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A History of Default WordPress Themes

Last Updated on June 15th, 2020

Published on January 30th, 2012

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WordPress has come a long way since its first release back in May 2003, from just a personal publishing platform to the world’s most used Content Management System. WordPress is a wonderful example of open source development model and how influential this development model could be. During all this time, WordPress went through great changes and to showcase new features, the team behind WordPress occasionally released new default themes. This is the default layout for your blog or website when you first run a default WordPress installation.

In this post we will look at these themes and see how far WordPress has come in terms of features, extendibility, easiness, popularity and awesomeness.

The First WordPress Default Template

This was probably the first WordPress theme. It came with WordPress 0.71-gold and was designed by Matt Mullenweg. Back then WordPress came with default b2layout and two templates for handling comments. It was possible to include other templates using php include(); function but WordPress was not supporting multiple templates at that time.

This template showcased the simplicity and easiness of personal publishing. It was a very minimalistic template with an ugly black sidebar and a simple header. Internet speeds were not as fast in 2003, as they are today so it made sense. The leading CMS of that time, Moveable Type had a very powerful templating engine but it was also very complex, written in Perl, and was difficult to modify. The simplistic approach to layout design and templates made WordPress very easy to modify.

Blogrolls were very popular social networking tool back then. People were very generous about linking to each other. These blogrolls showed the interests of a blogger and other bloggers who shared their interests. The main feature of the first WordPress version was the “Link Manager”, the ability to add blogrolls into your sidebar. The default template displayed those links by default.

WordPress Classic

WordPress Classic was a serious design improvement in the default WordPress layout. It was first released with WordPress 1.2 Charles Mingus. This was a historically significant time for WordPress, its main competitor and the most popular CMS of that time, Moveable Type changed licensing terms. People were asked to use the paid version of Moveable Type if they wanted to use Moveable Type for commercial purposes. These licensing terms angered many Moveable Type users and a lot of them moved their blogs to WordPress.

WordPress Classic was designed by Dave Shea with modifications by Matt Mullenweg. It was a bare minimal design with room for improvements. It was a pleasant change from the ugly layout that came with earlier versions, but it was not enough for people migrating from Moveable Type. However, the new wave of Moveable Type users included many pioneer bloggers who modified their themes and even the core WordPress to show how promising this open source CMS could be.


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WordPress 1.5 was another milestone in the history of WordPress. The new wave of tech savvy users adapting WordPress contributed a great deal to the development of WordPress. It was the time when WordPress was compared with every other CMS and particularly with Moveable Type. People who had used other publishing tools, provided feedback, filed bug reports, asked for new features. All this activity made the development a more user centric process. WordPress 1.5 showcased all the efforts that were made from 1.2 to 1.5, making WordPress a user centric, flexible, and promising CMS.

With WordPress 1.5 Strayhorn, WordPress integrated a theme system. It was the first release with capability to install more than one theme. With 1.5, WordPress made it possible to break down your website into sections and modify how these sections look on your site with templates. To showcase the power of this new Theme System, WordPress came with Kubrick, the default WordPress Theme.

Kubrick was designed by Michael Heilemann. It was named after Michael’s favorite movie director Stanley Kubrick. It remained the Default WordPress theme until WordPress 3.0, when it was replaced by TwentyTen. Kubrick was the first theme to use the new Theme System, it was also the first default theme to showcase the wonderful set of template tags in action. It was the first flexible WordPress theme with room for plugin integration. It worked out of the box with many plugins. Kubrick remained under development to incorporate changes in each new release of WordPress, it supported WordPress Widgets Plugin when it was released in March 29, 2006 and got full widget support in WordPress 2.2.


With the arrival of WordPress 3.0, TwentyTen became the default WordPress theme replacing Kubrick. TwentyTen showcased many great new features of WordPress 3.0. It was the first WordPress theme to use custom background feature using custom background API. It had the visual editor for TinyMCE to see exactly how your posts would look when published. It used the options to choose from multiple custom headers, and introduced WordPress Navigation Menus.

The response to TwentyTen was overwhelmingly positive; it is still the most downloaded theme on the WordPress theme repository with 523,808 downloads. Just like its predecessor, TwentyTen inspired a lot of development around it. There are many child themes based on TwentyTen, articles were written to transform TwentyTen into HTML5, make it responsive, and add hacks to it.

TwentyTen is a black and white theme with custom headers and backgrounds. The main feature of the theme was its beautiful typography, accessibility and flexibility. It was the first default theme to support multiple widget areas and the first to take advantage of the WordPress Menus. These powerful features made TwentyTen easy to customize even for the beginners without learning any PHP or HTML.


With the release of WordPress 3.2, TwentyEleven replaced TwentyTen to become default WordPress theme in 2011. WordPress had decided to include at least one new default theme each year to showcase the new and latest features of WordPress. Twently Eleven is a theme that tells the story of WordPress evolving from a Personal News/Blog Publishing Platform to a full-fledged publishing platform and content management system.

Twenty Eleven is a little similar to its predecessor as it has the same black menu bar. But it further enhances typography, using larger fonts and giving a more modern look. Twenty Eleven offered options to choose from different layouts, choose colors, random headers, custom background with more options. These options were already provided by many premium and non-premium themes, but Twenty Eleven became the first default theme to offer these choices. It has different page templates for single column layout, showcase page template, and widgets to display different post types.


TwentyTwelve is expected to be the next default WordPress Theme. According to WordPress development updates, it is expected to be released with WordPress 3.4. This theme will be different than its predecessors in the Twenty series. It will have support for header images but will not showcase one by default, the header image height will be adjustable. It is expected that this theme will be the first default WordPress theme to come with a mobile version.

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Noumaan is a blogger and social media expert. He loves Quora, Facebook, Wordpress, OpenSource Software and The Sims.