15 2014 10:31 PM
Theodore Norvell from St. John's

I recently watched The Wild One (1953). There is a very clear high five in the scene where members of Black Rebels Motorcycle Club are showing Jimmy the ill-fated dishwasher various greeting rituals. I didn't quite catch the name they gave it.

Jan. 25 2013 01:09 PM
Grace from Colorado

A while after listening to this episode,I stumbled upon a video of Cab Calloway performing "Minnie the Moocher" in which he gives the announcer a high five after running onstage. This was filmed in 1958, I believe. Here's the video:
Just thought this might be interesting.

Nov. 08 2012 11:43 PM
Kerri McDMcDougald from Tampa Bay FL

Great stories this Sunday

May. 27 2012 11:56 AM
Mac from Brooklyn

The third theory of the cowboy hat's origins reminds me of the anthropic principle. not a perfect analog, I realize, but there's something there.

You guys are amazing. thanks for your work and come back to NYC with the live program!!

Jan. 25 2012 06:23 PM

I teach Information Literacy and I asked my students to listen to this segment as an example of "honest research." I was trying to get them to see that when they have a predetermined outcome to their research and cherry-pick results, that's not honest. I wanted them to focus on the way this program kept digging for the "real" origin of the high-five instead of stopping when they had an answer. Unfortunately, my students focused on how no sources were presented and that it was all word-of-mouth. I can't fault them for that -- I'm trying to teach them to be critical! So, my question for you is: how do we find the sources you used for your programs? If I want to point my students toward another episode, how do I also share with them the research that you did?

Jan. 25 2012 12:11 PM

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