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Dayton International Airport Celebrates 80th Anniversary

TWA's City of Dayton airplane
Dan Patterson Archives

Over the weekend the Dayton International Airport celebrated its 80th anniversary.  When it opened, it was called Dayton Municipal Airport. And opening day coincided with the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first fight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina.  It was 1936 – aviation was a burgeoning industry in the US.  Aviation commentator Dan Patterson has the story.

During the deepest months of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt's government was propping up economic development projects all across the country, including the heavily subsidized airline industry.  Airlines needed cities across the USA as destinations, and that was good for Dayton.

By the early 1930s, the city's airport had fallen below the standards necessary to accommodate larger and faster airliners and was in danger of being passed over.  Ripley's "Believe it or Not" newspaper cartoons even mocked the City of Dayton, the home of the Wright Brothers, for not having an airport.

In April, 1936, a committee of regional businessmen led by former Governor James M Cox had raised the funds to purchase the airport property in Vandalia and gave it to the City of Dayton.  Governor Cox, who had personal ties to President Roosevelt, then worked his influence and got nearly $750,000 in federal funds to rebuild the airport.

The target date for dedication of the new airport was December 17th, the same year, so  in the next seven months, almost 500 men went to work laying 150,000 square yards of concrete for runways and taxiways.

On opening day, The Dayton Daily News headlines read: "DAYTON AIR SERVICE OPENS," and stories proclaimed, "New City of Dayton is Christened During Colorful Ceremony."  The story opens:

"Dayton proclaimed its rightful heritage to aviation prominence Thursday when a great TWA airliner, a new CD-3 named the City of Dayton swooped down upon the Dayton Municipal air field - the first of the planes which will bring transcontinental air service to this section."

Not to be outdone, American Airlines got involved too.  The newspaper reports:

"Sand from Kill Devil Hills, over which the Wright brothers  made their first flight 33 years ago, arrived in Dayton yesterday in a bag made from the cloth that covered the original glider.  Captain W.J. Tate, of Coinjock, N.C., with whom the Wright brothers lived while experimenting with their first planes, made the 40 mile trip to Kill Devil Kills to get the sand, and his wife made the bag on the sewing machine which she and Wilbur Wright sewed the cloth used to cover the glider. [...]Captain Tate suggested that 'the sad be scattered in front of the City of Dayton as part of the christening so that when the plan takes off, [it will] roll over the same soil that Orville Wright rolled over when he made his world-famous flight 33 years ago."

This year will mark the 113th anniversary of the success of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.  The Dayton International Airport is now implementing their  25 year expansion plan.

Dan Patterson is an aviation historian and photographer. You can see more of his photos at his website, www.flyinghistory.com