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The first Linux-based LiveCD was Yggdrasil Linux (went out of production in 1995), though in practice it did not function well due to the low throughput of then-current CD-ROM drives. The Debian-derived linux distribution Knoppix was released in 2003, and found popularity as both a rescue disk system and as a primary distribution in its own right.
KNOPPIX came out a few months before MEPIS according to DistroWatch.com