Charlotte’s airport grew dramatically once it became a hub for Piedmont Airlines in 1979.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport. IATA airport code: CLT. We’ve likely all flown into or out of what is currently the fifth-busiest airport in the nation, measured by takeoffs and landings, at least once. Ranked by the same metric, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the sixth-busiest in the world, according to the Airports Council International. The airport jumped one spot in both the national and international rankings, with 543,944 takeoffs and landings and seeing 44.9 million travelers in 2015. CLT is the largest airport in the United States without nonstop service to Asia.
I do my share of traveling, so I was intrigued to learn about our airport’s rich history, including its involvement with the United States military during World War II and where it got its name.
Established in 1935 as Charlotte Municipal Airport, in 1954 the airport was renamed Douglas Municipal Airport after former Charlotte mayor Ben Elbert Douglas, Sr. The airport gained its current name in 1982 and is the second largest hub for American Airlines after Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, with service to 154 domestic and international destinations as of October 2015.
Benjamin Elbert "Ben" Douglas, Sr. (September 3, 1894 – July 27, 1981)
Mayor Ben Douglas had a house on Malvern Road in Myers Park. Like so many other New South leaders of Charlotte in the first half of the 20th century, including Ovens, Duke, and Morrison, and for that matter Tompkins and Latta of an earlier generation, Douglas was not a native. Born in Iredell County, Douglas moved to Charlotte from Gastonia in the mid – 1920s and established a funeral home at the corner of Fox Street and Elizabeth Avenue, now Independence Boulevard and Elizabeth Avenue.
Douglas was Mayor from 1935 until 1941. It was Douglas who was the "relentless lobbyist for the now well-traveled Independence Boulevard." He earned a reputation of being the "builder of modern day Charlotte.” Douglas' greatest and most enduring contribution to the building up of Charlotte was his commitment to the establishment of a municipal airport, which still bears his name. Passenger air service began here on December 10, 1930 but the Curtis Condor airplane had to land at a private field. At Mayor Douglas’ insistence, the Charlotte City Council voted on September 3, 1935 to apply for federal funds from the Works Progress Administration to build an airport for Charlotte. When Washington approved the request on November 13, the City decided to use the money for land acquisition. Voter approved bonds were sold on March 1, 1936, to pay for the improvements, including the terminal and the hangar.
Charlotte’s passenger service began in 1930. Aviation’s role remained comparatively small until the 1941 development of Morris Field.
Douglas was a prime mover in persuading the War Department to establish an air station at Charlotte shortly before World War II. Dedicated on April 21, 1941, and named Morris Field in honor of William Colb Morris, a World War I aviator from Concord, North Carolina, the air station was devoted primarily to the training of pilots and the maintenance of aircraft. Like Camp Green during World War I, Morris field was a boost to the local economy. "The Army Air Base at Morris Field became a $6 million government investment," boasted the Charlotte Observer many years later. Charlotte architect W. R. Marsh designed the buildings, and Blythe Brothers Construction Company and Goode Construction Company, both local firms, built Morris field.
Downtown Charlotte, 1940. In this Chamber of Commerce map, it is noteworthy both how Charlotte promoted itself as a distribution center and the impact of rail and air connections on the city and its growth. U.S. 29/74, Wilkinson Boulevard, was Charlotte’s first modern highway.
Until next week!
Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
Information taken from:
Historic Charlotte: An Illustrated History of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, 2001, Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Some content reworded or updated. Additional commentary added.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass