A History of Midway Airport

From it's modest beginnings in the 1920s, this pioneer airfield grew to be the busiest airport in the world, a distinction held for three decades. The original municipal field, or "Munie," as the early pilots knew it, was created on 320 acres on the City’s south side. Located 10 miles from downtown Chicago.

Originally built in 1923 as the Chicago Air Park, the airport was mainly used by airmail contractors. In 1926, the city council leased the parcel from the Board of Education for $1,560 a year. In 1927 it was dedicated as the Chicago Municipal Airport.
1928 marked the airport's first full year of operation with 12 hangars and four lighted runways to allow night flights. Air Traffic control was handled by a flag man positioned at the end of the runway. 41,660 passengers passed through the airport on 14,498 operations that first year. The first passenger terminal and administration building was dedicated in November, 1931 by Mayor Anton Cermak.

In 1932 after more than 100,000 passengers passed through it's gates on 60,947 flights, Chicago Municipal Airport earned the title "World’s Busiest". Midway retained the title each year until O’Hare International Airport claimed it in 1962. By 1941, Chicago was becoming the nation's air traffic hub. Chicago handled 25% of the Nations 417,000 passengers that year.

In honor of the World War II Battle of Midway, the city council unanimously voted to rename the airport Chicago Midway Airport in 1949. During that same year, over 3.2 million passengers flew through Midway on over 223,000 flights. By the next year that number had grown to over 80 times the numer of passengers it saw it's first year to 3.5 million. In 1959, Midway was serving over 10 million passengers.

With the dawn of the "Jet Age", Midway, with its shorter runways, could not compete with O’Hare. O’Hare's longer runways allowed for the use of the new larger and faster jets. The first airline to serve the airport, United airlines, was the last to leave Midway.

Passenger numbers continued declining during the 1960s and ‘70s. But in early 1968 Midway once again found the major airlines operating out of its gates. This was after an ambitious rebuilding project started the previous year. This eased the over crowding and delayed plagued conditions common at the larger O'Hare.

In 1979 Midway Airlines became the first major airline formed after deregulation. Together with Southwest Airlines, they are credited with revitalizing the airport and giving the southwest side an economic boost in the 1980s.

In 1991, after a failed attempt to expand in Pittsburg and a world oil crisis sent jet fuel rising, Midway Airlines ceased operations. Midway resumed operations in November 1993 but in 1995 moved its hub and headquarters to Raleigh-Durham North Carolina.

Early in the 1990's Midway saw the addition of it's fifth runway.

Southwest Airlines and American Trans Air quickly filled the vaccume left by the initial failure of Midway Airlines. Today, 18 airlines offer service out of Midway. Southwest Airlines is the largest. It has 121 daily departures and employs over 2,000 people. American Trans Air is Midway’s second largest carrier employing over 1,300 people. American Trans Air together with Chicago Express offer nonstop flights to 27 cities. American Trans Air has announced it will add nearly 1,500 new employees to Midway and double it fleet size within the next five years.

Today Midway is part of the Chicago Airport System and still considered the busiest square mile in aviation. The airport is on the Chicago Transit Authority's Orange Line offering travelers quick access to the downtown area.

Midway Airport is the fastest growing airport in North America. In 1998, Midway served 11.4 million passenger on 278,517 flights breaking a record previously held since 1959. It once again shattered this record in 1999. That year it served more than 13.5 million passengers with 297,613 airport operations making it the 47th busiest airport in the world.

The $761 million Midway Terminal Development Program will bring world class shopping, dining and state-of-the art technology to Chicago’s Midway Airport. By 2004, the new terminal will more than triple the size of the existing one going from 260,000 to 921,400 square feet. The 41-gate concourse will replace the existing 28.

When the new concourse is completed, Midway will be able to handle 17 million passengers a year, helping Chicago stay "The Transportation Center of America." Today about fifteen percent of all airline passengers in the nation travel through Chicago each day.

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