Smith, Cyrus “C.R.”
EntrepreneurEnshrined 1974 1899-1990
In the 1930s, America was on the verge of transcontinental air passenger service, but many people still considered air travel dangerous. A study was conducted to examine the psychology of passenger motivation and sales resistance in 1934. C.R. Smith capitalized on this study and released an “Afraid to Fly” full page advertisement in major publications comparing the risk of flying to other forms of transportation. “Many people lived and died who never rode on a train because they were afraid. Today we smile at those old-fashioned fears. And today, to the more than million airline passengers of last year, the fear of air travel is just as old-fashioned.”
- Took charge of the southern division of American Airways in 1930 and became vice president for operations of the entire airline in 1933.
- In 1934, Smith became president of the renamed American Airlines and under his leadership, brought in the highly profitable DC-3. By 1941 it had become the leading domestic carrier. He was company president for 34 years.
- In April 1942, he joined the U.S. Army Air Force, helping to organize the Air Transport Command, and later serving as Air Transport Command Deputy Commander supervising the wartime development of a worldwide air transportation system.
- After the war, Smith returned to American Airlines as Chairman of the Board and CEO, leading the company as it introduced the world’s first transcontinental jet service in 1959.
In the year 1934, while the nation struggled through the Great Depression, Cyrus Rowlett Smith, best known as C.R., was elected president and Chief Executive Officer of American Airlines. This obscure company was struggling to survive with a fleet of obsolete airliners, while facing strong competition. Under Smith’s visionary leadership, American Airlines introduced the first aerial sleeper service and established transcontinental service along its southern route. Depsite these innovations, C.R. realized that his company needed a better airliner if American were to become a financially successful airline.
One of the great moments in commercial aviation occurred when C.R. Smith ordered specifications prepared for a profitable airliner and gave these to pioneer aircraft builder Donald Wills Douglas in 1935. The result became the revolutionary new Douglas DC-3. “C.R.” quickly staked all the resources American possessed to purchase twenty of them, at a monumental (for the day) price tag of $110,000 each.
In June 1936, C. R. Smith was on hand when American Airline’s first 21-passenger DC-3, the Flagship Illinois, was christened and entered service on the prestigious New York to Chicago route. Smith’s bold move soon payed off as the DC-3 broke the “profit barrier” and won wide acceptance for its speed and comfort. Equally important, Smith’s astute public relations efforts lifted American Airlines to industry leadership in less than three years. In recognition of his outstanding leadership in air transportation, Kappa Sigma Fraternity elected C.R. to be its “Man of the Year” in 1937. By 1941 he converted all of American’s fleet of airliners to DC-3’s and expanded its service internationally.
At the request of General Henry “Hap” Arnold, Smith resigned from American Airlines to join the Army Air Forces as Chief of Staff of the newly established Air Transport Command and helped build it into a global air transportation system, ferrying most of the nation’s war-planes to overseas destinations and carrying vitally needed men and materiel to every theater of operation in 1942. As Deputy Commander of the Air Transport Command and a Major General, C.R. traveled to the China-Burma-India Theater to help direct the Hump Operation that transported supplies over the Himalayas to the Chinese armed military.
After the war, Smith returned as president of American Airlines in 1945, and, to meet postwar demands for service, acquired reliable DC-4s for long flights and high performance Convair 240s for shorter flights. By 1948, American had more passenger seats than any other domestic airline.
In 1953 C.R. launched American on the first nonstop transcontinental flight service linking New York with Los Angeles. Two years later he acquired Lockheed Electras powered by Allison Turboprop engines. In 1957, he introduced the first of American’s fleet of DC-7s and ordered 25 Convair 990 jetliners developed especially to American’s specifications.
C.R. was elected American’s chairman of the board and chief executive officer in 1964, and by 1967 built its fleet to 200 jetliners. By the beginning of the 1970s, they would serve on American flights reaching to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, as well as to Hawaii and the South Pacific. To maintain American’s leadership in the air, Smith ordered 25 new Douglas DC-10s created to American Airlines specifications. And although the $375 million investment was greater than American’s net worth, it was the kind of challenge “C.R.” Smith knew how to meet. Throughout his career of leading American Airlines to a place among the world’s greatest air transportation companies, he earned lasting recognition as one of aviation’s truly outstanding and creative air transportation pioneers.
C.R. Smith died on April 4th, 1990.