Thunderbird Field began in 1939 as a collaborative project by Hollywood agent and producer Leland Hayward, former Air Service Pilot John H. "Jack" Connelly and Life magazine photographer John Swope. The trio are the founders of Southwest Airways. Investors included Jimmy Stewart, Hoagy Charmichael, Gary Grant, Henry Fonda, Robert Taylor and Margaret Sullivan. Construction of the pilot training facility began on January 2, 1941 and was completed in 3 months.
Designed by artist Millard Sheets the field was laid out to resemble a mythical Anasazi Thunderbird from the air. The control tower formed the head of the bird, the administration buildings and barracks the body and hangers the wings. The gardens were the feathered tail.
In March 1941 the US Army Air Forces signed a contract with Southwest Airways to provide instructors and facilities for a primary training school for it's aviation cadets. Beginning with a class of 59 candidates, the school would eventually train 10,000 pilots from 30 nations before it was deactivated in June 1945. The field served as the location for a film in 1942 called Thunder Birds, directed by William Wellman. Aerial shots clearly show the original Thunderbird design.
In 1946 Thunderbird Field was declared surplus by the War Assets Administration. Lt. General Barton K. Young, retired commander of the Army Air Forces Training Command, purchased the facility for $1.00 from the federal government. On April 8, 1946, Young established The American Institute for Foreign Trade (AIFT). The school eventually became known as the American Graduate School of International Management or The Thunderbird School of Global Management.
One of the first institutions dedicated to preparing it's students to work abroad, the school's model included a three part curriculum; traditional business classes, International Studies (political science) and language. The philosophy was that to be effective managers for multi-nationals abroad it's students needed to understand the nuances of a country's culture and be able to speak the language in additional to business theory.