As Richardson celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2023, it is important to look back at where the city came from. From its founding in 1873 as a small railroad town to its current-day status as a city that is home to businesses and institutions that help develop the technology that changes the world, a lot has happened over the past 150 years. In the months leading up to the 150th Anniversary Celebration on June 24, Richardson Today will be telling some of these stories and exploring the people and events that helped shape Richardson into the place it is today, including a look this month about Richardson’s growth in the mid-20th century and its role in the space race.
When it was founded in 1873, Richardson was a railroad town surrounded by farmland. Richardson grew slowly over the subsequent decades until the 1950s, when Richardson’s first period of explosive growth began.
As of 1950, Richardson’s population was about 1,300, but that would soon change. Things kicked off with the expansion of Central Expressway into Richardson in 1954. Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Collins Radio purchased land in Richardson in 1955, and three years later Texas Instruments opened a facility in Dallas on Richardson’s southern border on the same property the company occupies today. In 1956, Richardson had about 6,000 residents, a number that would swell to nearly 17,000 by 1960.
The opening of the Collins Radio facility in 1958 was one of the catalysts for this growth. In a Dallas Morning News article from May 22 of that year, James G. Flynn, Collins’ manager of the Texas Division, said the company had plans to construct several buildings on the property it owned at the junction of Arapaho Road and Alma Road.
“Plans are to move the international sales force and the Texas division engineering staff to Richardson,” he said, noting that most of the people who will come to Richardson will be “engineers, technical people and sales personnel.”
Collins quickly made a name for itself, with Richardson-based engineers from Collins and its subsidiary, Alpha Corporation, designing systems that went into the completion of the first two-way radio voice transmission by man-made satellite, NASA’s Echo 1. At 3:04 a.m. on Aug. 13, 1960, the following was transmitted and received from Richardson.
“This is KK2XIC in Richardson, calling KA2XDV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Do you read me, Cedar Rapids?” “This is KA2XDV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, calling KK2XIC in Richardson, Texas. We receive you loud and clear.”
The next week Collins made history again as it transmitted the first photograph via satellite, an image of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 2021, an application to place a historical marker at the location of the first radio transmission was approved by the Texas Historical Commission. The plaque, which will be located at the former site of the Collins Radio facility on East Arapaho Road, is expected to be installed this fall.
After the successful Echo 1 experiments, Collins Radio went on to be a major contributor to NASA’s manned space flight program in the 1960s and 1970s. Collins Radio provided radios used in all aspects of the space program, from communications between the astronauts and mission control to equipment used for broadcasts from the astronauts to people on earth through televisions and radios.
Higher Education Comes to Richardson
With engineers in high demand, three of the founders of Texas Instruments decided to be proactive and create a center to train their own engineers. The center would later become the University of Texas at Dallas.
On its website, UT Dallas notes that in March 1961: “Eugene McDermott, J. Erik Jonsson and Cecil Green observe promising young Texans leaving the state to pursue education while their company, Texas Instruments, imports out-of-state talent to work at their Dallas-based headquarters. Hoping to create better higher-education opportunities in North Texas, the trio establishes the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest (GRCSW) — the foundation for what will become The University of Texas at Dallas.”
The Graduate Research Center of the Southwest became the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies in 1967 and in fall 1969, became a part of the University of Texas system as a graduate-level institute. UT Dallas welcomed its first undergraduates—juniors and seniors only—in January 1975, and it was not until August 1990 that it had its first freshman class.
Today, UT Dallas has grown into a top public university with more than 31,000 students. While the university has had a focus on technology and innovation since its earliest days, today it has seven schools that offer more than 140 undergraduate and graduate programs.
In its first 100 years, Richardson transformed from a small railroad town to a key player in the space race. Next month, we’ll take a look some of the people and families who streets, parks and other areas of the city are named after.