ORD – The History of Orchard Place – Douglas Field

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.

Mannheim & Higgins

From the FAA "History of O'Hare International Airport" [2]

In 1942, the War Production Board of the United States of America purchased a plot of undeveloped Cook County prairie land called
Orchard Place. The 1,790 acres of flatland was well suited for a huge airplane factory the government needed for the production of
military aircraft, specifically Douglas C-54s, during World War II. The facility was also the site of the Army Air Force’s 803 Special Depot
that stored many rare or experimental planes, including captured enemy aircraft. These historic aircraft would later be transferred to the
National Air Museum to eventually form the core of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s collection.

During the war, the airport was known as Orchard Place/Douglas Field, hence the airport’s identification ORD which remains today. After
the war in 1945, the production of aircraft ceased and the U.S. Government transferred 1.080 acres of airport land to the City of Chicago.
The facility was chosen by the City as the site to meet future aviation demands, additional land was purchased, and the airport was
renamed Orchard Field.

In 1949, the airfield became Chicago O’Hare International Airport named in honor of Lieutenant Commander Edward "Butch" O’Hare, a
young Navy flier who gave his life in defense of his country. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1942 and is credited
with saving the aircraft carrier USS Lexington in the South Pacific by shooting down six of nine enemy bombers. O’Hare International
opened to commercial air traffic in 1955 and was formally dedicated on March 23, 1963, by President John F. Kennedy.

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
storage facilities. Fighter aircraft were to be stored at the 803 Special Depot, Orchard Place Airport, Park Ridge, Illinois, where the
newly-promoted Captain Strobell was charged with managing the inventory. (This collection became the source of most of the foreign
combat planes that are in U.S. aviation museums.)"

US Gov National Archives
"Aircraft Assembly Plant #8–See Chicago Douglas Aircraft Assembly Plant #8, Chicago, IL."


"The Board Report was submitted to the War Production Board a few days after these discussions and the Board approved the Orchard
Place site in June 1942. Soon after the announcement of Orchard Place as the site of the new Douglas plant a local newspaper carried the
following headlines: "$20 million war plant for Bensenville area" and "Army to buy 1300 acres for Douglas Aircraft and airport".

From this point forward events move quickly despite strenuous objections from many local groups who wanted the area to maintain its
rural and residential character. Public hearing were scheduled in Park Ridge City Hall on June 18, 1942, to rezone Orchard Place from
agricultural land to industrial use. Following this meeting, Judge William J. Campbell signed an order to condemn the property for
government use and the Army Air Corps began to acquire land for development.

The Origin and Development of Chicago-O'Hare International Airport written at Ball State University Muncie, Indiana in August, 1970.
A copy of this dissertation is available at the Bensenville Community Public Library in Bensenville

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.

Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker
USAF Boeing KC-97L Stratotanker at O'Hare Field~1973 (Kodak Instamatic camera).


  1. NASA Dryden Flight Research Center,  "B-47A Stratojet" Dec. 28, 2009
  2. FAA “History of O'Hare International Airport"

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