The History of the O’Hare International Airport

O’Hare International Airport is located in northwestern Chicago, Illinois, and serves as the primary airport for the Chicago area. Until 1998, it was the busiest airport in the world as measured by number of passengers and until 2005, it was the busiest airport worldwide in terms of landings and takeoffs. More than 66.5 million passengers passed through this airport in 2011 and flights currently reach more than 60 foreign destinations.

Military Roots of O’Hare International Airport

In 1942, a 1,790-acre plot of Cook County, Illinois, prairie land named Orchard Place was purchased by the War Production Board of the United States of America. The government needed an airplane factory for World War II military aircraft production and this was the perfect place to build it. The Army Air Forces 803 Special Depot was also erected there, storing experimental planes, rare planes, and captured enemy aircraft.

The airport was called Orchard Place/Douglas Field during the war and the airport identification ORD remains. When the war ended, aircraft production ceased and just over one acre of land was transferred to the City of Chicago. The City purchased additional land and renamed the airport Orchard Field. It was renamed O’Hare in 1949 to honor Navy Lieutenant Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare who lost his life defending his country.

O’Hare International Airport Goes Commercial

Since 1931, Chicago Midway International Airport had been the primary airport in the Chicago area. Despite multiple expansions, this airport became overcrowded. The Federal Aviation Administration and the City of Chicago began developing O’Hare as the solution. In 1955, O’Hare opened for commercial air traffic.

The airport grew slowly, expanding in size during the late 1950s and early 1960s. By July 1962, all scheduled Chicago fixed-wing airline service had moved to this airport, causing it to become one of the busiest in the world. U.S. President John F. Kennedy attended a formal dedication in March 1963. By the mid 1960s, more people were passing through this airport in a year than had been processed by Ellis Island in its entire existence, forcing city officials to shift some services to Midway.

For a total of ten years, this airport was voted the best in North America by either Business Traveler Magazine U.S. Edition or Global Traveler Magazine. It was subsequently voted one of the worst for traveler delays by Travel and Leisure magazine. Travelers accept the lengthy delays and high number of flight cancellations in exchange for journeys to exotic international destinations.