Orchard Field to O’Hare Field

Chicago’s first airport, Municipal Airport (now Midway), opened in 1926. Given the promise of air travel, only years after the opening of Municipal airport civic leaders were talking about a site for a second airport to handle increasing demand. The site for a second airport emerged as a result of wartime production needs in World War II. Needing a location for the Douglas Aircraft Company to produce its C-54 Skymaster transport aircraft, the Army Air Corp purchased a 1347-acre parcel in unincorporated northwest Cook County near Bensenville for the production facility and related airstrip.[1] The land occupied by orchards was taken over by the Army Air Corp (later to become the U.S. Air Force) in June 1942. It was then handed over to the Douglas Aircraft Company in November of that year.


View of Douglas Aircraft Company Chicago plant circa 1944.[2]

Although some residents of the area at the time objected to the development and wanted to preserve the “rural nature” of the area, the land was rezoned for industrial use by the county.[3] From that point on the only vestige of the orchards was in the naming of the airport. The area had already been named Orchard Place from the time it was a stop on the Wisconsin Central Railroad in the 19th century. The new WWII aircraft facility retained this identifier, naming itself Orchard Place Airport/Douglas Field in 1942. After the war in 1947, the City of Chicago acquired 1000 acres of the Douglas plant and land from the federal government at no cost.[4] Shortly after, it renamed it O’Hare Field, honoring naval aviator Edward “Butch” O’Hare. The only reminder of the airport’s rural past is its airport code, ORD. Still used today, it is a reference to the original Orchard Place Field.

[1] Ian Petchenik, “The Fascinating History Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport: 1920-1960.” Airways News. April 7, 2014. http://airwaysnews.com/blog/2014/04/07/chicago-ohare-history/. Accessed March 10, 2016.

[2] DesPlaines History Center, Photograph. “View of Douglas Aircraft Company Chicago plant circa 1944.” http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/desplain001/id/224/rec/5. Accessed March 16, 2016.

[3] Jim Bartholomew, “Chicago: A Look Back at June 9, 1942.” Connecting the Windy City Blog http://www.connectingthewindycity.com/2012/06/chicago-look-back-at-june-9-1942.html Accessed March 10, 2016.

[4] Petchenik, 2014a.