MSP booms in the 1950s, starts construction on modern terminal

As the Twin Cities boomed in the 1950s, the Metropolitan Airports CommissioTeenagers watch planes come in from first observation deckn found itself working to manage fast growth at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Thousands of service men and women returned from duty overseas as World War II ended, and the 1950s saw tremendous growth in the Twin Cities area, with the population rising 26 percent during the decade to 1.9 million.

Northwest Airlines also saw its passenger numbers continuing to climb, aided by its strong market position on flights to Asia. 

And Northwest wasn’t alone. Four scheduled airlines operated at MSP after WW II, and the original terminal building on the west side of the airfield became stretched beyond capacity by the mid-1950s.

The novelty of flight was still strong in 1950, the first year the airport’s observation deck was open on the west side of the airfield. The deck drew 264,000 visitors that year -- an average of more than 700 per day.

For the airlines, MSP had other draws. A Mississippi River flood in 1952 prompted Northwest Airlines to look for a new location for its maintenance base at the St. Paul Airport, which was susceptible to high water.

In the mid-1950s construction started on a new Northwest Airlines overhaul maintenance base at MSP and the airline moved the St. Paul maintenance operations to the new facility in 1959. New general offices for Northwest and the maintenance base amounted to an $18 million investment and solidified MSP as the airline's home base.

In 1956, Northwest Airlines had 5,500 employees globally and was growing rapidly. Two years later, Northwest started modernizing its fleet, adding Lockheed Electras and Douglas DC-8s to the existing fleet of StratoCruisers.

By 1955 MSP had passed a milestone by serving more than 1 million passengers annually. That same year, 427 acres of Fort Snelling were deeded to the MAC, providing room for expansion of the airfield and needed facilities.

Planning the new terminal
Studies of a new, modern facility began after forecasts projected that passenger counts would reach 4 million by 1975. The airlines supported the idea of a new terminal and the entire project was designed with future expansions in mind, including space for ticket counters, offices, waiting areas and more concessions. 

The new terminal came with an $8.5 million price tag and was designed to handle 14,000 passengers per day.
Compared to other airports, the key design component that set the new terminal apart was putting passenger services on the top level, with baggage and ground transportation services on the lower level.

Ground was broken in October 1958 on the east side of the airfield. The expansion plan, which totaled $47 million, also included a new control tower, access roads and upgrades to runways and taxiways.
Out front, the terminal had a new 2,500-space parking lot, also designed with room for expansion.

Police and fire service grows along with the airport
The Airport Police Department started in 1947 when the MAC hired two officers to patrol the small terminal on the west side of the airfield and the adjacent parking lot.

The job description included turning off the lights each evening before they went home.

The police department continued to add an officer or two each year during the 1950s, and then added 10 in 1962, the year the new terminal building opened. That brought the total to 25.

Police department milestones included the formation of a detective division in 1974 and a SWAT team in 1978.
For years, the police facilities were housed on the baggage claim level at Terminal 1. In 1984, police administration moved to the mezzanine level and the communications center moved to a shared space with Airside Operations.

Today, the Airport Police Department includes 115 sworn officers and 70 non-sworn personnel. They respond to a wide variety of calls as 38 million people pass through MSP annually.

In its early days, MSP relied on the Minneapolis Fire Department for fire service. In the 1950s, Minneapolis had a fire station at the Naval Air Station and responded to calls from that location.

The Air Force eventually took over the firefighting responsibilities at the airport.

With the new terminal under construction in the late 1950s, the MAC moved toward launching its own fire department. In 1961 the Air Force Fire Department’s fire equipment was transferred to the MAC. In 1962, construction of a new fire station near the control tower began.

When runway 17/35 was planned, the airport needed a second fire station, due to an FAA rule that fire crews have to be able to reach the end of each runway within 3 minutes. The MAC built a new fire station next to Terminal 2 in 2005, and the Airport Fire Department administration also is based there. 

Today, the Airport Fire Department has 51 employees, including administrative staff. About 70 percent of department calls are medical-related.

The new terminal gives MSP a modern look, room to expand
After more than three years of construction, the new terminal opened on Jan. 13, 1962. An open house the next day drew a crowd of 100,000. The Augsburg College Band and the Business and Industrial Choral Society provided the entertainment.

The exterior featured the eye-catching “sawtooth” roof with 17 folds, which is still a signature component of the building. The two concourses that extended off the terminal provided a total of 24 gates for aircraft.
The upper-level roadway in front of the terminal came with a state-of-the-art built-in snow-melting system. Services in the ticketing lobby initially included a drugstore and a children’s nursery. 

As with all US airports, there were no security checkpoints at MSP until the early 1970s.

Closer to the airport’s two concourses, passengers could find food services including a dining room, snack bar and coffee shop all served by a common kitchen.

Initially, the terminal’s two concourses were called Piers B and C. However, the names sounded too similar on the 1960s public address system used at MSP, and they were changed to Blue and Red – known today as Concourses E and F. 

The first flight to arrive at the terminal was operated by Northwest Airlines and arrived a week after the public opening, on Jan. 21.

The projected growth in passenger numbers in the mid-1950s lived up to expectations, as the airport served 756,000 passengers in 1950, booming to 1.8 million in 1960.

The number of carriers serving MSP had continued to expand as well. Eastern Air Lines and Ozark Airlines had entered the market in the late 1950s, and Western, United, North Central and Braniff were also offering flights at MSP.

The first scheduled jet aircraft flight came through the airport on Jan. 5, 1961, as a Northwest Airlines DC-8 stopped at MSP in route to Chicago. Braniff began jet service to MSP four months later. 

As the jet age arrived at MSP, neighborhoods around the airport were in the midst of the Baby Boom. As evidence, enrollment in the Richfield Public Schools went from 2,506 in 1950 to 10,055 in 1960.

With more people moving into newly built subdivisions near MSP, airport noise started to attract more attention. That noise, particularly from commercial jetliners, would play a key role in a late-1960s push to move the airport farther away from the urban center.