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Icons of Progress


The First Online Reservation System

No product, idea, or achievement is possible without our most critical asset—the collective thought capital of hundreds of thousands of IBMers. The expertise, technical skill, willingness to take risk and overall dedication of IBM employees have led to countless transformative innovations through the years. Meet team members who contributed to this Icon of Progress.

  • R. Blair Smith 

    Blair Smith
    “The men and women in both American Airlines and IBM who did that terrific amount of work literally went from can’t to can.”

    Born in Meridian, Mississippi, R. Blair Smith was a resourceful man. When work was scarce during the Great Depression, Smith wrote his local senator and landed a three-month appointment to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration in Washington, D.C. When his father passed away, Smith passed up college to provide for his family. In 1942, Smith moved to Southern California to work for the California Shipbuilding Corporation, and later entered the air freight industry. He spent more than a decade on the client side of IBM’s business, using IBM machines and technologies, before officially joining IBM in 1950. His deep understanding of IBM products and client concerns, as well as his background in air shipping, served him well on one day in 1953, when he happened to sit next to American Airlines president, C. R. Smith, on a flight from L.A. to New York. The conversation the two men had on that day would eventually result in Sabre.

  • C. R. Smith 

    Cyrus Rowlett Smith
    “Sabre will permit both mass travel and personalized reservations service.”

    The eldest of seven children, Cyrus Rowlett Smith, “C. R.,” became the president of American Airlines in 1934 at the age of 35. Smith quickly consolidated American’s convoluted air routes into an efficient network, and standardized the company’s airplanes with a fleet of new DC-3 aircraft. During WWII, he joined the US Army Air Forces as a colonel and helped organize the Air Transport Command. He eventually became a major general before returning to American Airlines in 1945. After meeting Blair Smith and speaking with his long-time friend Thomas J. Watson Jr., C. R. Smith put his weight behind Sabre, committing roughly US$40 million to a joint research and development effort with IBM. In 1968, Smith retired as chief executive of American Airlines and was appointed Secretary of Commerce by US President Lyndon B. Johnson.