O'Hare History


Since the site was chosen for Chicago's new airport in 1945, O'Hare has quickly grown into one of the busiest and most well-known airports in the world. Take a look at how O'Hare has changed over the years, and how we continue to change and update Chicago's number one gateway to the world.


From Orchard Field to O'Hare International Airport: 1945-1959

  • In 1945, a Site Selection Committee appointed by Mayor Edward Kelly chose Orchard Field, the location of a Douglas aircraft assembly plant located on the northwest side of Chicago, as the site for a new Chicago airport. The site had four concrete runways.
  • Temporary runway lights were added in 1946.
  • In 1949, the Chicago City Council renamed Orchard Field as Chicago-O'Hare International Airport to honor naval aviator Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. "Butch" O'Hare, a Medal of Honor recipient from Chicago who died in World War II.
  • O'Hare International Airport officially opened to commercial air traffic in 1955 and served 176,902 passengers in its first year.
  • The airlines serving O'Hare International Airport in 1956 were American, Air France, BOAC, Braniff, Capitol, Delta, Eastern, Flying Tigers, Ozark, Pan American, Trans Canada, TWA, and United.
  • A fifth runway was added to O'Hare International Airport in 1957.
  • August 8, 1958 marked the date that O'Hare International Airport's first terminal, used specifically for international travel, was dedicated. The occasion was celebrated by the arrival of a TWA non-stop flight from Paris to Chicago. A total of 22,498 international passengers were accommodated by the end of the year.
  • On April 1, 1959, Mayor Richard J. Daley presided over ceremonies to inaugurate the expansion of O'Hare International Airport to approximately 7,200 acres. The expansion included additional terminal and cargo buildings, airplane hangars, automobile parking, a post office, flight kitchens and rental car facilities.

O'Hare International Airport Becomes the "World's Busiest Airport": 1960-1969

  • An eight-lane expressway opened in 1960 between O'Hare International Airport and downtown Chicago, making the airport more easily accessible to travelers.
  • By the end of 1961, flight operations increased to 86,495 departures and arrivals. Also in 1961, the main terminal building and a 5,000-car parking lot were completed.
  • All scheduled Midway Airport operations were transferred to O'Hare International Airport by 1962. The additional transferred flights made the passenger numbers rise to 10 million by the end of the year, making O'Hare International Airport the "World's Busiest Airport."
  • On March 23, 1963, O'Hare International Airport was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy, who said, "There is no other airport in the world which serves so many people and so many airplanes. This is an extraordinary airport, an extraordinary city, and an extraordinary country, and it could be classed as one of the wonders of the modern world."
  • The Seven Continents Restaurant opened in 1963 in the Rotunda building in Terminal 3.
  • By 1965, the total number of passengers who passed through O'Hare International Airport doubled to 20 million.
  • The first taxiway bridge spanning a public roadway opened at O'Hare International Airport in 1967 to enhance aircraft maneuvering efficiency. Similar taxiway bridges were subsequently built in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, and London's Heathrow Airport.
  • A sixth runway was added to O'Hare International Airport in 1968.
  • O'Hare International Airport broke the 30 million passenger mark for the first time in 1968.

Steady Growth and Airline Deregulation: 1970-1979

  • O'Hare International Airport's seventh runway was added in 1971.
  • The 10-story O'Hare Hilton Hotel opened in 1973. Located directly opposite from the terminals, passengers could step off an airplane and walk to the hotel lobby.
  • O'Hare International Airport's 37.6 million passengers in 1973 exceeded that of the second busiest airport in the world by 12 million!
  • A six-level parking facility was opened in 1974, bringing O'Hare International Airport's parking capacity to 9,300 cars. That same year, a pedestrian tunnel system linking the parking structure, O'Hare Hilton Hotel and the terminal complex was also completed.
  • By the end of 1974, O'Hare International Airport handled more than 37.8 million passengers on almost 695,000 flights.
  • In 1976, Chicago established the nation's first "Airport Delay Task Force", which resulted in the first triple simultaneous runway use at O'Hare International Airport.
  • O'Hare International Airport handled over 40 million passengers for the first time in 1976.
  • Deregulation of the domestic airline system was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. As a result, O'Hare International Airport became the nation's first and now only dual hub airport, with commensurate benefits to consumers—competitive airfares and more service to more destinations than any other airport in the world.

Designing For a New Wave of Passengers and Flights to O'Hare International Airport: 1980-1989

  • Chicago responds to crowded terminals with the announcement of a $2 billion O'Hare Development Program in 1983.
  • In 1984, Concourse L was added to Terminal 3, housing Delta Airlines.
  • The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) extended the Blue Line rail service to O'Hare International Airport in 1984. The new O'Hare CTA station made the commute to the airport fast, easy and inexpensive.
  • Interim International Terminal 4 opened in 1985 to make room for the construction of Terminal 1, United Airlines' future "Terminal for Tomorrow".
  • Over 50 million passengers passed through O'Hare International Airport for the first time in 1986.
  • United Airlines' Terminal 1 opened in 1987. The state-of-the-art terminal was built at a cost of $500 million.
  • In 1989, the South Cargo Area was completed at O'Hare International Airport, resulting in the nation's largest mid-continent freight origin/destination market.

O'Hare International Airport Prepares for the 21st Century: 1990-1999

  • O'Hare International Airport surpassed the 60 million passenger mark for the first time in 1990.
  • American Airlines completed renovation of Terminal 3 in 1990.
  • In 1990, Mayor Richard M. Daley led the initiative to introduce Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) legislation, providing funds needed to modernize the nation's airports at no cost to local taxpayers.
  • The O'Hare Command Center opened in May 1992.
  • The Airport Transit System (ATS) opened in 1993 to improve intra-terminal passenger transit, relieve roadway congestion, and reduce air emissions.
  • The world class International Terminal 5 opened in 1993, establishing Chicago as the premier mid-continent international gateway and connecting hub. Chicago began to capitalize on deregulation of the international market and liberalization of open skies agreements.
  • The O'Hare and Midway Noise Compatibility Commissions were established in 1996 to provide neighboring communities with the funds and decision-making authority to reduce the impact of aircraft noise.
  • O'Hare International Airport unveils the first "Hush House" at a major U.S. airport in 1997. The "Hush House" features state-of-the-art noise reduction technology to reduce aircraft ground run-up noise.
  • O'Hare International Airport served more than 70 million passengers in 1997.

Modernizing O'Hare Airfield to Increase Efficiency and Capacity For the Future: 200-2009

  • On June 29, 2001, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP). The OMP reconfigures O’Hare’s existing airfield into a modern, parallel runway layout, thereby increasing the airport’s efficiency, capacity and safety for many years to come. When the OMP is complete, O'Hare International Airport will have eight runways. Six will be East-West parallel runways and two crosswind runways.
  • The State of Illinois passed the O’Hare Modernization Act in 2003. This law ensured that modernization efforts would move forward as efficiently as possible and declared the importance of a modernized O’Hare to Illinois transportation, jobs, and businesses.
  • In 2003, the OMP Sustainable Design Manual (SDM) was released, making Chicago the first in the nation to develop sustainability guidance for airports. The SDM was applied to every OMP design and construction project, resulting in the evolution of a unique process and many industry firsts including the development of a green rating and award system.
  • O'Hare International Airport experiences its busiest year ever in 2004, handling 992,471 takeoffs and landings.
  • On September 30, 2005, the FAA issued a Record of Decision in favor of the OMP.
  • In November 2005 the FAA issued a Letter of Intent Funding $337 Million for OMP Phase I
  • In 2006 the FAA approved the OMP Phase I Noise Program Passenger Facility Charge Application and implemented mandatory flight caps at O'Hare International Airport.
  • In 2008, new OMP Runway 9L-27R, the extension of Runway 10L and the North Airport Traffic Control Tower were commissioned ahead of schedule and $40 million under budget. The FAA allowed mandatory flight caps at O'Hare International Airport to expire at the end of October 2008.
  • In 2009, the FAA approved the OMP Completion Phase Design Passenger Facility Charge Application and the remaining OMP Noise Program Passenger Facility Charge Application.
  • The Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM) was issued in August 2009. The SAM is new version of the SDM and was expanded to include guidance for sustainability across all airport functions.

O'Hare International Airport Today: 2010-Present

  • In April 2010, the FAA issued a Letter of Intent funding $410 million for the OMP Completion Phase.
  • On March 14, 2011, the City of Chicago, American Airlines, United Airlines and the FAA announce a $1.17 billion funding agreement for construction of OMP Completion Phase 2A.
  • FedEx opened a relocated cargo facility in September 2011, featuring the largest airport green roof in the U.S. United Airlines opened a relocated cargo building in March 2012. Both projects were funded by OMP.
  • Signature Flight Support opened a new, relocated FBO facility at O’Hare in August 2012.
  • On May 14, 2012, the CDA Announces agreement with Aeroterm LLC to begin construction of the Northeast Cargo Center at O'Hare.
  • On October 17, 2013, the OMP commissioned Runway 10C-28C, marking the completion of OMP Phase 1 and the halfway point of the OMP. Runway 10C-28C is Chicago’s first Group VI capable runway.
  • The substantial completion of a $26 million concessions redevelopment program for O’Hare International Terminal 5 is celebrated on April 4, 2014.
  • On May 21, 2015 the CDA breaks ground on a consolidated rental car and public parking facility at O'Hare.
  • On October 15, 2015, the OMP commissions Runway 10R-28L and the South Airport Traffic Control Tower at O'Hare, marking the completion of all south airfield construction for the OMP.

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