Belgium may not be your flashy, fancy kind of country. But if you think it’s drab, boy are you in for a major surprise. It turns out, this humble and reserved country has a knack for setting and breaking world records.
According to the Guinness World Records, Belgium has more than 100 record-making achievements tucked under its belt. Unassuming as they are, Belgians are quite capable of undertaking the unprecedented and succeeding at it.
Here’s a showcase of Belgium’s record-breaking abilities from the 16th century to the present.
1. First to publish a world atlas – Antwerp,1570
Although the earliest world maps date back to 600 BCE, the Theatrum orbis terrarum or Theatre of the Orb of the World is considered the first true modern atlas.
It was Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius who came up with the idea of collecting the best maps of the known world during his time and printing all of them into one book.
The first edition of the Theatrum contained 70 maps with supporting text. Less than a century after its release, more than 30 editions of the atlas were published in seven languages.
2. First to suggest the theory of continental drift – Antwerp, 1596
Abraham Ortelius didn’t just invent the atlas. He was also the first person to float the idea that continents moved across the earth’s crust over time.
“The coastlines of the continents are so similar that they seem to have been torn apart at some point in time,” wrote Ortelius in the Theatrum orbis terrarum.
Continental drift is widely associated with German geophysicist Alfred Wegener, who developed the theory in 1912. But now we know where it all started.
3. First to produce fully synthetic plastic – U.S.A., 1907
The age of modern plastics began when Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first synthetic and heat-resistant plastic. The Belgian chemist stumbled upon the discovery while experimenting with phenol and formaldehyde in his laboratory in Yonkers, New York.
Baekeland is also the genius behind the first commercially successful photographic paper called Velox.
4. The largest hoard of medieval coins – Brussels, 1908
In July 1908, a group of workmen unearthed some 150,000 penny-sized silver coins while tearing down an old tavern in the Brussels city center.
Known as the Brussels hoard of 1908, the event marked the largest discovery of Flemish and English coins from the Middle Ages.
The hoard consisted of nearly 70,000 local Flemish pennies and more than 80,000 English sterlings from the 13th century.
5. First to raise the Olympic flag – Antwerp, 1920
The Olympic flag made its first appearance during the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. Belgian athlete Victor Boin also recited the very first Olympic oath during the historic event.
The International Olympic Committee chose Antwerp as the host of the 1920 games to pay tribute to the Belgian lives lost to the war that ravaged Europe from 1914 to 1919.
6. Oldest Tour de France champion – France, 1922
Belgian cyclist Firmin Lambot owns the world record for being the oldest winner of Tour de France. It’s not like he was 100 years old.
Lambot was only 36 when he won the annual bicycle race, but the average age of tour winners is about 28 years.
7. First solo female artist to top the U.S. albums chart – U.S.A., 1963
The very first female singer to claim the no. 1 album in the US charts was not an American, but a Belgian. And get this, she was a nun.
Jeanne-Paule Deckers, also known as Sister Luc Gabrielle, Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile), and The Singing Nun, became a sensation in 1963 when she released the French song “Dominique”, which topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for 10 consecutive weeks.
The 1966 film The Singing Nun was based on the real-life sister act of the amazing Belgian nun.
8. Most consecutive Grand Tour wins, 1968-1974
In the history of competitive cycling, one name stands out for achieving the highest number of Grand Tour victories.
Eddy Merckx of Belgium bagged a total of 11 cycling trophies from 1968 to 1974. He won five Tours of France, five Tours of Italy, and one Tour of Spain.
9. First person to swim across False Bay – South Africa, 1989
The False Bay Swim is a 34-kilometer open water swim considered one of the most challenging swimming marathons in the world.
To date, only five people have successfully swum solo across the bay. And the very first person to do that was Annemie Landmeters.
Landmeters completed a one-way crossing in 9 hours and 56 minutes, earning her an additional world record for being the fastest woman to swim across False Bay.
10. Heaviest weight lifted with teeth – Paris, 1990
Belgian stuntman Walter Arfeuille grabbed a world record on March 31, 1990 when he used only his teeth to lift 281 kilograms of weights off the ground and carry it across a distance of 17 centimeters. Lang leve België!
11. Largest newspaper – Ghent, 1993
On June 15, 1993, Flemish newspaper Het Volk (The People) issued what is now the largest newspaper ever printed in history.
Each page measured 142 by 99.5 centimeters printed in color on thick, high-quality paper. The special edition sold about 50,000 copies.
12. Flying the largest remote-controlled airplane – Moorsele, 1998
The largest model aircraft on record is a B-29 bomber with a wingspan of 8.8 meters and a body measuring 6.05 meters long and weighing 200 kilos.
Belgian plane enthusiasts Bart Vercruysse, Ignace Honore, and Pieter Lamaire spent three years working on the plane, which they called Dyna Might. They flew the model aircraft for the first time in Moorsele on June 2, 1998.
13. Biggest beer selection in a single bar – Brussels, 2004
When it comes to beer, Belgium is tough to beat. And here’s yet another proof.
The Delirium Café in Brussels earned a world record for having the largest assortment of beer commercially available in one place. How many kinds exactly? The bar listed 2,004 in 2004.
Delirium serves beer brands from more than 60 countries, including Belgium.
14. Most people doing a handstand simultaneously – Wevelgem, 2006
In 2006, Wevelgem set out to make a record for the highest number of people standing upside down together in a span of one minute.
Out of 450 participants, 399 made it. And that was more than enough for Wevelgem to set a world record handstand.
15. First female wildcard player to win a tennis grand slam – U.S.A., 2009
During the 2009 US Open, Belgian tennis player Kim Clijsters defeated Grand Slam finalist Caroline Wozniacki, becoming the first unseeded player and wildcard to win the Women’s Singles tournament.
All in all, Clijsters has won six Grand Slam titles, four in singles and two in doubles.
16. Longest salami ever – Sint-Niklaas, 2010
Meat producer Cock’s Vleeswaren went as huge as possible for the celebration of the company’s 75th anniversary in 2010.
Using 10 150-kilogram containers of turkey and pork, the meat packers whipped up what is now documented as the longest sausage ever made.
The record-breaking salami measured 1,152 meters long and weighed 2,171 kilos.
17. Most lights on a Christmas tree – Malmedy, 2010
Just how many lights can a Christmas tree take? As much as 194,672, based on the efforts of the Belgian foundation Kiwanis Malmedy Hautes Fagnes.
In 2010, the group wrapped a Christmas tree with 350 garlands, each measuring 3 meters long and carrying 576 lights.
18. Largest number of grapes caught in the mouth – Vilvoorde, 2013
Joris Goens wowed Belgium’s Got Talent in 2013 when he demonstrated the much-beloved art of throwing food in the air and catching it with the mouth.
Goens scored a world record after managing to fit 223 grapes into his mouth in three minutes.
19. Largest gathering of people making towel animals – Hasselt, 2017
Cleaning company Het Poetsbureau proved that towels are more than just for cleaning after organising a towel origami challenge in 2017.
Participants were given the task of folding a towel into the shape of a duck in two minutes. The result: 1,476 towel animals and an instant world record.
20. Tallest waffle tower – Blankenberge, 2020
Last year, brothers Francis and Michel De Buck snagged the record for the highest tower of waffles in the world. They stacked about 30 waffles up to 91.5 centimeters high, beating the previous record of 87 centimeters.
Source: Guinness World Records