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Texas Ingenuity Is as Big as the State

Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez with the first frozen margarita machine, now in the Smithsonian Institution. Inspired by the Slurpee machines of 7-11 stores, it was a way to serve more drinks more quickly.
Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez with the first frozen margarita machine, now in the Smithsonian Institution. Inspired by the Slurpee machines of 7-11 stores, it was a way to serve more drinks more quickly.
Courtesy of Mariano Martinez/The History Press
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Texas Ingenuity: Lone Star Inventions, Inventors, and Innovators
By Alan C. Elliott
240 pp, $21.99
The History Press

If the state of Texas could talk, one of the things it might say is “You’re welcome, world.” After all, think of all the things enjoyed and used every day that got their starts right here in the Lone Star State: Dr Pepper and Liquid Paper and Astroturf. Chicken-fried steak, corn dogs, nachos, fajitas, onion rings and (possibly) the hamburger. Frozen margaritas!

Oh, and a little metal thing known as an “integrated circuit.” You might better know it as the computer microchip, which pretty much runs things around the world today. And that’s thanks to Texas Instruments employee Jack Kilby, who put the first one together in the lab while most of his co-workers were on vacation. He was too new at the company to have accumulated any time off himself.

Bob Wills is Still the King: One of the Lone Star State's most innovative and influential music makers is the man who helped popularize Western Swing.
Bob Wills is Still the King: One of the Lone Star State's most innovative and influential music makers is the man who helped popularize Western Swing.
Courtesy of Charles R. Townsend, from the book "San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills" (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976).

In this book, Elliott presents short profiles of the people and things from Texas that have had worldwide impact, and busts some long-held suppositions along the way.

Like how the hotheaded and eccentric Sam Houston first sent Jim Bowie to blow up the Alamo to keep it from falling into Mexican hands (entranced, Bowie chose to defend the doomed mission instead).

How Gail Borden, whose way of condensing milk to keep it drinkable longer, had a string of business failures preceding him (his tombstone reads “I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded”). How political and social powerhouse Oveta Culp Hobby integrated (somewhat) the U.S. Army with the female workforce in the creation of the WAACS. And how eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes could spearhead the development of the geosynchronous communications satellite and the push-up bra.

Elliott profiles the work of people like these, along with Conrad Hilton, Barbara Jordan and Bette (mother of Monkee Mike) Nesmith; institutions like Southwest Airlines and Neiman Marcus; and general topics like football and oil gushers. And he shows how Texas moxie has a wide-ranging influence, with chapters on some of the aforementioned food and drink items standing out.

Unfortunately, of much less impact is when the book moves to Texas “innovators” in literature (O. Henry), animation (Tex Avery), sports (Jack Johnson, Babe Zaharias) and a string of familiar Texan music makers (Buddy Holly, Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, Scott Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughan). These chapters read like extended Wikipedia entries, with little new info or depth of discussion that readers can’t find in about a million other places.

Still, Elliott has done a solid job in bringing so many disparate Texas-bred things into one place in an easy-to-digest format. And – speaking on behalf of Texas – you are welcome, world! Time for some hot nachos and a cold margarita. With salt.

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