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 the CDA continues to change and update Chicago's number one gateway to the world.


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

  • 1945: Orchard Field is selected for Chicago’s new airport. The site, previously home to a Douglas aircraft assembly plant, has four intersecting concrete runways.
  • 1949: Chicago City Council renames Orchard Field as Chicago O’Hare International Airport (O’Hare) to honor naval aviator Lieutenant Commander Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, a Medal of Honor recipient from Chicago.
  • 1955: O’Hare officially opens to commercial air traffic; the airport serves 176,902 passengers in its first year.
  • 1957: O’Hare adds a fifth parallel diagonal runway to the west side of the airfield.
  • 1959: O’Hare expands to approximately 7,200 acres.

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

  • 1960: An eight-lane expressway opens between O’Hare and downtown Chicago.
  • 1961: Construction concludes for the main terminal building and a 5,000-car parking lot.
  • 1962: All scheduled Chicago Midway International Airport (Midway) operations transfer to O’Hare.
    Passenger numbers rise to 10 million, making O’Hare the “World’s Busiest Airport.”
  • 1963: President John F. Kennedy dedicates O’Hare.
  • 1965: The total number of passengers passing through O’Hare doubles to 20 million.
  • By 1965, the total number of passengers who passed through O'Hare International Airport doubled to 20 million.
  • 1967: The first taxiway bridge spanning a public roadway opens to enhance aircraft maneuvering efficiency.
  • 1968: A sixth parallel runway is added to the south side of the airfield. O’Hare serves 30 million passengers.

Steady Growth and Airline Deregulation: 1970-1979

  • 1971: A seventh parallel diagonal runway opens to the southeast side of the airfield.
  • 1973: The 10-story O’Hare International Tower Hotel, later renamed Hilton Chicago O’Hare, opens.
    O’Hare’s total of 37.6 million passengers exceeds the second busiest airport in the world by over 12 million.
  • 1974: O’Hare accommodates more than 37.8 million passengers on almost 695,000 flights.
  • 1976: Chicago establishes the nation’s first “Airport Delay Task Force,” resulting in the first triple-simultaneous runway operations at O’Hare. O’Hare accommodates more than 40 million passengers.
  • 1978: President Jimmy Carter signs into law the deregulation of the domestic airline system. O’Hare becomes the nation’s first (and remains one of the few) dual-hub airports in the world.

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

  • 1983: The $2 billion O’Hare Development Program commences.
  • 1984: Concourse L is added to Terminal 3. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) extends the Blue Line rail service to O’Hare.
  • 1985: Interim International Terminal 4 opens to make room for the construction of Terminal 1.
  • 1986: More than 50 million passengers pass through O’Hare.
  • 1987: United Airlines opens Terminal 1, a $500 million state-of-the-art “Terminal for Tomorrow.”
  • 1989: The South Cargo Campus opens, creating one of the nation’s largest midcontinent freight origin/destination markets.

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

  • 1990: O’Hare surpasses 60 million passengers. American Airlines completes a renovation of Terminal 3.
  • 1992: The O’Hare Command Center (OCC) opens.
  • 1993: The Airport Transit System (ATS) opens, connecting the terminals and economy parking by train. The world-class International Terminal 5 opens.
  • 1996: The O’Hare and Midway Noise Compatibility Commissions are established to help surrounding communities understand and mitigate the impact of aircraft noise.
  • 1997: O’Hare serves more than 70 million passengers.

Modernizing O'Hare Airfield to Increase Efficiency and Capacity For the Future: 2000-2009

  • 2001: The O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP) is announced to reconfigure the intersecting runways into a modern, parallel runway layout.
  • 2004: O’Hare experiences its busiest year to date with 992,471 takeoffs and landings.
  • 2005: OMP construction begins.
  • 2008: Runway 9L-27R, the extension of Runway 10L, and the North Airport Traffic Control Tower are commissioned.
  • 2009: The Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM) is issued; it includes guidance for sustainability across all airport functions.

O'Hare International Airport Today: 2010-Present

  • 2011: FedEx opens its relocated cargo facility featuring the largest airport green roof in the United States.
  • 2012: United Airlines opens a state-of-the-art relocated cargo facility.
  • 2013: Runway 10C-28C is commissioned; it becomes the first runway at the airport capable of accommodating Group VI (largest aircraft).
  • 2014: International Terminal 5 is updated as part of a $26 million concessions redevelopment program.
  • 2015: Construction commences on the Multimodal Facility (MMF). Runway 10R-28L and the South Airport Traffic Control Tower are commissioned, marking the completion of all south airfield construction for the OMP.
  • 2018 The O’Hare 21 capital plan begins. O’Hare 21 will complete the OMP and revitalize the passenger experience from curb to gate.
    The first new gates at O’Hare in 25 years open in the Concourse L extension.
    The MMF opens.
    The Central Deicing Facility opens. It is the first at O’Hare, the largest of its kind in the United States, and the second largest in the world.
  • 2019: The expansion of International Terminal 5 commences; the expansion will add 10 new gates, 15 new concessions, and 6 new security checkpoint lanes.
  • 2019​: The expansion of International Terminal 5 commences; the expansion will add 10 new gates, 15 new concessions, and 6 new security checkpoint lanes. The final phase of the OMP, Runway 9R-27L Extension, breaks ground. 
  • 2020: The final new construction runway of the OMP, Runway 9C-27C, is commissioned in November.

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