ORD – A casual history of O'Hare Field, Chicago
|I grew up in Des Plaines, Illinois during the 1950s and 60s, and I am intimately acquainted with the evolution of Orchard Place / Douglas Field into the world's busiest airport, O'Hare Field – ORD. It was a simpler time. In the late 60s it was possible to drive into the airport interior by way of the access road at the southern terminus of Mt. Prospect Road – there was only one "guard shack" at the entrance to the bowels of O'Hare – and that was frequently unmanned. Whole carloads of us would caravan to the south side of the terminal, where we could howl with glee as we passed directly behind taxiing B-707s and DC-8s and 727s, letting the jet wash pour through the open windows of my 1965 Chevy Impala. Drinking beer, no less. Can you imagine a carload of drunken teenagers careening around the service roads of a modern-day airport? Not hardly.|
And when I lived in Rosemont in 1972, I would regularly sneak onto the field when runway 4L – 22R was active and lie down in the grass just a few yards from the pavement, right where the planes were lifting off (or touching down as the wind dictated). Just about directly under the "O" in "O'Hare International Airport" in the picture below. Pretty risky, even in those days, seeing as how the Air Force and Illinois Air Nat'l Guard still had a presence at that corner of the field – I was probably trespassing on a Federal Military Reservation or some such – but the rewards were so great! To be so close to such massive, noisy objects moving at 130 knots is a real rush, to say the least. I never got caught. Never even came close. That's just how it was in those days.
This page is a half-hearted attempt to document some of my observations on the development of O'Hare Field and it environs. As kids playing in the backyard on certain days, we were subjected to regular blasts of insane jet noise as departing aircraft passed just a few thousand feet over our heads. Have you ever heard the noise from and early Boeing 707 close-up? Probably not. They created probably twice the noise a modern-day jet plane – not to mention the black clouds of soot those Pratt & Whitney JT3C turbojets produced. We lived barely 2-1/2 miles from the end of the runway, and the smell of jet fuel and soot pervaded our atmosphere when the wind was from the south. Of course, I remember more gentle days as well, before the big jets came along – lazy days where the C-119 "flying boxcars" of the Air National Guard would fly exercises in formation (I still love the roar of big radial engines), and Constellations and Electras filled the air.
The prominent intersection of Higgins (Rt. 72) and Mannheim roads serves as an anchor for my spatial and historical perspective of this history. After the Northwest Expressway (later renamed in honor of John F. Kennedy) was built in 1959, Mannheim Road (Rt. 12-45) was the westernmost access to this new, faster route into the city. That intersection at the Northeast corner of the airport never gave way, it remains in the same physical location it was before Orville and Wilbur even thought of powered flight. As such, it's a touchstone for the explosive 'big bang' of growth that engulfed railroads and cemeteries and farms all the way west to Elk Grove Village and South to Bensenville.
|From the FAA "History of O'Hare International Airport" |
In 1942, the War Production Board of the United States of America purchased a plot of undeveloped Cook County prairie land called
During the war, the airport was known as Orchard Place/Douglas Field, hence the airportâ€™s identification ORD which remains today. After
In 1949, the airfield became Chicago Oâ€™Hare International Airport named in honor of Lieutenant Commander Edward "Butch" Oâ€™Hare, a
Park Ridge Zoning Map SW quadrant
From "Watson's Whizzers"
"By May 1946, plans were formulated to shut down Freeman Field and transfer all USAAF, German, Italian and Japanese aircraft to
US Gov National Archives
From ORCHARD PLACE/DOUGLAS FIELD: ITS EARLY HISTORY
"The Board Report was submitted to the War Production Board a few days after these discussions and the Board approved the Orchard
From this point forward events move quickly despite strenuous objections from many local groups who wanted the area to maintain its
The Origin and Development of Chicago-O'Hare International Airport written at Ball State University Muncie, Indiana in August, 1970.
Newly-completed Douglas Aircraft plant at Orchard Place, Illinois. The prominent intersection of Higgins and Mannheim roads and the Soo Line railroad in foreground.
The city of Bensenville is visible in the distance, directly above the airfield. O'Hare Field in 2012 has engulfed all the intervening land and encroached on the city proper.
USAF Boeing KC-97L Stratotanker at O'Hare Field~1973 (Kodak Instamatic camera).
Convair XF-92A Dart
Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket
Douglas D-558-II Skystreak
Bell X-1 Rocket Planes
F-104 Starfighter Chase Plane
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