Utah Hackerspace History
Date Published: 2023-10-03
People are often asking me what I remember from the early days of the local Utah hackerspace scene, so I have decided to put together a blog post that covers the history of the hackerspaces I was involved with since 2009. This is just an overview of the spaces my friends and I founded, and a rough timeline based on my memory, and some quick double-checking of emails to confirm dates were approximately accurate.
Circa summer of 2009, d3c4f started a meetup group for a MakeSLC group, based on the then-popular Make Magazine naming convention. Several people showed up, and we met at a warehouse he was renting with Ben (p0wd3r) for the Protocol 42 LAN Gaming group. Eventually we decided to make a hackerspace called HackSLC, which took over a corner of the bigger P42 Space as a fledgling hackerspace.
The rent on the building was too high, and the P42 folks and HackSLC members weren't making enough to pay rent for the giant warehouse come that winter, so after a few failed attempts at making more money (like welding a billboard to the side of the warehouse in the middle of the night and trying to rent it out), we decided we would need to move to somewhere cheaper.
At the time, over half our members were in Utah County, so the hunt for a cheaper hackerspace led us to the Startup Candy Building in Provo, UT. I believe the original founding members at the time were d3c4f, Wharff, Dave Armstrong, Gordo, Eric Lowry, and I. We all agreed to split the rent, and planned to set up shop making ourselves a shared workspace for all our projects. Early in 2010 we moved down to Provo, and rebranded as the Transistor, since we were no longer in SLC and the HackSLC Name didn't make sense.
We stayed in Provo for just under two years, picking up a lot of new members along the way, as we hosted regular public meetings and classes on electronics. While we were in provo, in mid 2011, a few people we left behind in SLC who wanted to participate but hated going to Provo started an offshoot branch location of the Transistor. This was in the back of p0wd3r's business, Bastion. They called it 'The Darlington Branch' as a pun on the Transistor name.
Also near late 2011-early 2012, the DC801 folks reached out to tT about starting a hackerspace of their own downtown, and they got the space near Trader Joe's. When they began, everyone was all under the Transistor umbrella, and the collective membership fees went to pay rent at all three locations.
While all this was happening, simultaneously in SLC, a different group of people that didn't want to travel to Provo but still wanted a local makerspace (with slight overlap, myself included) was meeting in a warehouse owned by Pete Ashdown (from Xmission) to keep a MakeSLC group going. The warehouse was mostly full of vintage arcade games, and had a computer recycling company in one corner, and we met in the back near where Richard Thomson kept his vintage computer museum.
The MakeSLC folks continued meeting in Pete's warehouse until Richard rented another space off of state street and ~650 S. The sign for MakeSLC is still up there if you're driving by (last checked in 2023). MakeSLC kept having regular meetings there and growing until around 2013 or so, when they moved to another location off main street in South Salt Lake near SLCC. They stayed there for another year or so, and then moved to their current location out west of the gateway. Sometime around late 2013 I stopped going to MakeSLC meetings, so I lost track of current events in that group around that time.
Rewinding back to late 2011, the Transistor had around 25 members and was getting too big to stay in the attic in Provo, so we moved on to a much larger warehouse in Orem. We did our best to fill and inhabit that warehouse, but we didn't pick up as many new members as we thought we would, so we were barely paying the rent, and the heating bills in the winter were very high, and there wasn't any cooling in the summer, so people weren't as likely to be there all the time like they were in Provo.
Eventually in January of 2014, d3c4f, who was subsidizing the continued existence of the space to make up shortfalls in membership funding, decided to shut down tT Orem. The plan was to tentatively find an office space and relocate to there, however that plan never went anywhere.
The Darlington Branch in Midvale stopped calling itself the Transistor when we shut down Orem, and just turned into Isaac renting space from Bastion for his massive CNC table. At that point there were very few members that used the space, so it wasn't much of a transition.
When tT Orem closed, that's when the original board for the 801 Labs organization came into being (though it would be something like 5-6 more years before they officially got their 501(c)(3) status), and they took over running the hackerspace downtown near Trader Joe's, once again dropping the Transistor name and association. Around the end of the year in 2014 they moved to the current location by the Crown Burger, and they have remained there since then.
The tT members from Provo/Orem that are still around will still occasionally meet up at the UVU Business Resource Center for occasional project nights or LAN parties, but they haven't started a hackerspace since the Orem tT location closed in 2014.