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Newton Wilson

Newton Wilson was a 1925 graduate of Pawnee City High School. He attended Monmouth College (which was Presbyterian at the time) and graduated in 1929. He was supported as a young student there by Dr. A.B. Anderson of Pawnee City, who supported Newt's three younger brothers (Scott, Bob, and Charles) in the same way.

In the summer of 1930 (according to the May 29, 1930, issue of the Pawnee Republican), Newton Wilson spent the summer as a driver for the Omnibus College. Starting from Winfield, Kansas, the college made two trips through the east, visiting many historical points where student received firsthand instructions in U.S. history. Newt also served as auditor for the college.

American Airlines introduced its formal training for cabin personnel 1935, and Newton Wilson was named supervisor of the company's 17 stewardesses. Wilson, who would serve in that position until he became president of Sky Chefs in 1943. quickly recognized the need for a school to improve and standardize service. Hazel Brooks, a stewardess Wilson identified as a born leader, agreed to begin teaching colleagues in her Chicago apartment...without additional pay. She briefed them on everything from delivering courteous service to the principles of flight. C.R. Smith learned about the unofficial school only when the first graduating class showed up below his second-story Midway Airport office and sang a song they had written. THat started a songwriting tradition that graduating classes follow to this day.

Over the next few years, the school moved around the country about as much as its graduates. When the company's headquarters moved from Chicago to New York, training was also moved, to a location in Flushing. After the war, it relocated to Tulsa, where the seven-story Bradford Hotel was purchased and remodeled as a dormitory and training center for stewardesses and female passenger and cargo agents. Later, the women's training moved down the road to Ardmore, a former Army bomber base, where pilots, dispatchers, agents, and mechanics were already receiving instruction.

Newt Wilson spoke later of his pride in the early training program, which helped to instill an attitude focused on quality customer service. It also laid the foundation for all of America's other employee training programs and set the standard for the industry because so may of Wilson's trainees went on to establish similar programs at other airlines.

Reorganized as American Airlines, the company continued to direct all its energies in the 1930s toward air transport. The creation of Sky Chefs early in the 1940s was less a departure from that focus than an imaginative way to achieve it. At the time, AA's meal services was at the mercy of numerous catering firms, dishing up food of inconsistent quality. Newt Wilson, who was manager of passenger service and stewardesses, told C.R. Smith that food and beverage service was a weak link in the airline's overall quality. wilson, whose background included six years of cooking school, proposed setting up kitchens from Baltimore in the East to Burbank on the WEst Coast. They would cater the flights of AA and other airlines without discrimination and would operate airport restaurants under the same philosophy. SMith suggested Wilson and Red Mosier explore a cooperative venture with the Dobbs House organization. Soon wilson was setting up flight kitchens around the country and lining up locations for restaurants. He was named the subsidiary's first president when it was incorporated in February 1942. Sky Chefs, symbolized by a jolly little cartoon figure, was financed by American Airlines, but created as an entity functioning for the benefit of all airlines. It earned money consistently and grew from some 200 employees preparing meals at eight airport locations in that first year to 5,000 men and women at 27 locations by 1980.

Before he retired in 1971, Wilson had helped shape food service for the industry as well as for America. His leadership in designing new galleys, kitchen conveyor belts, the first radar ranges, and large volume automated dishwashers earned him the respectful title of "Mr. Airline Caterer." Today, ownership of Sky Chefs is shared by Onex and LSG Holding, which has agreed to buy complete control of Chef's Alliance, the largest airline meal provided in the world, providing meals to more than 260 airline customers.

Provided by the American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum

 


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