“This time capsule of travel through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport captures the experiences of travelers and airport employees from the initial development of the site through the years it was recognized as being the world’s busiest airport.
(Chicago Tribune Graphics)
By Kori Rumore
O’Hare International Airport is about to undergo the single largest, most expensive terminal revamp in its 73-year history. The $8.5 billion plan calls for a state-of-the-art global terminal, dozens of new gates and several additional concourses. It’s an effort to modernize an airport prone to delays that’s been struggling for decades to get ready for the 21st century.”
For those who have worked at THE O’Hare International Airport, especially the invisible patronage “employees, and for all who have sprinted from one concourse to another and/or spent a “lifetime” waiting for a flight, the Chicago Tribune has published a wonderful pictorial and essay history about the etymology of pastureland to a massive aviation complex.
Rather than reproduce an inORDinate number of these ORDinary images, here are a few favorites. Be sure to ORDer your day to read the full article.
July 25, 1942
Farm families out, construction moves in
Project cost: $700,000
After the Douglas Aircraft Company announces plans to construct an assembly plant on 1,347 acres at Orchard Place, near the intersection of Mannheim and Higgins roads south of Des Plaines, work begins to demolish homes, level land and create a spur line of the North Western railroad at the site.
Sept. 30, 1945
Douglas production ends
After the end of World War II, the plant, which once employed 17,000 people, closes.
Civic leaders urge Chicago officials to acquire the property, which could potentially double in size, for use as the city’s main airport and note its location fits well into plans for a network of planned expressways.
Oct. 29, 1945
Unanimous decision: Former Douglas site should become city’s main airport
Project cost: $40 million
After considering five locations, the airport selection board appointed by Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly picks this site, which would need to be purchased from the federal government, as the best choice for the city’s postwar airport.
The project’s estimated $40-million price tag — cheaper than a proposed lakeside airport and with room to expand, unlike Chicago Municipal Airport (now Midway International Airport) — would include the purchase of additional land to construct a pinwheel-like arrangement of 10 runways around a central administrative center.
The following year, the city unveils its plan to create longer runways by adjusting the boundaries of the 5,230-acre (more than 6 square miles) tract.
March 28, 1956
O’Hare annexed by Chicago
This move allows the city to establish a police force and other services — including construction of a new water main — at the site.
Jan. 17, 1962
Giant passenger terminal opens
The black-and-white structure — actually two separate 75-foot-long buildings connected by a not-yet functioning rotunda restaurant — opened to the public one day after Mayor Richard J. Daley toured it. “We now have the greatest concentration of transportation facilities in the world,” he said. “We are first in railroads, first in aviation, trucking, bus movements and the Great Lakes are now the high seas.”
Passengers — including those aboard a United Airlines DC-8 that mistakenly arrived at the new terminal before it was fully operational — could walk from the plane to the terminal via a covered ramp without going outside.
Other features included ticket counters, luggage weighing stations, a telephone system and shops upstairs and a lower-level baggage area. A free shuttle bus would take passengers from their cars in a new but still-unfinished parking lot to the terminal buildings.
May 4, 1971
New control tower is tallest in the U.S.
Project cost: $2 million
Standing 200 feet tall, the five-sided concrete tower is topped by a glass crown from which controllers can oversee an average of 1,900 flights per day.
Sept. 3, 1984
‘L’ service arrives
Project cost: $196 million
After a two-year delay, the final leg of the line — 2.6 miles from River Road to the airport — connects the Loop to the airport. Mayor Harold Washington and jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, who then played “Take the ‘A’ Train,” ride the inaugural train to O’Hare. The full 17.5-mile route takes 35 minutes and costs 90 cents.
Iconic toilet seat covers installed
Project cost: $350,000
It’s just a layer of plastic that fits between the surface of a toilet seat and the person sitting on it, but it would become an iconic feature of the airport’s 600 toilets. With the push of a button, a small electric motor advances the plastic sleeve around the seat and moves a fresh piece of plastic in its place.
Nov. 20, 2008
First new runway in 37 years added to operations
Project cost: $565 million
As part of a $15 billion O’Hare Modernization Program to replace the airport’s outdated layout of intersecting runways with a parallel runway system, 9L/27R is designed to reduce delays.
Disinterment of 1,494 bodies complete
Project cost: $17 million
In 2010, the city took over a 5-acre parcel of land on the west side of the airport intended for future runways. This land also included a 2-acre burial ground, St. Johannes Cemetery, established by a church of German pioneers in 1849. As graves were exhumed, extensive genealogical reports were used to identify next of kin, who could decide where their ancestors would be relocated. Following a lengthy eminent domain lawsuit, the city purchased the property from St. John United Church of Christ in Bensenville for $1.3 million in December 2012.
March 15, 2018
Single largest, most expensive O’Hare revamp gains steam
Project cost: $8.5 billion
A state-of-the-art global terminal, dozens of new gates and several additional concourses are part of an eight-year, $8.5 billion deal to revamp the 73-year-old airport. Mayor Rahm Emanuel seeks to leverage the May expiration of the airlines’ 35-year lease to secure from the carriers higher fees and charges to help bankroll the ambitious project. He also strikes a deal with American Airlines to speed up the construction of three new gates in a successful effort to get the airline to drop its opposition to the project.
The plan sails through its first test as the City Council adopts an ordinance allowing for new lease and use agreements for the gates at O’Hare to pay for the project.
Seventy-five years ago, Chicago made a very wise strategic decision to build an airport in a then rural area and that visionary action has guaranteed that Cook County and its surrounding communities benefit from a dominant aviation hub. The most recent iteration in ORD’s infrastructure has maxed out, if not exceeded, the capacity of that facility. The future of Chicago’s aviation prominence, already subject to ATL’s better throughput, is in doubt. The primary constraint may be airspace—with MDW, several regional airfields and the North-South GA flyway, the density of traffic may be greater than what even the NextGen enhanced tools can safely manage.
Share this article: