What Austin, TX was like in 1922

A historic photo of a tornado over the Texas capital building

The “twin tornadoes” of 1922 caused millions of dollars in damage in today’s money. | [PICA-00406], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

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We’re charging up the flux capacitor + setting the speed to 88 mph today, Austin — that’s right, we’re taking a trip back in time to see what our city was like a century ago.

Let’s set the scene. Austin’s population was about 35,000 people just 4% of what it is today. Yes, The Paramount Theatre was already brightening up Congress Avenue, but the rest of downtown looked awfully different.

Follow along as we share what else happened in Texas’ Capital City in 1922.

The 1922 “twin tornadoes”

The day started with clear skies and light winds, but by early afternoon on May 4, 1922, the weather had taken a dark turn. Shortly after 3 p.m., two tornadoes touched down in Austin, just minutes apart.

These “twin tornadoes” weren’t just unique in that there were, you know, two of them, but in that they went northeast to southwest, the opposite of a typical storm’s path.

One of these tornadoes landed in north Austin and traveled south through the UT campus toward the Colorado River. Overall, it caused $25,000 in damages ($400,000 in today’s dollars), blowing down cabins at the Deep Eddy swimming hole and killing one person.

A fallen tower caused by the 1922 tornadoes

The damage caused by the 1922 “twin tornadoes.” | , Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

The second tornado touched down in East Austin, and rampaged past First Street, tore down a moontower, and blazed through Congress Avenue.

This tornado was rated a “violent” F-4 — this is the second-highest classification, signifying wind speeds up to 200 miles per hour. In its path, it killed 12 people and resulted in $600,000 in damage$11 million in today’s money.

Read eyewitness accounts of the tornadoes impacts here.

Austin under prohibition

In 1922, the country was in its second year of prohibition, the 13-year period when it was illegal to sell or make alcoholic beverages in the US.

During that time, many local businesses, such as Scholz’s Bier Garten, switched to making “dry” beverages in order to maintain revenue. Others — like The Tavern and the Driskill Hotel — created speakeasies, secret bars that sold alcohol in hidden spaces.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933, but there are still several speakeasy-style bars in ATX. Plan your next visit to one here.

A historic photo of the University of Texas campus main building

The iconic UT tower wasn’t completed until 1937. | , Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

Higher education in Austin

Just seven of UT’s 12 colleges had been opened in 1922, including the university’s College of Business Administration, which was founded that year.

The campus looked significantly different, as well. It wasn’t until 1923 that UT found oil on university-owned land in West Texas. The income from those wells helped pay for a major building boom on campus in the later 1920s and ‘30s, and resulted in 23 new buildings, including the iconic UT tower.

Austin’s oldest institute of higher education, Huston-Tillotson University, was still two separate schools in 1922. To learn more about how Tillotson College and Samuel Huston College merged in 1952, read our story on the schools’ history.

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