Aviation giant began life in tiny Minerva
One of seven children of Roy and Marion Smith, C. R. began work at age nine in the cotton fields of Milam County then left home to work as a clerk, office and delivery boy, cattleman, bookkeeper and bank teller.
He did not graduate high school but in 1921 entered the University of Texas in Austin, under its open enrollment policy, and graduated in 1925.
He went to work for the Texas Louisiana Power Company where the owner of Fort Worth-based Texas Air Transport, A. P Barrett, spotted him and offered him a job with his company.
Barrett’s company merged with another airline in 1934 to become American Airlines at which time C. R. was elected president.
He married Elizabeth Magnet of Dallas in 1934, but their marriage ended in divorce after the birth of their son.
In 1935, Smith moved American to Chicago where it became a national carrier.
One of the first changes he made was going back to “systems operation and control” and with his management philosophy resulted in the leading domestic airline in the country. In 1940, Smith served as advisor to Ralph Budd, the president of Burlington Railroad who was in charge of all forms of transportation for the national defense.
In 1942, Smith resigned from American and entered the Army.
During World War II he received the Distinguished Unit Citation, Air Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, and the Legion of Merit and was promoted to brigadier general.
In 1968, Smith left American to join President Lyndon Johnson’s Cabinet.
American Airlines called him back in 1973-74 as interim chair and chief executive officer.
Mr. “C. R.” was a giant in the era of pioneers in aviation.
Robert Crandall, American Airlines chair and president said:
“He was a man who touched the lives and hearts of thousands of men and women as he built American to one of the largest and most widely respected airlines in the world.”
“Mr. C. R.” died at age 90 and was eulogized:
The nation lost a great businessman, the industry has lost a great pioneer and American Airlines has lost a part of its history.”
• American Air Lines (Something Special In the Air.”
• Dallas Morning News: “Airline pioneer C. R. Smith Dies at 90.”
Milam County TXGenWeb page (created on Sept. 28, 2004).