Y History & Facts

Y History & Facts

Founding History

The YMCA organization was founded in 1844 by George Williams.

In 1844, industrialized London was a place of great turmoil and despair. For the young men who migrated to the city from rural areas to find jobs, London offered a bleak landscape of tenement housing and dangerous influences.

Twenty-two-year-old George Williams, a farmer-turned-department store worker, was troubled by what he saw. He joined 11 friends to organize the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets.

Although an association of young men meeting around a common purpose was nothing new, the Y offered something unique for its time. The organization’s drive to meet social need in the community was compelling, and its openness to members crossed the rigid lines separating English social classes.

Years later, retired Boston sea captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan, working as a marine missionary, noticed a similar need to create a safe “home away from home” for sailors and merchants. Inspired by the stories of the Y in England, he led the formation of the first U.S. YMCA at the Old South Church in Boston on December 29, 1851.


The YMCA of Austin was founded in 1952 and originally operated out of the Shaw Gym and later moved above the Goodwill Store in downtown Austin. In 1963, $723,000 was raised to construct the first phase of a full facility YMCA. The 34,000 square foot facility included a six lane pool, a gym, two shower-locker rooms, a fitness center, multi-purpose room and office and administration area. Further expansions were built in 1973, 1976, 1978 and 1999.  This facility was 60,000 square feet and served over 7,000 people each year. In February 2020, a new 105,000 square foot facility was opened with the help of the Hormel Foundation, Hormel Foods and the generous support of the Community of Austin. Membership in this new facility has doubled even in the wake of having to close it’s doors in Feb 2020 due to Covid. Reopening to full capacity January 2021, the YMCA at ACRC is continuing to thrive serving members of the Austin Community.

Famous People with ties to the YMCA

-Aaron Spelling (Director/TV Producer)
-Anthony Hopkins (Actor)
-Bart Connor (Olympic Gymnast)
-Bill Clinton (Past President)
-Bob Newhart (TV Star)
-Christian Laettner (Professional Basketball Player)
-Clay Aiken (American Idol Finalist)
-Cliff Robinson (Professional Basketball Player)
-Dave Thomas (Found of Wendy’s)
-Frank Robinson (Professional Baseball Player)
-Garrison Keilor (Author)
-George Bush (Past President and one of the founding members of the Y in Midland, Texas)
-Greg Louganis (Olympic Swimmer)
-Harry Connick Junior (Singer)
-Jackie Robinson (Professional Baseball Player)
-Janet Evans (Olympic Swimmer)
-Malcolm X (Product & Director)
-Mark Spitz (Olympic Swimmer)
-Reggie Williams (Professional Football Player)
-Rev. Marthin Luther King Jr (Civil Rights Activist)
-Rocky Marcian0 (Heavyweight Boxer)
-Ronald Reagan (Past President)
-Stephen Breyer (Supreme Court Justice)
-Tim Allen (Actor & Comedian)
-Tony Hawk (Professional Skate Boarder)
-Wilt Chamberlain (Professional Basketball Player)

Did you know?

-Two major sports, basketball and volleyball, were born at the YMCA.
-A YMCA instructor created the first group swimming lesson.
-The YMCA was the first to establish certification programs for lifesaving, swimming and aquatic instruction.
-The YMCA also pioneered and greatly expanded summer camping, night school, vocational counseling, adult education, college student services, and junior college.
-YMCA World Service workers were forerunners of Peace Corps volunteers.
-The YMCA assisted in the formation of other major voluntary groups such as Boy Scouts, Camp Fire, and the USO.
-Many Common Sports Started at the YMCA including basketball, volleyball, softball, racquetball,


It was at the International YMCA Training School in December 1891 that James Naismith invented the game of basketball, at the request of Luther Gulick, the director of the school. Gulick needed a game to occupy a “class of incorrigibles” – 18 future YMCA directors who, more interested in rugby and football, didn’t care for leapfrog, tumbling and other activities they were forced to do during the winter. Gulick gave Naismith two weeks to come up with a game to occupy them. Naismith decided that the new game had to be physically active and simple to understand. It could not be rough, so no contact could be allowed. The ball could be passed but not carried. Goals at each end of the court would lend a degree of difficulty and give skill and science a role. Elevating the goal would eliminate rushes that could injure players, a problem in football and rugby. The first goals were actually peach baskets!


Volleyball was invented at the Holyoke YMCA ( Mass.) in 1895 by William Morgan, a Y instructor who felt that basketball was too strenuous for businessmen. Morgan blended elements of basketball, tennis and handball into the game and called it
“mintonette.” The name “volleyball” was first used in 1896 during an exhibition at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass., to better describe how the ball went back and forth over the net. In 1922, YMCAs held their first national championship in the game. This became the U.S. Open in 1924, when non-YMCA teams were permitted to compete.


Softball was given its name by motion of Walter Hakanson of the Denver YMCA in 1926 at a meeting of the Colorado Amateur Softball Association (CASA), itself a result of YMCA staff efforts. Softball had been played for many years prior to 1926, under such names as kittenball, softball and even sissyball. In 1926, however, the YMCA state secretary, Homer Hoisington, noticed both the sport’s popularity and its need for standardized rules. After a gathering of interested parties, the CASA was formed and Hakanson moved to settle on the name softball for the game. The motion carried, and the name softball became accepted nationwide.


Racquetball was invented in 1950 at the Greenwich YMCA ( Conn.) by Joe Sobeck, a member who couldn’t find other squash players of his caliber and who did not care for handball. He tried paddleball and platform tennis and came up with the idea of using a strung racquet similar to a platform tennis paddle (not a sawed-off tennis racquet, as some say) to allow a greater variety of shots. After drawing up rules for the game, Sobeck went to nearby Ys for approval from other players and, at the same time, formed them into the Paddle Rackets Association to promote the sport. The original balls Sobeck used were half blue and half red. When he needed replacements, Sobeck asked Spalding, the original manufacturer, to make the balls all blue so they wouldn’t mark the Y’s courts.

Aquatics, Weight Lifting & Fitness Classes All Have Roots in the YMCA

Swimming and aquatics have long been associated with the YMCA, and tens of millions of people across the country learned how to swim at the YMCA. It was not always this way, however, and for many years swimming was seen as a distraction from legitimate physical development.

It is hard to overestimate the effect the YMCA movement has had on swimming and aquatics in general. A Springfield College student, George Goss, wrote the first American book on lifesaving in 1913 as a thesis. It was a YMCA national board member (then the YMCA International Committee), William Ball, who in the early 1900s encouraged the Red Cross to include lifesaving instruction in its disaster and wartime services programs. The first mobile swimming pool was invented at the Eastern Union YMCA (N.J.) in 1961, enabling the Y to take instruction and swimming programs to people who could not go to the Y.

The term “bodybuilding” was first used in 1881 by Robert Roberts, a member of the staff at the Boston YMCA. He also developed the exercise classes that led to today’s fitness workouts.

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