© 2018 The Author(s). The Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino (KATRIN) experiment is a large-scale effort to probe the absolute neutrino mass scale with a sensitivity of 0.2 eV (90% confidence level), via a precise measurement of the endpoint spectrum of tritium β-decay. This work documents several KATRIN commissioning milestones: the complete assembly of the experimental beamline, the successful transmission of electrons from three sources through the beamline to the primary detector, and tests of ion transport and retention. In the First Light commissioning campaign of autumn 2016, photoelectrons were generated at the rear wall and ions were created by a dedicated ion source attached to the rear section; in July 2017, gaseous 83mKr was injected into the KATRIN source section, and a condensed 83mKr source was deployed in the transport section. In this paper we describe the technical details of the apparatus and the configuration for each measurement, and give first results on source and system performance. We have successfully achieved transmission from all four sources, established system stability, and characterized many aspects of the apparatus.