year marks the 75th anniversary of powered flight at Port Columbus,
and with it we celebrate the long and respected history of aviation
in Central Ohio. Even in its humble beginnings Columbus had its
eyes set on the sky.
The Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903 sparked a worldwide
intrigue for flying machines that swept into Columbus, inspiring
14-year old native son Cromwell Dixon to build a “SkyCycle”,
which he flew at Driving Park in 1907. By the early 1920s members
of Columbus’ Aeroclub were promoting the need for a commercial
airport in the city. Columbus gained national attention in the late
1920s when Charles Lindbergh recommended the City as a vital link
for coast-to-coast, rail to air travel.
At that time Lindbergh was serving as a technical consultant for
Transcontinental Air Transport, Inc. (TAT), formed by the merging
of Pennsylvania Railroad with the Atchison Topeka and Sante Fe Railroads.
TAT planned to combine trains and planes in transporting passengers
coast-to-coast in record-breaking time for the era, and they wanted
Columbus on the route.
After a bond levy failed in 1927, Lindbergh visited Columbus in
1928 promoting an $850,000 construction bond. With efforts by other
airport proponents, the bond passed on November 6, 1928. Lindbergh
selected the site for Port Columbus, and groundbreaking took place
in early 1929 under the direction of City Service Director W. H.
Duffy and Columbus Mayor James J. Thomas.
The rest is history.
In its infancy, Port Columbus covered 524 acres, with two runways
measuring 2,500 and 3,500 feet in length. At the time, this was
ample space. Yet the Port Columbus of today, by comparison, dwarfs
it in size. Spanning 2,100 acres, with a terminal nearly 800,000
square feet in size and runways over three times as long, the evolution
of Port Columbus International Airport shows us just how far air
travel has come.
On July 8, 1929, Port Columbus officially opened for business. With
it, Port Columbus became the eastern transfer point for TAT passengers
traveling cross-country by rail and air. Nineteen daring people
including famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who served as Assistant
to TAT’s General Manager, made the inaugural westbound trip.
After leaving New York City at 7:05 pm by train on July 7, they
arrived at Port Columbus Station aboard “The Airway Limited”
at 7:55 am the following day. Two Ford Tri-Motors, the “City
of Columbus” and the “City of Wichita,” were waiting
to take them to Waynoka, Oklahoma where they would transfer to another
train for the third leg of their journey. The entire coast-to-coast
trip was publicized as taking 48 hours to complete. Several dignitaries
were on hand in Columbus for the dedication ceremony, including:
- Myers Y. Cooper, Governor of Ohio
- John M. Vorys, Ohio Director of Aeronautics
- David S. Ingalls, Assistant Secretary of Navy for Aeronautics
- William Oxley Thompson, President Emeritus of The Ohio
- Amelia Earhart, Famed aviatrix and Assistant to TAT General
- Henry Ford, Automobile pioneer, and his son Edsel
- Harvey Firestone, Tire entrepreneur, and his three sons
Over 3,000 people witnessed the event, which despite the
rainy day, proved to be an enormous success. In fact, over
100 airplanes flew into Port Columbus that weekend alone to
join in the celebration of cross-country travel. In their
first year of service, TAT would show revenue of $3,839. After
completing 3,406 trips, moving 11,282 passengers, in its inaugural
year. The future of Port Columbus looked bright.
Regrettably, the Great Depression, which began in 1929, prevented
profitable operation for nearly 15 years. The luxury of flight
was one that few could afford. Despite all of that, the airport
remained active. In 1930, Continental Air Lines – not
affiliated with today’s Continental, but rather part
of Universal Aviation Corporation, predecessor of today’s
American Airlines – brought the first scheduled mail
and express service to the airport by moving their Mail, Express
and Passenger operation from Sullivant Avenue Airport on the
west side of town to Port Columbus.
In October 1930 the scheduled train-plane operation was suspended
with the introduction of all air coast-to-coast service by
the renamed and merged company of Transcontinental and Western
Air Inc. (TWA). The Port Columbus Railroad Station continued
to be used occasionally for a number of years to pick up stranded
airline passengers grounded by bad weather. By the time 1939
rolled around, 15 flights operated by both TWA and American
Airlines were taking off at Port Columbus every day.
Port Columbus opened as the eastern air link on the
country’s first rail/air transcontinental travel
service, operated by Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT).
The airport was inaugurated July 8, 1929, when the train
“The Airway Limited” arrived from New York
City and passengers transferred to two awaiting Ford Tri-Motor
aircraft to continue their journey to California.
U.S. mail first landed at Port Columbus in 1930 and is
still today transported by the airlines.
City of Columbus Mayor James J. Thomas helped lay the cornerstone
in 1928 for the first Port Columbus terminal built on Fifth
Avenue near Hamilton Road at the southeast corner of the current
airport grounds. The Columbus Regional Airport Authority still
owns the structure, although it is privately managed as a
Many people fondly recall being able to watch aircraft
on the observation deck of the current terminal that opened
All three air traffic control towers used during the 75
year history of Port Columbus remain standing as a testament
to the progress of aviation in Central Ohio.
War II and Beyond
Port Columbus was one of only 31 non-military fields in the
country (and the only one in Ohio) capable of handling military
Curtiss-Wright Corporation leased 83 acres of land on the
southwestern portion of the field to produce the famous SB2C
“Helldiver” and SO3C-1 “Seagull” aircraft.
Approximately 5,200 “Helldivers” were built at
the plant. Over 700 Navy Observation aircraft were also built
there. Some of these aircraft were used in the first major
attack on Rabaul during World War II.
The Federal government took over airport operations and invested
$1.5 million to enlarge the facilities.
A Naval Air Facility was established at Port Columbus. The
Navy erected several buildings, lengthened the runways and
enlarged the ramp facilities.
The Navy relinquished its control of the airport and Mayor
James A. Rhodes named a new Metropolitan Airport Commission.
Francis A. Bolton, a Navy veteran, was appointed superintendent
of Port Columbus. At the age of 26, Bolton was the youngest
large-city airport manager in the country.
A new Control Tower opened across the field from the airport
On September 21 the new terminal building, part of the Port
Columbus we know today, was dedicated.
Port Columbus entered the jet age September 1 when a TWA Convair
880 arrived from New York City’s Idlewild Airport to
begin scheduled jet passenger service.
Port Columbus celebrated its 50th anniversary with a huge
Air Show and later began a 3-year, $70 million face-lift to
increase capacity and add passenger conveniences such as enclosed
passageways for boarding and deplaning aircraft.
Airport expansion produced ”A” concourse on the
terminal’s south side for use by USAir. Additional renovations
improved retail shops, flight information displays, lighting
and the food court.
Operation of Port Columbus was transferred to Columbus Municipal
Airport Authority from the City of Columbus.
“C” concourse on the north side of the terminal
opened along with additional ticket counter and baggage claim
space for Delta and Southwest airlines. New gift shops and
restaurants were included in the expansion.
Construction begins on a food court at the entrance to the
center of “B” concourse.
The largest capital project in the airport's history was completed.
The $92 million project included a six-level parking garage,
extensive rental car and roadway improvements as well as a
The FAA broke ground for a new state-of-the-art control tower
scheduled to be operational in late April 2004. As 2001 came
to an end, so did the 72 year service of TWA, successor of
Columbus' first airline TAT. American Airlines took over TWA's
operation in December.
On January 1, the Columbus Municipal Airport Authority merged
with the Rickenbacker Port Authority to form the Columbus
Regional Airport Authority, which operates Port Columbus International,
Rickenbacker International and Bolton Field airports.
Port Columbus celebrates its 75th anniversary.
All photos graciously provided by The Ohio Historical Society. To learn more about The Ohio Historical Society, please call 614-297-2300 or visit the society 1982 Velma Avenue, Columbus, OH 43211.