A Brief History
On February 6, 1998, Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Many major airports around the country and around the world are named for a real person, and today we look at 10 of those people and the airports they are named after. (Many of the really big airports in the world are named after a place rather than a person.) What airports would you add to this list?
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington, D.C.
Formerly just called Washington National Airport, this is the airfield that serves most of the domestic flights for the capital city. Actually located in Arlington, Virginia, it is operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Smaller than the other big Washington airport (Dulles International), the only international flights handled at Reagan are those by business and private jets, not commercial air carriers. The airport got its current name in 1998 in honor of President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) who served as our 40th President.
O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois.
Opened during World War II (1944), this airport is not surprisingly named after a native Chicago war hero, US Navy fighter ace Edward “Butch” O’Hare, the first US Navy Medal of Honor winner of World War II. O’Hare died in combat in 1943, leaving his mark as the first US Navy aerial “ace” (an ace is a pilot that shoots down at least 5 enemy planes). In fact, O’Hare pulled off the feat of shooting down 5 Japanese planes in a single mission in 1942. The actual naming of the airport took place in 1949. A warped bit of trivia is that O’Hare’s father was a chief rival of mobster Al Capone. As of the end of 2018, O’Hare was the busiest airport in the world.
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Cleveland, Ohio.
Why include the 43rd busiest airport in the United States? Because of its history. Opened in 1925, Hopkins was once one of if not the busiest airports in the world (a looong time ago) and was the first airport to feature a control tower. It was also the first to have radar and air traffic controllers and was the first city owned and operated airport in the US. Did we mention it was the first to have radio traffic between airplanes and the control tower? Hopkins was the first airport to have airfield lighting and became the first airport served by a rapid transit system in 1930. In 1968, Hopkins opened a two-tier control tower, one level for controlling arrivals and the other for controlling departures, another first! In 2018 it was ranked as the Most Improved Airport in the US by Airports Council International. It is named after the guy that founded the airport, former Cleveland City Manager William R. Hopkins. The name was given the airport on the 81st birthday of Hopkins (1951).
Washington Dulles International Airport, Washington, D.C.
Actually located 26 miles from Washington (in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, Virginia), Dulles is the big airport serving the international flight crown for Washington. Dulles serves an incredible 60,000 passengers per day! The airport is named after revered former US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles (1888-1959) who served in that office from 1953 to 1959 under President Eisenhower. He also served as a Senator from New York for a few months in 1949.
LaGuardia Airport, New York City.
Named for Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945, the airport on that location went through a couple of iterations before being acquired by the City of New York in 1939, under the forceful urging of LaGuardia who insisted on an airport actually in New York City, and then named New York Municipal Airport, with the added honorific “LaGuardia Field.” In 1953, the airport got its name, LaGuardia Airport. Undersized, cramped, outdated and generally considered awful, LaGuardia Airport is one of the most criticized airports in the US, though it is receiving some much needed attention at this time in an effort to greatly improve the travel experience for both fliers and aircrews. Over 30 million passengers passed through LaGuardia in 2018.
Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Roissy-en-France.
Named after the patriot that refused to give in to the Germans in World War II and then led Free French forces back into France after the Allied D-Day invasion in 1944, de Gaulle (1890-1970) became a great hero to many Frenchmen and rode his fame to the presidency of that country in 1959, serving until 1969. A fierce nationalist, de Gaulle was the leader of the “Free French” in absentia after the French surrender to Germany in 1940, and later served as the Chairman of the Provisional French Government from June 1944 until January of 1946. The airport that bears de Gaulle’s name is the busiest in France and in fact, the second busiest in Europe with over 74 million passengers last year. It is located about 14 miles from Paris. De Gaulle opened in 1974 and hosts more airlines than any other airport in the world.
Rome–Fiumicino International Airport “Leonardo da Vinci,” Rome, Italy.
Named after the great artist, inventor and “Renaissance man,” the Eternal City is served by this bustling airport that had over 43 million passengers pass through in 2018. The airport opened in 1961, serving to replace the too small Ciampino Airport (which ended up not closing). In spite of the official “opening in 1961, the airport actually began operations in 1960 to help support the Rome Olympic Games that year. (Note: Leonardo da Vinci has been labeled a “polymath” for his many interests and pursuits. Webster’s defines polymath as: a person of encyclopedic learning.)
Willy Brandt Airport, Berlin Brandenburg International, Berlin, Germany.
Currently under construction, this airport was planned to replace the older, smaller airports serving the capital of Germany in Brandenburg State, but authorities decided instead that Willy Brandt Airport will be in addition to the other airports. Passenger traffic is projected to be about 34 million per year, and the opening date is forecast to be October of 2020, which is a year later than originally planned, and further delays may still be coming. The actual location of the airport is about 11 miles from Downton Berlin in a place called Schönefeld. Willy Brandt was the Chancellor of West Germany from 1969 to 1974. Born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm in 1913, Brandt served as head of the Social Democrat Party from 1964 to 1987, and was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1971, for his efforts to unite Europe (through the European Economic Community) and for his efforts to find rapprochement with East Germany.
General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport, East Boston, Massachusetts.
No mystery about the career of this airport’s namesake, as General Logan was obviously a military general! He served in the Massachusetts National Guard and the US Army during the Spanish American War and World War I, rising to the rank of Major General. After World War I he reorganized the Massachusetts National Guard and was active in veterans activities and the American Legion. He died in 1939, only 64 years old. Boston Airport (aka Jeffrey Field) was renamed in Logan’s honor in 1943. Logan Airport is the 16th busiest in the United States, with 40 million passengers in 2018.
Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia.
This airport, America’s busiest by some standards, and is often cited as the busiest airport in the world, thus it requires not one, but two names! William Berry Hartsfield, Sr. (1890-1971) had served as Mayor of Atlanta from 1939 to 1941, and then from 1942 to 1962. He died in 1971 at the age of 80, prompting his name being added to the airport. (Weird Trivia: A gorilla at the Atlanta zoo was named Willie B. in Hartsfield’s “honor!”) In 1977 the airport got a big renovation under then Mayor Maynard Jackson which enabled it to become the monster airport it is today. Obviously, its second name comes from that mayor, who served as the first African American mayor of Atlanta, or for that matter any major Southern US city, from 1974 to 1982. Jackson got another run at being mayor from 1990 to 1994. Jackson died in 2003, at the age of only 65, and shortly afterwards the airport got its second mayoral name. (Note: Jackson was born in Dallas, Texas.) Hartsfield was the longest serving Mayor of Atlanta, and Jackson the second longest serving. This busy airport handles about 100 million passengers per year, or about 260,000 per day!
Question for students (and subscribers): What are your favorite and least favorite airports? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Falcus, Matthew. World Airports Spotting Guides. DestinWorld Publishing Ltd., 2015.
Hamilton, Penny. America’s Amazing Airports: Connecting Communities to the World. Independently published, 2019.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Famartin of a display at the entrance to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.