University Archives and Special Collections

at The University of Texas at Tyler

History of the University of Texas at Tyler

Posted by BrandyWinn on June 3, 2011

About two years ago, Bobbye Rucker with the Alumni Association asked us to research and create a panel exhibit.  This is the result, which is still displayed downstairs in the library.


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Judge William Steger and Spitfires

Posted by BrandyWinn on July 13, 2010

One of the more interesting aspects of my job is learning about the lives of the people who lived in Tyler and Smith County.  The University Archives and Special Collections Department has documents donated by people whose life experiences run the gamut of political life, from national to local politics.  One of these people was a federal judge in Tyler, Judge William Merritt Steger.  Judge Steger proved to be a fascinating person he was a United States District Attorney, ran for governor of Texas and United States Congress, and was appointed to the federal judgeship after a successful year as Texas State Republican Party Chairman.

Judge Steger died in 2006, and in his honor the federal courthouse was renamed for him.  When I came to work in the archives in December of 2007, one of my first duties was in assisting in the creation of a permanent exhibit for the renaming ceremony of the William M. Steger Federal Building and United States Courthouse on May 9, 2008.  We were given two attorney rooms, a long hallway outside of the first floor courtroom, and a kiosk built specifically for exhibiting ephemera he collected throughout his life in the lobby.  I worked mostly within the two attorney rooms, creating information panels on his personal life for one and his political life for the other.  Each panel depicted a separate time period or important aspect of his life.  What I found to be the most interesting was his service in the United States Army Air Forces in World War II.  He flew 36 missions in Italy during the war and believed that his airplane, the British Spitfire, was one of the best war planes that the allies had.  In his papers are letters from superior officers, newspaper clippings, photographs, other memorabilia, and pilot’s logs that have an accounting of fellow pilots who were lost in battle.  Below is a copy of the panel on display at the Federal Building and a photograph of one of the British Spitfire models Steger collected:

From the William Merritt Steger Papers at The University of Texas at Tyler University Archives and Special Collections, Box 19

On July 12, the National World War II Museum posted this article on its social networking page:

I’m posting these links in honor of Judge Steger, even though he was not in the Battle of Britain, which the subject of these articles commemorates.  It is a reminder that exceptional people live in the places which we think of as plain and ordinary.  Let us never forget the people in our community who do extraordinary things.

Further information:

The inventory for the William Merritt Steger Papers at The University of Texas at Tyler can be found here:

. . . or just click on the photo of the Spitfire above.

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Of Spies and Communists and Little Black Boxes

Posted by BrandyWinn on July 7, 2010

Last month news agencies around the world reported the arrests of ten people accused of being Russian spies.  These reports hearken back to the old tensions between the US and Russia.  If you were born in the mid- to late-1980s into the 1990s, you probably will not remember the hostility that permeated the relations between the United States and what was previously known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).  You may have heard your parents or grandparents talk of the fear of communists wanting to take over and change their way of life, the worry about the infiltration of spies from the USSR to steal information on nuclear weaponry, and the possibility that one day, at any time, the USSR could suddenly “snap” and launch their own nuclear weapons at the United States during the “Cold War.”

So now, looking through the documents kept by Tyler journalist Sarah McClendon, I find it amusing to see some of the “important” news of the time and compare it to what is currently newsworthy information, such as the previously mentioned arrest of Russian spies.  The following is an explanation of an official presidential responsibility and an article found in Sarah McClendon’s papers demonstrating the American understanding of the issues of communist intentions in 1969:

In August 1969, President Richard Nixon met with several officials within the USSR.  Many people will remember that the President of the United States had a “little black box” that would provide him the numbers, or “key,” to allow the Department of Defense to launch nuclear weapons.  If he were to open the box and give them these numbers, they would know that he wanted them to launch missiles to pre-determined sites within the USSR and around the world.  If you were like me, I thought that when the little black box was opened, all that would be in there was a button that the President would push from anywhere in the world that would launch all the nuclear weapons we had.  I was slightly naïve.

For the July 10-12, 1969 edition of the Examiner, Sarah McClendon wrote:

“As President Richard M. Nixon goes behind the Iron Curtain next month, the little black box which contains the ‘key’ to the system for setting off a nuclear holocaust in the world must go with him.

A President of the US is never out of communication with this system.  And if he had to set it off while in Romania or any other country, he would be able to do so, regardless of where, an official source revealed.

It is not known if Romania was aware of this at the time the country jubilantly agreed to be singled out for this visit, which is a break-through in East-West relations.

The fact that this is the first time a president of the US has ever gone behind the Iron Curtain does indeed call for special considerations and special preparations, a White House aide confirmed.  It increases the need for planning and protection.

But while this trip calls for special planning, he said, all traveling by the chief executive, even in this country, is dangerous and calls for special precautions.  And he added that each country the President will visit is just as anxious as the US is to see that the President is safe at all times, because no country wants the blame for any accident or unseemly incident.

With all of this, the nation gets a little nervous.  This time as the President leaves July 22 for the 13-day visit that will take him island hopping in the Pacific, then to Asia and on Aug. 2 to Romania, the average man in the street is more apprehensive than usual.  Even business is sensitive to the strain.

This time because of the itinerary chosen, the situation with the little black box becomes more crucial that [sic] ever.

It will be carried as always by a warrant officer.  If one did not know, he might think that this was the President’s attaché bag, officials say.

The officials said Nixon will have the capability of using the black box at all times, and there is no known way by which he could be prevented from using the signals if he felt it necessary.

He will always be in telephone and radio contact with the White House and other government offices here.  This is why the communications experts who will accompany the President are a sizeable part of the crew.  There will be about 30 such technicians, working in two teams.  One finishes work at one location while the other travels to the next stop on the trip.

The black box consists of a gadget that gives coded figures that are necessary for the President to use in ordering weapons to be armed with nuclear warheads.  There may be millions of combinations of the figures, so it is not believed possible that it could be operated by an enemy agent or thief.

The President is not required to use the signal only in self defense.  He may use it when and as he deems proper.  There is nothing in the official language on presidential powers which says he must use it only as a second-strike, although the nation has told the world that our policy will be to not strike another nation first.

Section 91-B of the Atomic Energy Act says the President may direct the Atomic Energy Commission to provide the Defense Department ‘with such quantities of special nuclear material or atomic weapons for such use as he deems necessary in the interest of national defense.’  This is known as ‘control of the key.’”

Further Reading:

Anderson, Terry. The Sixties. 3rd ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.

Chafe, William Henry. The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-2006. 10th ed. New York: Wiley, 2008.

Leuchtenburg, William. In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to George Bush. 3rd ed, revised and updated. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001.

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New Storage Shelving

Posted by Deirdre Joyce on March 29, 2010

A few months ago, the Robert R. Muntz Library received L.E.R.R (Library, Equipment, Repair and Rehabilitation) funds from the U.T. System that allowed us to remodel the University Archives, located on the first floor of the library.  The original shelving (above) took up too much space and left us little room to expand our collections—or work on them.  We devoted several weeks to moving thousands of documents related to The University of Texas at Tyler, Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff, journalist Sarah McClendon, Judge William Steger, and others into various areas of the Library, causing much confusion, clutter, and a cramped working environment.  However, after extensive consultation and planning to provide new shelving and some little bumps in the road, the remodel is almost complete!  We now have new, movable shelving units that provide us more room to put all our documents, with plenty of room left over for new acquisitions.   After that, it is just a matter of putting everything in its place.

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New University Archives and Special Collections Blog

Posted by Deirdre Joyce on December 2, 2009

Welcome to the new blog for the University Archives and Department of Special Collections (UASC) at the University of Texas at Tyler.  This blog will feature

  • Announcements and news about the UASC.
  • Historical photographs and interesting documents from the UASC and other collections
  • Information about some of the materials being processed by the UASC.
  • Anything else that may strike as interesting and related to archives or the history of the University in general.

All visitors are welcome to comment and ask questions.

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