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In the years since 11-year-old Frank Neuhauser correctly spelled gladiolus (a type of flower) during the first National Spelling Bee on June 17, 1925, the tournament has blossomed into a much-watched annual tradition.

That also means the words have gotten harder (hello, “gesellschaft), as the Internet has made it easier to look up words and, thanks in part to a prime broadcast slot on ESPN, competition has gotten more intense.

So what were the spellers asked to spell the very first time around? A spokesperson for Scripps National Spelling Bee tells TIME that they do not have any records of the full list of words from 1925; though a list of winning words exists, the organization has only started keeping track of full word lists over the last decade. However, the words that knocked out the 1925 finalists were listed by TIME the following week. Here they are:

That $500 prize in 1925 would be the equivalent of a little more than $7,000 now, adjusted for inflation. Today’s first-place winner is awarded $40,000 cash, among other prizes.

For anyone wondering what becomes of America’s top spellers after those 15 minutes of fame, TIME’s History section caught up last year with eight former champions.

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at

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