A Brief History Of Chicago O'Hare International Airport
During World War II, what is known today as the military side of O'Hare Field was actually the site of the busy factory that produced the Douglass C-54, the four-engined troop and cargo carriers that were among the largest U.S. planes used in the war. The 1,300-acre tract of government land included the plant, which was reputed to be the largest wooden-roofed building in the world, and a network of runways comprising most of the military airport facility known as Orchard Place.
After the war, the City Council in 1946 authorized the acquisition of 1,080 acres of this property from the War Assets Administration in order to build a second major airport facility in Chicago. Chicago Municipal Airport, later called Midway Airport, was then the busiest airport of the world. However, commercial aviation was growing so rapidly at the time that another airport would clearly be needed in the near future. A general obligation bond of some $46 million was also authorized by the City Council for the purchase of land adjacent to the government property. In all, approximately 7,000 acres of land were acquired for the site of the new facility.
In 1949, $2.4 million in bonds were authorized for further land acquisition and construction, and in June of that year, Orchard Place was officially renamed in honor of a young Chicagoan killed during the war. Before his untimely death in 1943 at the age of 29, Lieut. Comdr. Edward H. "Butch" O'Hare had been one of the naval heros of the U.S. war effort, earning a Congressional Medal of honor in 1942 for having shot down five enemy bombers and crippling a sixth. A reminder of the airport's original name, however, still remains in the ORD abbreviation which is used on all airline baggage tags.
Although the airport was officially opened to domestic commercial traffic in October 1955, O'Hare had already handled some 900,000 operations and two million passengers during that eight year period. Agreements were reached with seventeen carriers, three of which were later merged with other airlines, to operate out of the new facility. However, there was stiff competition with Midway in the beginning. In its busiest year, 1959, Midway handled over ten million passengers, while O'Hare reported slightly more than two million passengers for the same year.
As the City's Commissioner of Aviation, William E. Downes, Jr., recalled, "Mr. Daley was Mayor of Chicago by that time, and it was his idea that the taxpayers of the community should not be obligated for a single penny guaranteeing any capital expenditure needed to create these facilities. The financial group we put together - including the big banking fraternity, or lawyers and the airlines' lawyers - came up with the selling of some $155 million in revenue bonds was envisioned as the capital needed to create the facilities at this new airport out in the country."
By mid-1962, all scheduled operations at Midway had been transferred to O'Hare, enabling the latter to become known as the busiest airport in the world. One year later, the new airport facility was officially dedicated. One of the guests at the dedication ceremony on March 23, 1963 was President John F. Kennedy, who enthusiastically remarked. "This is an extraordinary airport, extraordinary city and an extraordinary country, and it (O'Hare) could be classed as one of the wonders of the modern world".
source: About O'Hare: The City of Chicago Airport System. O'Hare.com (City of Chicago; Richard M. Daley, Mayor).