Skip to NavSkip to Content

 
The University of Texas at Austin

Collections

News Media History - Walter Cronkite

The Walter Cronkite Papers

The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin is home to the personal papers of Walter Cronkite, one of the twentieth century's most eminent pioneers and leaders in television broadcast news. The Walter Cronkite Papers, consisting of 293 linear feet, cover the noted CBS newsman's more than five-decades-long career as one of the nation's most respected journalists. Materials begin with Cronkite's early life in Houston and his student days at The University of Texas at Austin and include his work as a correspondent for the United Press International covering World War II and the Nuremberg war crimes trial. The majority of the papers, however, deal with his career with CBS News from 1950 through his retirement in 1981 as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

The Cronkite Papers include research files, audio and video recordings and clippings on news events of the 1960s and 1970s, with a special emphasis on space exploration and politics; presidential nominating conventions; mail from viewers, representing opinions about current events from the 1950s to 1980s; personal correspondence with well-known figures, many in the news business; television and radio production materials from CBS news series Cronkite reported such as You are There, Twentieth Century, Eyewitness to History, and CBS Reports; and Cronkite’s appearances, narrations, and speeches, business interests, awards, and personal life, especially his boats, travel, and organizations with which Cronkite was associated. Other materials include scripts and outlines, memos, and source materials for documentary productions by the Cronkite Ward Company and Cronkite Productions, Inc. The Cronkite Papers also include a number of photographs that document Cronkite's early life and his reportage from World War II and Vietnam, as well as his interviews with U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan.

Katherine Stolp of KEYE news interviews Don Carleton about Walter Cronkite, 6-19-2009. Video courtesy of KEYETV.com.

Katherine Stolp of KEYE news interviews Don Carleton about Walter Cronkite, June 19, 2009. Video courtesy of KEYETV.com.

View video

The relationship between Walter Cronkite and the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History began in 1988 when Dr. Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, decided to establish a news media history archive. Carleton knew that Walter Cronkite’s papers could serve as the strong foundation for such a collection. Cronkite enthusiastically accepted the invitation to place his papers at the Briscoe Center. He was strongly attracted to the idea of an archive that would document the reporting and editorial processes that eventually result in the "news." The Walter Cronkite Papers, measuring nearly three hundred linear feet in size, have become the bedrock collection of the Briscoe Center’s News Media History Archive. Thanks not only to Cronkite’s generous gift of his papers, but also to his active involvement and support, the Center’s News Media History Archive is considered one of the most important archives on the history of television and newspaper journalism.

In 1989, Walter asked Carleton to assist in the research and preparation for his autobiography. For a period stretching over four years, the two met for two or three days, sometimes longer, for Carleton to interview him and to record the recollections of his extraordinary life and career, resulting in more than sixty hours of recordings and hundreds of pages of transcript, which Cronkite used to write A Reporter's Life. Published by Alfred Knopf in 1996, A Reporter's Life shot immediately to the top of The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list. It remains in print thirteen years later. The interviews were equally important in support of the eight-part television series Cronkite Remembers, which was broadcast on The Discovery Channel in 1996 and for which Carleton served as a historical advisor.

Walter Cronkite reporting on NASA event. Walter Cronkite Papers, DBCAH; di_02343.
Walter Cronkite reporting on NASA event. Walter Cronkite Papers, DBCAH; di_02343.

As a newsman, one of Cronkite's proudest achievements was that of anchoring CBS news coverage of the space program, from the early days of the Mercury program and continuing through the Gemini and the Apollo eras. Indeed, he reported on every major event in the "space race" between the United States and the Soviet Union. Cronkite's reporting on space exploration brought him and the Center together again on February 28, 2006, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recognized Cronkite's singular journalistic achievements in this arena. Michael Coats, director of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, presented Cronkite with the Ambassador of Exploration Award, making him the first non-astronaut ever so honored.

The moon rock NASA gave to Cronkite was taken from the 842 pounds of lunar samples brought back to Earth during six Apollo expeditions to the moon between 1969 and 1972. Cronkite in turn presented the moon rock to University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, who accepted it on behalf of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Speaking at the event, Dr. Carleton said, "We are deeply honored by Walter Cronkite’s decision to entrust this prestigious award to the Center for American History." He added, "The Center already serves as the proud steward of his professional and personal papers, which include his coverage of the space program for CBS News. It is especially fitting that the archive documenting Walter's distinguished career should also include one of the Moon rocks that the heroic astronauts of the Apollo program brought to Earth."