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The tower was lit for the first time after a victory on November 6, 1937 after Texas beat Baylor 9-7.

Know Your UT Tower From the UT History Central by Jim Nicar
Commanding the highest point on the Forty Acres, the University of Texas Tower dominates the campus landscape. Opened in 1937, the Tower has become an icon, bathed in orange lights to celebrate academic honors or athletic victories, or framed by fireworks at the climax of spring commencement ceremonies. To alumni, the Tower is also a tether to the University's past. Through the decades, it has been a backdrop for freshman convocations, football rallies, concerts, and demonstrations. To all, the 307-foot Tower is the definitive landmark of the University.

Designed by Paul Cret, a French-born architect then living in Philadelphia, the Main Building was created to house the University's central library. Along the east and west sides of the building, a pair of spacious reading rooms, labeled the "Hall of Texas" and the "Hall of Noble Words", connected to a great central reference room. Made with liberal use of oak and marble, the room was decorated with the six seals of Texas.
Rising twenty-seven floors above the reading rooms, the Tower contained the library's book stacks. Made of Indiana limestone, it was financed through a grant from the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal program created during the Great Depression. As a closed-stack library, its patrons searched an immense card catalog to identify their selections, and then requested books at the front desk.

Orders were forwarded upstairs to a Tower librarian, who often wore roller skates to navigate the rows of bookshelves. Once found, books were sent downstairs in a "dumb waiter" elevator to be checked out.
As both enrollment and the library's holdings grew, the waiting time for a book extended to more than half an hour. The need for an open-stack library led to the construction of the Undergraduate Library and Academic Center in 1963, and the Perry-Castaneda Library in 1977. Today, while much of the Main Building is used for administrative offices, students can still study in the grand reading rooms, which now contain the Life Sciences Library.