Wow, it's hard to imagine a time before Sputnik. No pics of the Earth itself, no knowledge about Earth's atmosphere, no space debris...
What else did this satellite do, apart from beginning the start of the space race? Well, it:
- helped identify Earth's upper atmosphere's density.
- provided data on radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere(a part of the atmosphere-here's the link to the Wiki page)
So, it turns out, it did pretty cool things apart from being the world's first satellite.