Thomas Bayne Wilson
Transportation executive, World War II Brigadier General. Born: May 26, 1892, Jefferson County, Kansas. Died: May 7, 1963, Carmel, California.
In 1910, when Thomas Bayne Wilson was 18, the Williamsburg, Kansas, farm youth ventured to California to make his fortune. His father provided a second class train ticket and his mother pinned $50 to his shirt for spending money.
He secured a position with the Pasadena Electric Railway, which began a career in public transportation, eventually making him a world-renowned figure of his day. In 1911 he took a job as a clerk in the Traffic Department of the Southern Pacific Railroad in San Francisco. He attended Oakland Polytechnic College at night for training as a radio operator because he wanted to work for the railroad's steamship subsidiary and see the world.
He first was sent to the Panama Canal zone then to the Orient where he built several radio stations in the Philippines for the United States War Department. Moving up in the ranks of the Southern Pacific he eventually became general superintendent of transportation then turned to the newly expanded highway transport industry by organizing the Southern Pacific Motor Transport system. When that merged with the Pacific Greyhound lines, Wilson became president and general manager. From the bus system he went into sea transport, becoming general manager of the Alaskan Steamship Company. In 1938 Transcontinental & Western Airlines (which became TWA) called him as chairman of its board and directed him to expand the line's operations into foreign countries.
He was on Leave of Absence from the Southern Pacific for active duty in the Army Signal Corps during World War I. He spent a year in France where he was occupied with the construction and operation of Signal Corps telephone and telegraph lines. Originally commissioned as a First Lieutenant, he left the service as a Captain in 1919.
In 1942 Wilson was called to serve and commissioned as a Colonel in the transportation corps. He was sent to Australia to assure efficient shipment of supplies to General Douglas MacArthur's troops in the Philippines. So impressed was the general that he promoted Wilson and made him chief of transportation on his staff. In 1943 he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and in November of that year he became the Commanding General of the Transportation Service in the China-Burma-Indian Theater.
T. B. Wilson left the military in 1944, remained as chairman of the board of TWA until 1947, then served one term in the Kansas House of Representatives from Jefferson County. After the 1948 session of the Kansas Legislature, he challenged incumbent U.S. Congressman Albert M. Cole (1st District) in the August Republican primary but lost. In 1950 he entered federal government service as regional director, Defense Materials Procurement Agency, with the rank of Minister (Diplomatic). He headquartered in London.
Wilson later served on the Civil Aeronautics Board and was chairman of the board and director of Resort Airlines.
Wilson always considered himself a Kansan and at one time owned more than 2,000 acres of bottom and pasture land in eastern Kansas, which he managed himself. He was an outstanding example of a Kansan developing from good but common roots to a place of international repute.
Entry: Wilson, Thomas Bayne
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: November 2004
Date Modified: January 2013
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