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Fifty years ago, James Whittaker stood out from—above, actually—every other American in the world. And on a much smaller mound, an Astros pitcher made a bit of history.
James Whittaker, an ambitious co-op employee at Recreational Equipment Inc., made history 50 years ago when he became the first American to climb to the top of Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world at 29,035 feet, on May 1, 1963.
His accomplishment also took his company to great heights. It’s now the nation’s largest consumer cooperative.
Whittaker was the store manager for Recreational Equipment in Seattle when he was invited to join an expedition to climb the mountain on the border of Nepal and Tibet. The store started as a co-op in 1938 as a way for Pacific Northwest climbers, led by Lloyd Anderson, to buy hard-to-find European mountaineering equipment.
Whittaker’s historic climb was a boon for the store’s business. When Anderson retired in 1971, Whittaker took over as president and CEO. By the time he left eight years later, REI was a $46 million business with more than 700 employees, branches nationwide—including eight in Texas—and hundreds of thousands of members.
On May 17, 1963, Don Nottebart of the Houston Colt .45s threw the first no-hitter in franchise history, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 at Colt Stadium in Houston. No team has more than the Astros’ 10 no-hitters in the past 50 years. (Nottebart also gave up Willie Mays’ 500th career home run, on September 13, 1965.)
Of the 251 objects and sites on the list of Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmarks compiled by ASME (founded as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers), 18 are in Texas.
They include historic relics such as the Victoria Dutch Windmill—located in Victoria, the headquarters town of Victoria Electric Cooperative—and modern marvels like the Digital Micromirror Device—instrumental in digital film projectors—first developed in 1987 at Texas Instruments in Plano. Innovative technologies on the list compiled by ASME also include those from the state’s oilfield and space industries.