Newark Airport: America’s First Love Affair with Flight

By Roz Hamlett, Editor

In 1928 the same year Amelia Earhart was winning the hearts, minds and imaginations of Americans by becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic (as a passenger), the first hard-surfaced strip of any commercial airport facility in the nation was under construction at Newark Airport.  After a small four-passenger monoplane from Washington, D.C. made the first landing that year in August, the airport quickly became the world’s busiest airport.

By 1931, only three years later, 90,177 travelers had used it.  Then as now, an increase in passenger traffic led to a demand for better amenities, and consequently, an administration building that housed a passenger terminal, restaurant and hotel rooms was soon constructed.

After setting numerous  aviation records, including becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Ms. Earhart returned to Newark in 1935 to become the first person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City to Newark.

Aside from Ms. Earhart’s accomplishments, and those of other aviators like Charles Lindbergh, Newark Airport would go on to claim many aviation firsts:  the first paved runways; the first nighttime runway lighting and radio beacons, which allowed round-the-clock flight operations and safe landings through fog; and the first air traffic control tower in the United States, a structure that was later designated a national historic site.  Newark had the first airport weather station, which enabled safer air travel.  And it established the first airport post office, the logical outgrowth of another innovation of the time – airmail.

Thomas A. Edison himself even visited Newark Airport to pick up a few pointers on the construction of his beloved “windmill aeroplane.”

Today we associate Newark Liberty International Airport with the heavily developed and industrialized areas of North Jersey, where flight operations and the amazing sight of jet underbellies are in full view from the roadway of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Yet, the airport was constructed on the southernmost portion of the Meadowlands – formerly a damp marshy site that required more than 1.5 million cubic feet of dry fill – which included 7000 Christmas trees and 200 metal safes to be exact – to prepare it for paving and the building of an airfield.

With the passage of time, industrial development and population shifts during World War II and the Port Authority takeover of Port Newark, business was attracted to the area and economic development boomed. One of the airport’s first managers was Colonel Edwin E. Aldrin, whose son “Buzz” would later become the second man on the moon.

In 1926, just two years before Newark Airport was established, all the airlines in the country put together had a total of only 28 planes.   At the dedication ceremony in Newark, General James H. Doolittle, an aviator who later became vice president of Shell Oil, said “We knew that airports would soon be as indispensable to major cities as railroad stations and good roads.  Aviation today is our first line of defense – and it is indispensable to our economy.”



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