An only child, Cronkite spent his first decade in Kansas City, Mo., then moved to Houston, where he became interested in journalism in high school after reading a story about the life of a reporter in American Boy magazine.
Returning to Kansas City in 1936, he was hired at radio station KCMO and met Mary Elizabeth "Betsy" Maxwell, who worked in advertising. Writing of their 1940 wedding nearly half a century later, he still called her "my gorgeous bride."
In 1939, he joined the United Press and found that the deadline-pressure reporting appealed to his competitive nature, and he stayed for 11 years. His affinity for fact-focused, straightforward wire service-style reporting would help define the rest of his career.
By 1942, Cronkite was a World War II correspondent in London for the news agency. His poise and professionalism caught the eye of Murrow at CBS Radio, but Cronkite preferred to remain a war correspondent, with future CBS colleague Andy Rooney, in "the Writing 69th," the group of journalists who trained to fly on missions with the Army Air Forces.
After the war, Cronkite covered the Nuremberg war-crime trials of Nazi officers and was given a plum assignment: the Moscow bureau. But he and his wife found the city dreary, and Cronkite returned to the U.S. after two years.
Back in Kansas City in 1948, he essentially cobbled together a job as Washington correspondent for a string of radio stations in the Midwest.
CBS landed Cronkite in 1950 by promising that he could cover the Korean War but first assigned him to fill in at a Washington, D.C., affiliate. He was so good at explaining the war without film, often just using chalk and a blackboard, that network executives quickly decided to keep him at home.
With the 1952 political conventions around the corner, CBS officials saw that Cronkite had two crucial abilities -- he could ad-lib and make the complex sound simple.
His first post-convention showcase was a popular news-entertainment hybrid, "You Are There," that featured reenactments of historical events. The program's closing line -- "and you were there" -- somberly intoned by Cronkite, would reverberate through popular culture. He also hosted "The 20th Century" (1957-70) and other news-based series.
In 1960, Cronkite anchored the first network broadcast of the Olympics from Squaw Valley, Calif., when CBS aired 13 hours of the Winter Games.
Cronkite was 45 in the spring of 1962 when he replaced Douglas Edwards as anchor of the "CBS Evening News."
With Cronkite's urging, the nightly broadcast expanded from 15 minutes to half an hour on Sept. 2, 1963, and featured President Kennedy in one of his last interviews.
Throughout the 1970s, CBS News was at its peak of influence and was consistently No. 1 in the ratings. With Rather sitting in the anchor seat from 1981 to 2005, the broadcast largely languished in third place. Katie Couric took over as full-time anchor in 2006.
Before signing off the evening news for the last time on March 6, 1981, Cronkite said a brief goodbye: "Old anchormen don't go away; they keep coming back for more."
That was not to be the case. CBS rarely let him back on the air but kept renewing his contract.
Some speculated that Cronkite had been forced out to make room for Rather, but Cronkite and others insisted that wasn't true.
"I just wanted to live a little, that's all," Cronkite told the Washington Post in 1986.
His last regularly scheduled assignment with CBS News was a 90-second radio segment called "Walter Cronkite's 20th Century," which ran for five years and ended in 1992.