In this paper, the thermal buckling and postbuckling behaviours of a composite beam with embedded shape memory alloy (SMA) wires are investigated analytically. For the purpose of enhancing the critical buckling temperature and reducing the lateral deflection for the thermal buckling, the characteristics of thermal buckling are investigated through the use of the shape recovery force associated with SMA wire actuators. The results of both thermal buckling and postbuckling behaviours present quantitatively how the shape recovery force affects the thermal buckling behaviour. The analytical results show that the shape recovery force reduces the thermal expansion of the composite laminated beam, which results in both an increment of the critical buckling temperature and also a reduction of the lateral deflection of postbuckling behaviours. A new formula is also proposed to describe the critical buckling temperature of the laminated composite beam with embedded SMA wire actuators. (C) 2000 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.