(from the Introduction)

Most people today consider Chicago to be an “aviation capital” only in its demonstrated ability to thoroughly disrupt air travel throughout the nation. Many who are older or have an interest in Chicago history realize that Municipal/Midway Airport was the nation’s aviation crossroads for decades.

When one thinks of U.S. aviation centers, cities such as Dayton OH, Hammondsport NY, Seattle WA, and Wichita KS come to mind, not Chicago. But in fact, Chicago arguably surpassed all these cities in the early decades of the 20th century. As an article about aviation in the September 18, 1910 issue of the Chicago Tribune proclaimed:

It is doubtful if there is any city on the continent which can show a greater activity and a wider growth of interest in aviation than Chicago. It is the outcropping in a new field of the same old celebrated “Chicago spirit” which thrives, as it does under no other conditions, when encountering opposition and obstacle.[1]

To support this bold claim, we have only to look at the facts:

  • In 1910, dozens of companies were building and selling airplanes around Chicago plus a hundred amateurs were building their own aircraft of all sorts of designs.
  • In 1911, Chicago hosted the largest air show of that era. To this day, it remains the largest air show held in the center of a major city.
  • In 1911, the E.B. Heath Aerial Vehicle Co., known nationwide as Heath’s Airplane Trading Post, operated a catalog supply company providing barnstormers and amateur builders with hard-to-get parts for any and all airplanes.
  • In 1912, Chicago’s first permanent airport, Cicero Field, became the busiest airport in the country.
  • In the late 1910’s, the U.S. Post Office Dept. conducted numerous air mail tests in Chicago. After the Postal Service initiated regular air mail service, Chicago was the hub for numerous routes as well as the site for the Air Mail Service’s maintenance and repair facility.
  • In the 1920’s when the Commerce Dept. initiated the reorganized Contract Air Mail (CAM) Service, Chicago was the origin for 9 out of 34 CAM routes.

Chicago’s influence spread far beyond the city.

  • Chicago authors and editors produced the earliest books on aviation. Even before the Wright Brothers, Octave Chanute published Progress of Flying Machines in 1894. In 1909, the first aviation books in the country were: First Lessons in Aeronautics by M.K. Kasmar and Vehicles of the Air: A Popular Exposition of Modern Aeronautics with Working Drawings by Victor Loughhead. In 1912, Aerial Age became the nation’s first aviation periodical.
  • Many of the country’s major airplane manufacturers were founded by aviators rooted in Chicago, including: Edward Heath, Benny Howard, Emil “Matty” Laird, Bill Lear, Allan Loughhead (of Lockheed), James, McDonnell, Glenn L. Martin, Eddie Stinson, Bill Stout (Ford Trimotor), Chauncy “Chance” Vought, “Buck” Weaver (of WACO) and others.
  • Aviation corporations and organizations started or based in Chicago include: Air Line Pilots Organization, American Airlines, Challenger Air Pilots Assn., Early Birds of Aviation, Underwriters Laboratories, and United Air Lines.
  • Practically all professional aviators in the first half of the 20th Century spent a lot of time flying in and around Chicago.

Chicago’s aviation impact is undeniable and it was not all hype when in 1929, this aviation school ad described Chicago as one of the school’s advantages:

Only Greer Students have the advantage that Chicago, “the Air Capital of the United States,” can give them – the world-famous Municipal Airport about which are grouped the hangars of every famous transport company East and Mid-West – endless varieties of industries are here both in the field of Aviation and out of it. Here, if anywhere, are the greatest opportunities for the graduate.[2]

[1]          Chicagology (online) “Aeronautical Center Introduction - Chicago's Aviation Pioneers”; accessed 2/1/2018; 


[2]        Aeronautics: For Sportsman, Business Man and Pilot; Chicago: Aeronautical Publications, Inc.

"Continued Leadership after 27 Years of Success; Greer College (Advertisement)," September 1929, p. 77, accessed 9/30/2017.