History & Traditions

Lighting the Tower

UT Tower with lighted '1'

Carl J. Eckhardt Jr. never won a Nobel Prize for his work with light, but he started some great UT traditions. Eckhardt used light as he would use wood and metal: to celebrate the Longhorn spirit. When he implemented the orange lighting of the UT tower, he demonstrated one of the engineer's chief contributions to society--applying technology for human benefit.

With two UT engineering degrees and a faculty post, Eckhardt became head of the UT Physical Plant in 1931. That positioned him to supervise construction of the campus' new landmark-the Main Building Tower. He saw work crews hammer out the tower's position, administrators plan its use and students study its structure. Meanwhile Eckhardt devised a lighting system to take advantage of its commanding architecture to announce UT achievements. Not surprisingly, the football team gave him his lighting debut.

Eckhardt's orange lights first flooded the tower in 1937. The year the high-rise structure was completed, Eckhardt's lights signaled a 9-6 football victory that spoiled Baylor University's unbeaten season.

In 1947, Eckhardt helped create guidelines for using the orange lights. A number "1" on all sides highlighted by orange lights signals that UT won a national championship. The full tower glowing orange alone represents a UT victory over Texas A&M, commencement and other occasions UT's president deems appropriate. The tower top bathed in orange symbolizes other victories or a conference title in any intercollegiate sport.

The tower lights became the first of many UT traditions Eckhardt initiated. Before the end of his 40-year UT career, Eckhardt shaped more history and traditions of The University than most Texas football teams. He helped spearhead student construction of the Taylor T Room in 1952, erected the Santa Rita oil rig in 1958 when it was moved to campus, and designed and built maces for each college to use during commencement ceremonies.