C. R. Smith

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Cyrus Rowlett Smith)
C. R. Smith
18th United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
March 6, 1968 – January 19, 1969
PresidentLyndon Johnson
Preceded byAlexander Trowbridge
Succeeded byMaurice Stans
Personal details
Cyrus Rowlett Smith

(1899-09-09)September 9, 1899
Minerva, Texas, U.S.
DiedApril 4, 1990(1990-04-04) (aged 90)
Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseElizabeth Manget
EducationUniversity of Texas, Austin (BA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1942–1945
RankUS-O8 insignia.svg Major general
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsDistinguished Unit Citation[1]
Air Medal[1]
Distinguished Service Medal[1]
Legion of Merit[1]
Commander-Order of the British Empire[2]

Cyrus Rowlett "C.R." Smith (September 9, 1899 – April 4, 1990) was the CEO of American Airlines from 1934 to 1968 and from 1973 to 1974. He was also the wartime deputy commander of the Air Transport Command during World War II, and the United States Secretary of Commerce for a brief period under President Lyndon B. Johnson. He is regarded as one of the titans of U.S. airline history.

Early life[edit]

Smith was born on September 9, 1899, in Minerva, Texas, located in Milam County,[3] to Roy Edgerton Smith and the former Marion Burck. Smith attended the University of Texas despite never having graduated from high school.[4]

Upon his graduation, Smith worked as an accountant for the accounting firm of Peat Marwick Mitchell. Smith later ran a number of businesses, including a Western apparel store and a firm that sold state records of new mothers to manufacturers of baby supplies.[4]

Airline career[edit]

Smith's abilities were first recognized by Texas industrialist Alva Pearl Barrett, who in 1928 set up the airline Texas Air Transport (TAT), which became Southern Air Transport. Smith joined SAT as a vice president in 1929, and through a series of mergers SAT became part of American Airlines. American's owner, E. L. Cord, hired Smith to run the nationwide network based on his able management of the Southern operation. In 1934, he became president of American Airlines.[2]

In business, he was known for an informal, no-nonsense leadership style that stressed close relationships with both executives and employees. Convair president Jack Naish noted that "you can close a $100 million deal on his word alone."[5] He generally communicated through personally typed one-page memos. Smith was said to know every American employee by name until the end of his first term as CEO. He fostered a close relationship with Douglas Aircraft that led American to become a key adopter of the Douglas DC-3 and DC-6: he was also one of the early proponents of what is now LaGuardia Airport in New York City.[6]

One of Smith's most famous acts was the publication of an advertisement entitled "Why Dodge This Question: Afraid To Fly?" in 1934. Airline safety had been a taboo subject at the time, and Smith was credited with being the first airline manager to discuss it openly with the public.[6]

In 1946, Smith began to break Pan American's monopoly in international air travel through American Overseas Airlines, leading to American's expansion overseas. He also created the Admirals Club, the first member's only airline lounge system.[6] In the 1950s, he helped American become the first domestic jet carrier in the US by selecting the Boeing 707 aircraft, which came out months before its rival Douglas DC-8.

Smith was instrumental in lobbying for the FAA to implement a mandatory retirement age of 60 for commercial airline pilots in large part because he was eager to remove older, more expensive pilots from his cockpits and replace them with younger pilots with lower salaries. Smith was convinced it would be easier to train younger pilots for the new jet airliners, as there was some anecdotal evidence suggesting that older pilots on average took longer to adjust to the new jet airliners which had very different control characteristics than airliners with propellers.[7] The age 60 retirement rule was publicly justified on the grounds that pilots might experience health issues past the age of 60. This rule remained in effect from 1960 until 2007 when Congress voted to raise it to 65 on the grounds that the age 60 rule was outdated and it was now much easier to screen pilots for potential health risks.[8]

In 1953, Smith was having dinner with a CBS radio executive who complained of the lack of advertisers willing to have their commercials aired in the middle of the night, even at reduced rates. Smith struck a deal and bought the block of hours from 11:30 pm until 6:00 am exclusively for American and created the show Music 'Til Dawn.[6] It was played on nine major CBS radio stations in American's network with classical, semi-classical, and easy listening music with only subtle advertising. Music 'Til Dawn lasted for 15 years and became an award winning radio show with millions of followers.[9]

Smith left American in 1968 to become the US Secretary of Commerce. He agreed to return to American in 1973 for six months, following a period of corporate mismanagement and scandal, while the board of directors searched for a permanent replacement. After the six month period was over, Smith retired for a final time stating that he was "thinking with a DC-6 mind and this business has changed. Yet if you don't take my advice, I'll get upset."[6]

Military career[edit]

With the outbreak of World War II, Smith was one of two US airline presidents to leave their company and join the military (Bob Six of Continental Airlines was the other).[6] Smith become a colonel in the United States Army Air Forces, eventually rising to the rank of major general in the Air Transport Command. Due to his informal but results-oriented management style, Smith won high praise during the war. Referring to Smith and ATC commander General Harold George, Chief of the Air Force General Hap Arnold wrote that, "no matter what mission I gave them, I could count on its being carried out 100%".[10] After the war, Smith returned to run American Airlines.

Political career[edit]

Smith was exceptionally well-connected politically, beginning with a Fort Worth and Texas base. He was close friends with many prominent Texan politicians, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Jesse Jones and Sam Rayburn. Smith was also on very close terms with the Roosevelt family, especially Eleanor Roosevelt and her son Elliott Roosevelt.[11] Eleanor Roosevelt would habitually call on Smith for travel arrangements.[12][13] Smith introduced Elliott to his second wife, served as best man, and persuaded him to move to Fort Worth.

Smith's friendship with Lyndon Johnson was the principal reason for his accession to the Cabinet, and he became the U.S. Secretary of Commerce following the resignation of Alexander B. Trowbridge. Smith served until the age of 69, from March 6, 1968 until January 19, 1969.[14] However, he often clashed with the civil service because of his aversion to bureaucracy: on his first day, he objected to having four secretaries and asked that three of them be fired.[6] This culture shock caused him to leave his post after only serving for 11 months and enter his first retirement, before being called back to American in 1973.

Personal life[edit]

Smith married Elizabeth L. Manget, in Dallas, Texas, on December 29, 1934. Manget explained their short lived marriage with, "I loved the man, but I can't be married to an airline."[6] They had one son, Douglas Smith.[6] Smith never married again. After retiring, Smith moved from his New York City apartment to a Washington DC townhouse. At the age of 85, he moved to Annapolis, Maryland, to be closer to his son and grandkids.[6]

Smith's passion when not working was trout fishing, and was known for giving expensive fishing poles as gifts to friends and associates throughout his career.[6] When speaking of retirement to a colleague, Smith said, "If you don't fish, there's nothing else to do."[6] Smith co-owned a ranch in Ennis, Montana, where he trout fished and raised cattle.[15] Smith was a Baptist.[16]

Art collection[edit]

While living in New York City, Smith felt homesick for his native Texas and started collecting fine Western art.[17] Smith donated 100 Western art paintings to his alma mater, University of Texas, which are on display at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. This collection includes art from Henry Farny, Maynard Dixon, and others.[18] Smith donated a western oil painting The Romance Makers by Charles Russell to the University of Notre Dame and it is on display at the Snite Museum of Art.[19] A book was written about Smith's art collection and donations in 1988, titled Collecting the West: The C.R. Smith Collection of Western American Art. [20]

Smith also had a vast nautical art collection, which he donated to Admirals Clubs throughout American's route system.[6]

Death and honors[edit]

Smith died from a cardiac arrest in Annapolis, Maryland, on April 4, 1990, at the age of 90.[15] He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d "Cyrus Rowlett Smith (1899–1990)". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "Biography of C.R. Smith". C.R. Smith Museum. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  3. ^ Smyrl, Vivian Elizabeth (15 June 2010). "Minerva, TX". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Society. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  4. ^ a b Hoover, Gary (28 January 2020). "Proud Father of the Modern Airline System: CR Smith and American Airlines". Archbridge Institute. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  5. ^ Fraher, Amy L. (9 May 2014). The Next Crash. Cornell University Press. p. 72. ISBN 9780801470493. Retrieved 2 September 2021 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Serling, Robert (1985). Eagle: The Story of American Airlines. New York: St. Martins/Marek. p. 86, 103-104, 137, 144, 164, 269-270, 416-417, 419, 423. ISBN 0-312-22453-2.
  7. ^ Francis, Gavin. "Origins of the Age 60 Rule". ALPA.org. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
  8. ^ "Fair Treatment of Experienced Pilots Act (The Age 65 Law)" (PDF). FAA.gov. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
  9. ^ "Music 'Til Dawn". The Peabody Awards. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
  10. ^ Arnold, Gen. H.H. (1949). Global Mission. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 295. ISBN 1299434258.
  11. ^ "Jan.14. Thursday Night, Casablanca". Roosevelt House - Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  12. ^ "My Day November 4, 1938". GWU.edu - The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  13. ^ "My Day July 20, 1940". GWU.edu - Eleanor Roosevelt papers. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  14. ^ "Secretaries of Commerce". US Department of Commerce. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  15. ^ a b c "C.R.Smith, 90, Dies". Washington Post Obit. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  16. ^ Sobel, R. (1990). Biographical Directory of the United States Executive Branch, 1774-1989. Greenwood Press. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-313-26593-8. Retrieved 2023-01-22.
  17. ^ "C. R. Smith Collection of Western American Art". Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  18. ^ "Go West! Representations of the American Frontier". Blanton Museum of Art. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  19. ^ "American". University of Notre Dame - Snite Museum of Art. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  20. ^ Saunders, Richard H. (1988). Collecting the West: The C.R. Smith Collection of Western American Art. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292711129.
  21. ^ "Cyrus Rowlett (C. R.) Smith". arlingtoncemetary.net. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  22. ^ "Past winners (p. 186)" (PDF). HoratioAlger.Org. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  23. ^ "Enshrinee Cyrus Smith". nationalaviation.org. National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved 28 February 2023.
  24. ^ "Past Recipients". TonyJannus.com. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
  25. ^ "1992 – Maj. Gen. Cyrus Rowlett (CR) Smith". Airlift/Airtanker Association Hall of Fame. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  26. ^ "Cyrus Smith". San Diego Air and Space Museum Hall of Fame. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  27. ^ "Nominations, 1968: Hearings, Ninetieth Congress, First and Second Sessions". books.google.com. 1968. Retrieved 12 January 2021.

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by
American Airways becomes American Airlines
American Airlines CEO
Succeeded by
Preceded by American Airlines CEO
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by U.S. Secretary of Commerce
Served under: Lyndon Johnson

March 6, 1968 – January 19, 1969
Succeeded by