5 Things You Didn't Know Started in Austin

A sport, a music genre, a video game, and more... here are five now-everyday things that got their start in our city.

Anyone who knows anything about Austin will agree that Austinites are unique—and yes, even “weird,” but in a good way.

Stubbornly creative and driven by a fierce sense of individualism, Austinites over the years have generated some truly innovative ideas, enriching world culture in areas such as sports, technology, music, and even video games.

To pay homage to Austin’s ingenuity, we’ve put together this list of five world-changing ideas that you probably didn’t know were hatched and nurtured right here in Weird City:

5. Wakeboarding

A wakeboarder catches air. Flickr Creative Commons.

Wakeboarding is a water sport that combines surfing, snowboarding, and water-skiing. A specialized board designed to be pulled behind boats allows wakeboarders to reach high speeds and perform jumps and aerial tricks in boats’ wakes. 

While the creation of wakeboarding is generally attributed to two surfers who independently came up with the same idea at around the same time, one of those pioneers was a proud Austinite.

In the 1980s, Jimmy Redmon modified his surf board and began wakeboarding on lakes in the greater Austin area. When people began to take notice, Redmon quit school to start his own wakeboarding company and eventually founded the World Wakeboard Association (WWA). By chance, Redmon met wakeboarding’s Californian pioneer, Tony Finn, and the two soon became business partners.

4. Ultima Online & the term "MMORPG"

Despite its ancient graphics, UO’s gameplay is highly esteemed. Flickr Creative Commons.

Ultima Online (UO) is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) based in a fantasy world called Britannia. Released in 1997, Ultima Online is a spin-off of the nine-part Ultima series of games released throughout the 1980s and 90s by Origin Systems. It was the first MMORPG to hit 100,000 subscribers and heavily contributed to the success of the MMORPG market, which today is booming with hugely-popular games such as World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online.

UO is the brainchild of a UT student named Richard Garriott, aka. Lord British in-game. Garriott developed the first few installments of Ultima during college and, after flunking a programming class, ended up quitting school to start Origin as his games began selling.

“Technically I was probably a better programmer than anyone in the class but it was obvious I couldn’t do both,” Garriott told Business Insider in a 2011 interview.

Upon UO’s release in 1997, Garriott was credited with coining the term “MMORPG.” Garriott still calls Austin home and lives in a medieval residence in Westcliff called Britannia Manor.

3. Psychedelic Rock

Hidden Masters is a psychedelic rock band from Glasgow, Scotland. Flickr Creative Commons.

It should come as no surprise that Austin had a hand in creating a musical genre—or at least in labeling one.

Psychedelic rock is a type of rock music that attempts to imitate and heighten the mind-altering experiences caused by hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD (acid). Musicians accomplish this in a number of ways, but especially by incorporating non-Western sounds like Indian drones into their music.

Psychedelic rock’s origins may be as fuzzy as its intentions, but rumor says that an Austin-based band called The 13th Floor Elevators used the term first in 1965 on their business cards. The term appeared again in a 1966 Austin Statesman article, which was titled, “Unique Elevators Shine With Psychedelic Rock.”

Only after that did famous psychedelic rock bands such as The Yardbirds and Pink Floyd pick up the title and run with it into the 1970s and beyond.

2. Dell

Dell is headquartered in Round Rock, Texas. Flickr Creative Commons.

With just $1,000 and “a game-changing vision for how technology should be designed, manufactured, and sold,” Michael Dell actually dropped out of pre-med school at UT in order to start his computer business, which he then called PC’s Limited.

Dell Inc. has been headquartered in Austin ever since. Thanks to groundbreaking tech advancements in the early years, including the fastest PC ever in 1986, and a heck of a lot of business sense, Dell Inc. is now one of the largest and most successful technology manufacturers in the world.

What's more, Dell runs his company in at least one area like a true Austinite. Dell Inc. has consistently received praise for its environmental stewardship and was even named the greenest company in America by Newsweek in 2010

1. Whole Foods

The Whole Foods at Sixth and Lamar is the company's flagship store. Flickr Creative Commons.

Perhaps the best embodiment of Austin’s creativity and independence leading to innovation can be seen in the story of Whole Foods Market.

Whole Foods was founded in Austin when four natural food store owners—John Mackey, Renee Lawson Hardy, Craig Weller, and Mark Skiles—combined their humble businesses of SaferWay Natural Foods and Clarksville Natural Grocery to build one of the first natural foods supermarkets in the nation.

Despite having only 19 employees to start, Whole Foods very quickly rose to success—even after a massive flood in 1981 put the company out $400,000 with no insurance. Luckily, all of Austin came to the rescue, with volunteers cleaning and repairing flood damage and donating money to replace ruined equipment and inventory.

Just 28 days after the flood, Whole Foods was back on its feet. Within three years, the company had expanded out of Austin and it hasn’t stopped growing since.

Now, Whole Foods is known as the world's top organic grocer and boasts more than 360 stores throughout both the US and the UK—proving that a little creativity and determination can go a long way and that Austin has a lot of both.


Do you know of other widely-known things that were started in Austin, but that we didn't mention? Let us know in the comments below.


Tags: music, keep austin weird, invention, dell, whole foods, wakeboarding, psychedelic rock, ultima online, britannia manor, richard garriott, jimmy redmon, the yardbirds, pink floyd, 13th floor elevators, 1981 flood

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