A Texas Tradition Since 1896
When Professor William J. Battle founded the University Co-operative Society, modeled after the Harvard Co-op in 1896, the Co-op bookstore occupied Room 66, a narrow second floor space tucked under a stairwell in the central portion of the old Main Building. From the very beginning the Co-op gave rebates to students. In addition to selling books, supplies and athletic wear at reasonable prices, the Co-op provided variety of services, including a night mail service at no additional cost.
The organization was first incorporated in November 1906. The Co-op’s longstanding tradition of giving back started in 1911 with a $10,000 contribution to complete the construction of the Gregory gym.
The Co-op’s first location on the drag was built in 1917 and was a showplace of contemporary design and equipment, featuring terrazzo floors, modern steam heating and a transparent skylight that protruded from the basement ceiling onto the sidewalk above.
Aside of William J. Battle, the University Co-operative Society’s leadership included many prominent university figures over the years, such as H.Y. Benedict, J.W. Calhoun and L.T. Bellmont among others.
In 1920, Coach Whitaker proudly led the Longhorns to a 9-0 season and conference championship. Home games at Clark Field were well-attended and widely covered in the newspaper. However, away games were a source of frustration. The Co-op changed that by bringing to Longhorn fans something they had never before seen – or heard – on campus. Live radio coverage at the Co-op delivered the play-by-play via loud speaker. Not only could fans listen to game updates, the store gave them a visual as well. A 12-by-7-foot gridiron with lines marked at 10 yard increments demonstrated ball position after every play. The innovation was wildly popular, and fans huddled around the mini-field during the game, their ears keenly tuned to the speakers.
In 1922, a new men’s service organization was founded, the Texas Cowboys. Head cheerleader Arno Nowotny and Longhorn Band President Bill McGill selected forty men to join the group and carry out its mission of leadership, spirit, character and service. The group sent out a plea for funds so that they could purchase cowboy uniforms. The Co-op was the first to donate, in the amount of $50, in addition to providing the Cowboys their uniforms at cost.
In February 1924, the stadium campaign was officially underway so that the University could build the “biggest thing in the history of the school.” There was a call for pledges. On March 2, 1924, the Co-op announced its pledge of $1,000 in cash plus funds from other securities.
With the post-war University enrollment on the rise, the Co-op needed more floor space and in 1947 the store was expanded with addition of a second floor, complete with air conditioning. Not only that, the Co-op opened its Radio and Record Shop shortly after the 12” record album debut throughout the country. The new department featured seven listening booths and carried a complete stock of all records at all times.
In the 1950-s, the University Co-op had become one of the most successful bookstores in the nation and had grown into a million dollar business with a staff of sixty-five. With many loyal and competent staff members, the Co-op started offering a retirement plan to boost the employee benefit – a tradition of offering one of the best benefits packages, which continues to this day.
Student organizations continued to seek Co-op support and in 1957, the Board decided to constitute a policy and appointed a permanent board committee with a budget of $100 per college.
In 1959, the Co-op expanded again with the purchase of the lot next door in order to provide more convenient service to students. By then the university’s enrollment figures had reached almost 20,000. One of the major features of the new shop was self-selection. Instead of standing at counters to request supplies, students selected goods right off the shelf. The new textbook department boasted books neatly arranged by course number. And the record area still featured listening booths, providing customers the luxury of hearing songs prior to purchase. The store also featured a new snack department and an expanded gift department.
The University Co-operative Society’s charter was changed in 1967 to become a non-profit corporation and in 1977 the Co-op became a tax exempt 501(c)(3) organization.
In 1987, at a time when the business was failing and the competition was fierce, the Co-op Board hired George H. Mitchell as President. He has led the store into unprecedented growth and profit.
In 1994, the Co-op built a modern store on Dean Keeton to serve the East side of campus.
When the trade book department was losing money and had to be closed, the Co-op made sure that there was a general bookstore to serve UT. The Co-op entered into an expensive and long term lease contract and moved next door, in order to make space available for a Barnes and Noble store, which opened in 1998.
In that space, the Co-op used the large storefront to showcase the university’s academic success and its world class faculty.
In 2005, after the Barnes and Noble store closed, the Co-op moved back to its own space, just in time to celebrate the Football National Championship with fans from near and far.
Within minutes leading up to that memorable moment, the Co-op became THE gathering place for Longhorn fans to come together to celebrate, rejoice and share their extreme exhilaration and pride. They did not come merely for the merchandise, but for the tradition and symbol that the Co-op has come to represent on the forty acres and beyond.
Since then the Co-op has expanded into all major cities in Texas - the first store outside of Austin was the University Co-op in Houston, which opened its doors to a welcoming crowd of fans and alumni in August 2007, followed by San Antonio Co-op in 2008, Dallas Co-op in 2009 and Fort Worth Co-op in 2010.
In the last 10-15 years, the Co-op giving has reached new heights. Please click here to see some of the major gifts from this period.