Commerce Cabinet Crisis XVIII

A blog about business and economics.
June 21 2012 2:25 PM

Commerce Cabinet Crisis XVIII

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Continuing my tradition of filling the void between commerce secretaries with biographies, following the resignation of Alexander Trowbridge, Lyndon Johnson tapped longtime friend and political supporter C.R. Smith, CEO of American Airlines.

By 1968 Smith was a real fixture in the Texas corporate pantheon, having served as CEO at American since 1934. Before that he'd been a VP at Southern Air Transport which merged into American later. In keeping with the honorable ethic of his generation of public spirited elites, during World War II Smith took time off from his life as a corporate titan to serve in the fledging Air Transport Command of the U.S. Army Air Force, rising to the rank of Major General. As an airline executive he favored collaboration with Douglas and pioneered the deployment of the DC-3 and DC-6. Perhaps his greatest legacy is his creation of the Admirals' Club, the first-ever elite airline lounge.

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Like many Commerce Secretaries before him, Smith's distinguished pre-cabinet career did not lead him to do anything noteworthy while in office. The signature Smith anecdote is that he was outraged by the inefficiency of government bureaucracy and fired three out of the four secretaries who'd been assigned to him. After leaving office he went back to running American.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.