Memories of our Campus

By Chris Barton, Editor-in-Chief

With the decision to move downtown weighing on everyone’s mind, this seems like a good moment to remember what our historic campus once was. From the Thunderbird School of Global Management Collection at the Arizona Memory Project comes some samplings of our early visual history. Click on the link above to find more.

All Photos and many descriptions courtesy of the Arizona Memory Project.


Thunderbird Field I was a World War II air training base initially built with private funds by Southwest Airways. Planning began in November 1940, construction started Jan. 2, 1941, and operations began on March 22. Well-known artist Millard Sheets designed the airbase to resemble the mythical Thunderbird from the air. This aerial view shows the full array of aircraft on the landing field in front of the tower. Numerous aircraft can also be seen in the air. The airbase was located considerable distance northwest of the populated Phoenix metropolitan area. Its 649 acres were on the corner of what is now Greenway Rd. and 59th Ave. In the photo, 59th Ave. forms the upper leg of the V-shaped boundary of the base; Greenway Rd. is the lower leg of the “V.” More than 10,000 pilots were trained at Thunderbird Field I during World War II. During the peak period, planes averaged as many as 850 hours in the air. An all-time high or 1,136 hours was recorded in one day. In January, 1944, the payroll of Thunderbird Field boasted 700 employees with a total monthly salary expenditure of nearly $150,000.


Under the direction of the School’s first president, retired Lt. General Barton Kyle Yount, the School opened its doors on Oct. 6, 1946 as American Institute for Foreign Trade. Yount, former head of the Army Air Training Command, had been responsible for all the pilot training for World War II and was very familiar with the deactivated Thunderbird Field I, one of the Army Air Forces’ main training bases. He clearly saw the potential for its use as a school for foreign trade. He became the first president of The American Institute for Foreign Trade, but died suddenly in Sedona, Arizona, just 2 1/2 years after founding the school. General Yount (pronounced “yahnt) is shown in uniform seated.


The Hanger, with planes. Now used mainly for storage, the mail room, and the archives.


Cadets at Thunderbird Field assemble in front of the Tower


Some of the earliest international students at Thunderbird: the ‘Free Chinese’ pilots who trained at the airfield.


The American Institute for Foreign Trade opened its doors on Oct. 1, 1946, just six months after its founders acquired Thunderbird Field I, the deactivated Army Air Forces Training Base. Because the school received the property from the War Assets Administration of the U.S. goverment at 100% discount (free), a Congressional investigation ensued during the summer of 1946 inquiring into whether the Army officers were profiting from the war assets. Eloquent testimony by Frank Snell, one of the founding trustees, convinced the Congressional Committee that not only was this not a profit-making venture, but that it would actually be of benefit to the country and could lead to increased international trade.


Founder’s Hall, at the entrance to the AIFT Campus, was the original administration building during World War II when Thunderbird Field I was an Army Air Forces training base. After the base was converted to a school, the building housed the school administration, including the president and the admissions office. One of the two flags in front of the building was always the American flag. The other was the featured flag of another country.


Aerial view of the Thunderbird Campus in 1946 after it became American Institute for Foreign Trade. The dormitories formed the border of the diamond-shaped quadrangle, which held the two swimming pools. the Dining Hall was at the top of the quadrangle. The administration building is seen in the left center of the photo.



The first Thunderbird Library was located in a hangar on the east edge of the campus. Librarian Dorothy Burge tells of begging for books from many sources, especially the faculty.


In 1946 Arizona’s mild climate attracted students from 45 of the 48 U.S. States who enjoyed occasional foreign language classes held outdoors. Here Carmen Madrigal helps students with their Spanish pronunciation in the shade of a pepper tree.


A traditional pre-commencement ceremony at the American Institute for Foreign Trade was an equatorial party at which all the students are indoctrinated — dunked–prior to their crossing the equator in pursuit of foreign trade careers. In the photo, King Neptune is in the cart being wheeled by “Davey Jones” and other participants in the party. The party winds up with members of the faculty being dunked as well.


Colorful chairs for the Dining Hall were obtained from Mexico to provide a Latin American atmosphere for the students.


The first graduating class at American Institute for Foreign Trade numbered 234 students from 45 U.S. states. Most of the early graduates were men studying under the postwar financial aid program for veterans of World War II, known as the G.I. Bill. (Foreign students did not arrive until 1958.). Wives were encouraged to attend classes in order to support their husbands’ careers. Those first graduates went on to positions with such international companies as Standard Oil, Goodyear, and First National City Bank of New York (later known as Citibank). Commencement ceremonies were held outdoors in the central quadrangle with the swimming pool in the background or in the Thunderbird Activity Center until 1989 when space constraints led the administration to move them off campus, mainly to the Sundome (now called the Maricopa County Events Center) in Sun City or a Phoenix area resort or conference facility.

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