Weekend reading: The early days of American Airlines SABRE Computer Reservation System

Vintage Computers

Just a quick post to point you to a Wired article about the origin of the airline computer reservation system. From “Forget the Booze. The Mad Men’s Best Friend Was SABRE” by Robert McMillian:

In the summer of 1953, an eager IBM salesman named Blair Smith boarded an American Airlines flight in Los Angeles bound for New York. He sat at the back of the plane, next to an unshaven man in rumpled clothes — also named Smith — and they got to talking.

The unshaven man turned out to be a “master conversationalist,” Blair Smith remembered years later. “Within thirty minutes he knew my life story, and I only knew his name was Smith and his shirt was dirty and he needed a shave.”

He also turned out to be the president of American Airlines, C.R. Smith, who was in the habit of flying from coast to coast without a shaving kit or a change of clothes. And by the time the 10-hour flight to New York was over, Blair Smith and C.R. Smith had started the ball rolling on what became a six-year research and development project codenamed the Semi-Automatic Business Environment Research, or SABER.

It’s short piece and includes some interesting photos. Definitely worth reading.

Hope you’re having a good weekend!

Photo: Vintage Computers
Credit: Marie Mosley on Flickr


  1. I worked at American Airlines for a while…. I thought SABRE stood for “Semi Automatic Business Related Environment”

    • @ Arnold – I took a look the history page on the Sabre Holdings website hoping for something definitive. They mention that the project started out with the name Semi-Automated Business Research Environment, but that was almost five before SABRE deployed commercially. After the research and testing phase, the name could have very well have changed in meaning.

      Thanks for sharing your recollection!

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