Sunday, Nov 25, 2018

The Metropolitan Airports Commission didn’t come into existence with out a push by Northwest Airlines and some pulling by then-Gov. Harold Stassen.


Aviation in the Twin Cities area in the early 1940s was growing through commercial flights, airmail service and an ever-increasing number of military operations. Wold-Chamberlain Field, soon to get a new name, was already a major flight-training center for the military.

The idea of making the Twin Cities region a leading aviation hub had been discussed for years. Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen spoke once of watching planes land at St. Paul’s Holman Field in the 1930s, and then 15 minutes later take off for Wold-Chamberlain less than 12 miles away.

“I recognized how illogical that was from the stand point of air travel,” Stassen said. “So when I was elected governor in 1938 I decided there ought to be one major municipal airport for the Twin Cities area and that it should be under a special municipal airport commission.” 

In the same era, Northwest began using its influence to push for a single Twin Cities airfield.

In 1941, the St. Paul City Council met to discuss Northwest’s plan to withdraw from Holman Field that fall and serve the Twin Cities through Wold-Chamberlain only. As Northwest ended all service at Holman Field in November 1941, the annual passenger count at Wold-Chamberlain was 114,000 and projected to increase to 800,000 after the war.

In January of 1943, the Minneapolis Tribune ran a story with the headline “NWA Chief Proposes Gigantic Expansion of Minneapolis Airport.”

Croil Hunter, then the president of Northwest Airlines, said the expansion of Wold-Chamberlain was necessary to satisfy existing commercial and military aviation needs.

The growth plan would also establish the airport as a “super airdrome” for international air commerce, he said.
Holman Field in St. Paul, he said, “will qualify in the post-war era as a busy port for handling flying freight cargoes and much local air commerce.”

Believing that the Twin Cities had missed becoming a big hub for rail traffic, civic leaders were determined not to miss the boom in aviation and airline service for lack of a major airport.

That push required concentrated air service at one location, a political need for an airfield equidistant from downtowns of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, and enough room for expansion to fulfill the vision of an international hub.

By 1943, the idea had gained momentum. In Stassen’s plan, the commission owning and operating the airport would derive its authority from the state – not from a municipality, as is common in many cities around the United States.

Another motivation for a state-authorized airport was better access to the government funds needed to build a large facility. The initial act establishing the MAC allowed the state to issue bonds for airports, and gave the governor $1 million for the Minnesota Metropolitan Airports Fund to be spent at airports statewide.
Stassen said he was looking forward to the day when the Twin Cities would be a jumping off point for air travel to “the Orient and link to East Asia flights and South America.”

As the 1943 Minnesota legislative session began, representatives of Minneapolis and St. Paul met with Stassen to go over proposed legislation to set up a joint “MSP airways commission.”

At the time, Wold-Chamberlain Field was controlled by the Minneapolis Park Board, and the city of St. Paul controlled Holman Field. The new law would convert control of those facilities to the new commission.
The Minneapolis Tribune reported that the commission that Stassen envisioned would work in harmony on a post-war airport program for the Twin Cities and have powers to include “acquiring property, build and equip airports, take over existing airports and hire a manager for them.”

Stassen’s idea for a commission also had the support of Northwest Airlines.

As the airports commission bill moved through the State Capitol and was approved by the Senate, the Minneapolis Tribune called it “the most important legislation of the session and will enable Minnesota to take front rank in the postwar air transport picture.”

The legislation establishing the MAC won final approval on April 19, 1943 and the law took effect on July 6, 1943.

Despite the passage by the Legislature, the MAC’s early days were not drama-free. The same month that the MAC came into existence, Gov. Stassen – the MAC’s key supporter -- resigned his office to serve as a Naval officer in WW II.

And days before the Minneapolis Park Board was to relinquish control of Wold-Chamberlain to the MAC, lawsuits were filed challenging the move. The lawsuits questioned the constitutionality of portions of the law that established the MAC.

Ultimately, the state and the MAC prevailed, and in August 1944, the MAC officially assumed control of Wold-Chamberlain and Holman Field.

Northwest continued to grow at Wold-Chamberlain through the 1940s, but the airport’s biggest user remained the military. As late as 1947, military flights still made up almost half the aircraft operations at Wold-Chamberlain.

After the war, scheduled commercial service to Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Manila began on July 15, 1947 on a 50-passenger Northwest DC-4.

To reflect the airport’s new ties to destinations overseas, the airport’s name was changed to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport/Wold-Chamberlain Field in 1948.