Chicago Midway, Still the World’s Busiest Airport (1956)

Aviation gained popularity in Chicago as early as 1910. However, it was not until 1925, with the passage of the Contract Air Mail Act and the establishment of an overnight air mail route between New York and Chicago, that Chicago’s regional planning officials saw the need for an official airport. Municipal Airport (later to become Midway) opened in 1926 at the outlying intersection of 59th Street and Cicero Avenue. The airport boasted improvements like cinder runways, electric lights, and hangars for aircraft storage. Most importantly, its proximity to rail and streetcar lines provided easy access to Downtown Chicago. Passenger air travel took off soon thereafter and, because air routes mirrored already-established rail routes in America, Chicago (and Municipal Field) became a natural hub for air transport. During his 1931 airplane tour to promote the safety of air travel, President Franklin Roosevelt landed at Municipal and declared it the “World’s Busiest Airport.”

Under the direction of the Chicago Regional Planning Association (CRPA), this image was included in Daniel Burnham, Jr. and Robert Kingery’s Planning the Region of Chicago (1956). The association was formed in 1925 to enact the plans put forth by Burnham and Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. The publication reflects “the policies of [the CRPA], its program for the future, and its 30 year record of accomplishment in regional planning.” In a section titled, “Airways,” the report details CRPA’s role in establishing Chicago as a prominent air hub. They The CRPA commissioned a 1941 study to determine the current state and future needs of Chicago airport facilities. This study was used to actively collaborate with federal air route developers and to ensure the region’s central role in the national air transport system. By 1956, urban development hemmed Midway in on all sides and prevented the airport’s expansion to meet projected air traffic increases. The CRPA anticipated the need for a larger airport facility and this publication makes brief mention of O’Hare Field-- a developing airport complex in Chicago’s suburbs.



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The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. “Born of Dreams, Inspired by Freedom.”

“Chicago Midway, Still the World’s Busiest Airport,” in Burnham, Daniel H., Jr. and Robert Kingery. Planning the Region of Chicago (Chicago: Chicago Regional Planning Association, 1956), p. 117. The Newberry Library, folio W 999 .134