The CR Smith Museum is named for the innovative aviation pioneer and former President of American Airlines, Cyrus Rowlett Smith (1899-1990). The museum opened on July 3, 1993, as the culmination of a two-and-a-half year fundraising and building effort led by American Airlines team members.
The signature piece of the museum was and is a retired 1940 Douglas DC-3, the aircraft that was developed based on C.R. Smith’s vision and that revolutionized commercial air travel. The “Flagship Knoxville” was purchased by The Grey Eagles, an American Airlines retired pilots group, and restored by retired and active American Airlines team members before being presented to the museum. In 1999, a custom hangar was added to the museum to house the DC-3 and protect it from the elements. The “DC-3 Hangar” was made possible by the fundraising efforts of the DC-3 Coalition, a volunteer group headed by former AA Senior Vice President of Field Sales and Services, Otto Becker. The group sold inscribed bricks that make up the floor of the “hangar” to this day.
A comprehensive redesign in 2018 allowed the museum to reopen with a new permanent exhibition that explains the inner workings of airline operations and showcases the people who run American Airlines every day.
Who was C.R. Smith?
Cyrus Rowlett Smith became president of American Airlines in 1934 at the age of 35. He led American Airlines for the next 34 years and in the process helped to shape the entire airline industry. He was truly an aviation pioneer, entering the airline business in the days of open-cockpit biplanes and later building American from a small and unprofitable carrier into the largest airline in the world.
The CR Smith Museum preserves the history of American Airlines and explains what it takes to run the airline, as told through the perspective of the team members who work there. Through its activities, the museum serves American Airlines employees and the aviation industry – past and present, and interested members of the general public. The museum is committed to education, with a focus on hands-on, interactive learning.
Meet the dedicated team behind the museum that is helping share American’s story and inspires the next generation of aviation enthusiasts.