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Austin At A Glance

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Austin, on the Colorado River, is the capital of Texas and home to the University of Texas. Established in 1839 and named after Stephen A. Austin ("The Father of Texas"), the city's capital status was historically contested by Houston to the north. Once the area was part of Mexico, and the city's south-of-the-border influences are noteworthy. Learn why Austin is called the "Live Music Capital of the World."

Capital Status

Austin's capital status was a precarious one. Prior to statehood, Houston was the capital of the Texas Republic. Initially, Austin (originally called Waterloo) was planned as the permanent capital of Texas in 1839, much to the dismay of many Texans who believed it a poor choice due to its remoteness and vulnerability to attacks from Mexican forces and Native American tribes. Consequently, Sam Houston and others requested its archives be moved back to Houston in 1842 for safety. The people of Austin protested, believing that moving the archives meant moving the capital, and refused to relinquish the archives to armed men. The archives stayed, but Houston won out and temporarily became the capital. Then, Washington-on-the Brazos was capital for a short time until 1846 when Austin was once again declared the capital.


The site of what is now the city of Austin was chosen due to its great beauty and natural resources. Growth came to the area after 1846, when Austin was permanently declared the state capital. Soon after permanent government buildings, churches, elite mansions and state-run asylums were erected. At the start of the U.S. Civil War in 1861, Austin voted to say in the union, but the Union forces bombarding the city prompted hundreds of citizens to fight for the Confederacy. After the Emancipation Proclamation freed U.S. slaves, Austin saw a large increase in African Americans, who made up over one-third of the population by 1870. In 1871, the railway made Austin a central Texas regional trade center. Austin was the fourth largest Texas city in the early 1900s and today is a center of high technology.


The 1970s saw Austin emerge as a hotbed of live music garnering the nickname "Live Music Capital of the World." Best known for its long-running live music television program -- Austin City Limits -- and its corresponding festival, along with the several-day South by Southwest festival, the city continues to draw musicians from all over.


In the last four decades, Austin has seen a dramatic growth in high-technology businesses providing the majority of jobs in conjunction with government. Companies such as Apple, Google, Intel, Amazon, Facebook, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, IBM and a host of other high-tech corporations have headquarters or branches in Austin leading to the name "the Silicon Hills." Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies also have a large presence in Austin.


Austin is mentioned favorably in many surveys, such as:

  • Money magazine (2006) -- No. 2 Best Big City in "Best Places to Live"
  • Money magazine (2009) -- No. 3 Best Big City in "Best Places to Live"
  • CBS Money Watch (2012) -- on 10 best places to retire in the U.S list.
  • MSN online (2014) -- No. 10 in "Greenest City in America"
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