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William Robert Anderson
William Anderson.jpg
Member of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1965 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by Ross Bass
Succeeded by Robin Beard
Personal details
Born (1921-06-17)June 17, 1921
Bakerville, Tennessee
Died February 25, 2007(2007-02-25) (aged 85)
Leesburg, Virginia
Nationality United States American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Patricia Anderson
Alma mater United States Naval Academy

William Robert Anderson (June 17, 1921 – February 25, 2007) was an officer in the United States Navy, and a U.S. Representative from Tennessee from 1965 to 1973.

Early life and naval careerEdit

Anderson was born in Humphreys County, Tennessee in the rural community of Bakerville, south of Waverly. He attended primary school in Waynesboro, Tennessee where his father ran a sawmill. He graduated from the former Columbia Military Academy in Columbia, Tennessee in 1938, and from the United States Naval Academy as a member of the Class of 1943, which graduated early in 1942.

Anderson's service in World War II was distinguished. He was awarded the Bronze Star and several other combat decorations from participation in a total of eleven combat submarine patrols. He was selected by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover to be the second skipper of the first working nuclear submarine to be placed into service, the USS Nautilus, and was its commander from 1957 to 1959. Anderson and his crew received international notice when the Nautilus became the first submarine to sail successfully under the polar ice cap surrounding the North Pole.

That transit was completed under direct orders of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, under extreme secrecy, and was in direct response to the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Russians. The president felt such a display of technological and military capability would offset the advantage won by the Soviets with Sputnik. The voyage by Anderson and his crew led the way for other submarine exploration beneath the ice cap and gave a decided military advantage to the U.S. Anderson received the Legion of Merit from President Eisenhower for leading his crew and ship on this historic mission.


He wrote a 1959 book about his journey under the North Pole, Nautilus 90 North, co-written with Clay Blair Jr.[1] An updated and more complete book about the North Pole transit, The Ice Diaries,[2] with co-author Don Keith, was completed just before Anderson's death. The book features previously classified information and many details not available for the first book.

Political careerEdit

Upon retiring from the Navy, Anderson entered politics. He mounted an independent campaign for governor of Tennessee in 1962, finishing second to former Democratic governor Frank G. Clement. While the race was not particularly close, he made several important political contacts and provided Clement with his main competition outside of the Republican stronghold of East Tennessee.

In 1964 Anderson entered the Democratic primary to replace Sixth District Congressman Ross Bass, who was running for the United States Senate to finish the term of the late Estes Kefauver, and won both the nomination and the subsequent general election. (Fellow retired naval officer George W. Grider was elected to the Ninth District seat, in the Memphis area, on the same day.) Anderson was reelected three times. He received less than 70% of the vote only in 1968, when Richard Nixon won the state.

Anderson proved to be somewhat more than expected for a naval veteran representing a largely rural district in western and central Tennessee. In fact, in the Tennessee congressional delegation of that time, only Richard Fulton of the neighboring 5th District (Nashville) had a more liberal voting record. After touring South Vietnam June 1970, Anderson and fellow Democratic Representative Augustus F. Hawkins drafted a House Resolution urging Congress to “condemn the cruel and inhumane treatment” of prisoners in South Vietnam.[3] Anderson and Hawkins had visited South Vietnam with nine other congressmen, but they were the only two to visit a civilian South Vietnamese prison on Con Son Island, which they described as being akin to “tiger cages”.[4] The two Representatives also pressured President Nixon to send an independent task force to investigate the prison and “prevent further degradation and death.”[5]

Anderson was well regarded in some Democratic circles and was sometimes mentioned as potentially having a bright future, with some even suggesting him as a potential vice presidential nominee in 1972 based largely upon his military record. However, Anderson's independent gubernatorial race and his progressive tendencies had not been forgotten by many of his fellow Democrats, particularly in the $3. Tennessee was slated to lose a congressional district as a result of reapportionment following the 1970 census, and Anderson's district was considerably reconfigured prior to the 1972 elections. Anderson's district received a large area around Memphis where Republican influence was strong and growing, while simultaneously losing some solidly Democratic areas.

Observers felt that if there was a vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the Tennessee congressional delegation in 1972, it was probably Anderson. This came to pass in the gigantic Republican landslide of 1972, in which President Nixon carried 49 of 50 states and 90 of Tennessee's 95 counties, and Anderson lost to Republican state personnel commissioner Robin Beard by 12 points. Since then, the district—renumbered the Seventh District in 1983 —has become the state's most Republican region outside of East Tennessee, and Democrats made only three serious bids for the seat so far.

Anderson retired from public life. He served as an officer with the Public Office Corporation, and lived in Alexandria, Virginia. He died on February 25, 2007, after living in Leesburg, Virginia during the final years of his life. After leaving office, Anderson played a key role in automating the administrative procedures in the constituent offices of the House of Representatives. His son William was the classic "early adopter" of mini-computer technology - the DEC 1170, specifically - and the two of them helped establish a time-sharing company that offered members of Congress an opportunity to improve constituent services. The firm's offerings not only improved efficiency, but allowed members to deal efficiently with the tsunami of "interest group" postcards which were then flooding the Hill. He is survived by his wife, Patricia, and his four children, Michael, William, Jane and Thomas Anderson also known as "Mac".


  1. Published by Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 0-8306-4005-3.
  2. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, July 2008. ISBN 0-7852-2759-8.
  3. Office of the Clerk. "Augustus Freeman (Gus) Hawkins". Black Americans in Congress. United States House of Representatives. Archived from the original on 4 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-11. 
  4. Gloria Emerson, “Americans Find Brutality in South Vietnamese Jail,” 7 July 1970, New York Times: 3; George C. Wilson, “S. Viet Prison Found ‘Shocking’,” 7 July 1970, Washington Post: A1.
  5. Felix Belair, Jr., “House Panel Urges U.S. to Investigate ‘Tiger Cage’ Cells,” 14 July 1970, New York Times: 1.

External linksEdit

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Ross Bass
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
Robin Beard

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