Newark Public Library Marks the 80th Anniversary of Newark Liberty International Airport
It was the first commercial airport to service the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area and it preceded Manhattan’s La Guardia International Airport by more than a decade. The busiest airport in the world during the first 10 years of its existence, the Newark Metropolitan Airport, as it was known then, celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.
A pictorial history of the airport, along with artifacts and important documents pertaining to its construction and growth over the course of its existence, will be on display at the Newark Public Library from April 7 through June 14 to mark the anniversary of its opening day, October 1, 1928. That opening was delayed for several days to mourn the death of Newark Mayor Thomas L. Raymond, the man who had conceived the airport and ensured that it was built.
An opening reception for the exhibit, EWR Turns 80: A History of Newark Liberty International Airport, will be held Monday, April 7 at 6 p.m. This exhibition was made possible by a grant from the Port Authority of NY & NJ. The exhibition will fill the second- and third-floor galleries, and is free and open to the public during regular library hours: Monday, Friday, Saturday 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 9:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
"Mayor Raymond had the foresight to visualize the civic needs of his city far into the future, and the enthusiasm and energy to enact his ideals," said Library Director Wilma J. Grey. "We are delighted to work with the Port Authority of NY & NJ to celebrate the 80-year history of the airport."
"Through the rich collection of photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia, the Newark Public Library’s exhibit will provide to the public a view of the extraordinary history not only of the airport itself, but also of the aviation industry, the City, and the region," explained Susan Bass Levin, First Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of NY & NJ and honorary chairperson of the exhibition committee.
"From the beginning, Newark Metropolitan Airport celebrated many firsts: it was the first commercial airport in the metropolitan area, boasted the first paved runway, the first weather tower, the first airport restaurant, and the first illuminated runways for nighttime flights," said Librarian James Lewis of the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, curator of the exhibit.
Richard Koles, a professional photographer formerly with the Daily Journal in Elizabeth, has also lent his expertise in the development of the exhibition. Koles, who produced eight pictorial histories of different New Jersey communities with his late writing partner, Jean-Rae Turner, was working on a book about the airport when she died. "Newark Liberty International Airport has a very rich history," Koles said, after researching both the book and the exhibit.
The library delved into its collection of photographs and Jerseyana and borrowed images and artifacts from Koles and others to create a very visual exhibit that chronicles the ups and downs of the city’s airport. It traces its history from the airport’s first hey-day as the world’s busiest airport through the lull and then its resurgence in the 1980s with the opening of People Express airline.
"In some exhibit cases, we contrast what there was in the past to what is there now; there’s a picture from the 1930s of a Newark police officer on horseback juxtaposed with pictures of metal detectors and luggage scanners," said Lewis.
David Morris, a retired Port Authority employee who was in charge of operations at Newark until 1997, remembers climbing into the cockpit of a standing New Jersey National Guard plane as a boy. The unofficial historian of the airport and a member of the exhibit committee, Morris first visited the airport when he was six years old. That visit ignited a lifelong love of the airport.
"Newark Metropolitan Airport was a destination for families," Morris said, explaining families would take outings to the airport to watch the planes take off and land.
The exhibit includes pictures of the famous and not-so-famous who passed through the airport: actress Polly Bergen, singer Christine McGuire of the McGuire Sisters, and Capt. Billy Mitchell and Clarence D. Chamberlain, early pilots who set world speed records traveling from west to east, landing at Newark Metropolitan Airport.
There are also pictures of the travelers and officials who helped mark firsts for Newark Metropolitan Airport, including Charles Lindbergh, who tested the world’s first instrument landing system installed there in 1933, and Amelia Earhart, who dedicated the new Administration Building in 1935.
There is a picture of the army commander who took charge of Newark Metropolitan Airport during World War II, Col. Edwin E. Aldrin, father of astronaut "Buzz" Aldrin, who was born just a few miles away in Montclair.
On view are pictures of the first air control tower, images of the evolution in snow removal techniques over the years, and even pictures of the people mover that now links the City of Newark to its airport.
Models of planes that flew in and out of EWR are on display, as are artifacts from People Express and pictorial histories of many of the tenants of the airport—from Continental Airlines to Federal Express. Photographs depict many of the airplanes that flew out of the facility: a 1929 Sikorsky S38 Amphibian, a Curtiss Condor (made down the road in Teterboro), a 1933 Ford Trimotor and pictures from an early air show.
Mayor Jerome Congleton is pictured welcoming the U.S. Postal Service to his airport. The U.S. Postal Service made Newark its eastern hub, but not without controversy. Mayor Congleton demanded and received a penny for each pound of mail processed rather than settling for the $600 flat fee offered by Pitcairn Aviation and National Air Transport. His victory was temporary.
Newark lost its luster thanks to the opening of what was first called New York Municipal Airport and later named for the mayor who made it a reality: Fiorello LaGuardia.
"The story has Mayor LaGuardia flying in to Newark holding a ticket that read New York," said Shea Oakley, executive director of the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of New Jersey, and a consultant and contributor to the exhibit. "When the DC 2 landed in Newark, the mayor looked at his ticket and claimed he would not disembark until the plane landed in New York City."
Having alerted reporters beforehand to the stunt, and Trans World Airlines (TWA) as well, the mayor was flown to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn where he received optimum coverage. His airport was dedicated October 15, 1939, and opened for business that December.
Not only did passengers desert Newark Metropolitan Airport, but five carriers did too, resulting in its shuttering for reorganization by Newark Mayor Meyer Ellenstein. It was taken over by the war department in the spring of 1942 and returned to civilian status in 1948, when it was taken over by the Port Authority of NY & NJ, which still oversees all three metropolitan airports along with Teterboro in northern New Jersey and Stewart International Airport in Orange County, New York.
"Historically one of the nation’s busiest airports, in 2006 Newark Liberty International transported over 35 million passengers. The Port Authority has worked to be a partner and good neighbor to the surrounding communities," noted Bass Levin.
The airport became Newark International Airport in 1973 when the first commercial flights to destinations in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean were added. It was renamed a second time in 2003 to Newark Liberty International Airport as a tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
It started as a $6 million project to construct a commercial airport in 68 acres of reclaimed swampland, just one of the many civic projects, along with deep-water ports, a sanitary water supply and paved and illuminated streets, brought to fruition by a visionary mayor who foresaw that Newark would become a gateway to the greater United States and the American dream.
For more information or to schedule a group tour, please call the Library at 973-733-7756.
Members of the media: click here to view images.
©2008 The Newark Public Library