Chicago Midway International Airport (IATA: MDW, ICAO: KMDW, FAA LID: MDW), typically referred to as Midway Airport, Chicago Midway, or simply Midway, is a major commercial airport on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, located eight miles (13 km) from the Loop. Established in 1927, Midway served as Chicago’s primary airport until the opening of O’Hare International Airport in 1955. Today, Midway is the second-largest airport in the Chicago metropolitan area and the state of Illinois, serving 20,844,860 passengers in 2019.
Midway is a base for Southwest Airlines, which carries over 95% of the passengers at the airport. The airport’s current name is in honor of the Battle of Midway. The now-defunct Midway Airlines that once serviced the airport took its name from the airport, not vice versa. The airfield is located in a square mile bounded by 55th and 63rd Streets, and Central and Cicero Avenues. The current terminal complex was completed in 2001. The terminal bridges Cicero Avenue and contains 43 gates with facilities for international passengers. Stevenson Expressway (I-55) and the CTA Orange Line provide freeway and rapid transit access to Chicago Downtown and The Loop.
Early history (1923–1962)
Originally named Chicago Air Park, Midway Airport was built on a 320-acre (130 ha) plot in 1923 with one cinder runway mainly for airmail flights. In 1926 the city leased the airport and named it Chicago Municipal Airport on December 12, 1927. By 1928, the airport had twelve hangars and four runways, lit for night operations.
A major fire early on June 25, 1930, destroyed two hangars and 27 aircraft, “12 of them tri-motor passenger planes.” The loss was estimated at more than two million dollars. The hangars destroyed were of the Universal Air Lines, Inc., and the Grey Goose Airlines, the latter under lease to Stout Air Lines. The fire followed an explosion of undetermined cause in the Universal hangar.
In 1931 a new passenger terminal opened at 62nd St; the following year the airport claimed to be the “World’s Busiest” with over 100,846 passengers on 60,947 flights. (The July 1932 Official Aviation Guide (OAG) shows 206 scheduled airline departures a week.)
More construction was funded in part by $1 million from the Works Progress Administration; the airport expanded to fill the square mile in 1938–41 after a court ordered the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad to reroute tracks that had crossed the square along the northern edge of the older field.
The March 1939 OAG shows 47 weekday departures: 13 on United, 13 American, 9 TWA, 4 Northwest, and two each on Eastern, Braniff, Pennsylvania Central, and C&S. New York’s airport (Newark, then LaGuardia by the end of 1939) was then the busiest airline airport in the United States, but Midway passed LaGuardia in 1948 and kept the title until 1960. The record-breaking 1945 Japan–Washington flight of B-29s refueled at the airport on their way to Washington, DC.
In July 1949 the airport was renamed after the Battle of Midway. That year Midway saw 3.2 million passengers; passengers peaked at 10 million in 1959. The diagram on the January 1951 C&GS approach chart shows four parallel pairs of runways, all 4240 ft or less except for 5730-ft runway 13R (current runway 13C) and 5230-ft runway 4R.
The April 1957 OAG shows 414 weekday fixed-wing departures from Midway: 83 American, 83 United, 56 TWA, 40 Capital, 35 North Central, 28 Delta, 27 Eastern, 22 Northwest, 19 Ozark, 11 Braniff, 5 Trans-Canada, and 5 Lake Central. Air France, Lufthansa, and REAL (of Brazil) had a few flights per week. Midway was running out of room and in any case could not handle the 707 and DC-8 jets that appeared in 1959; every Chicago jet flight had to use O’Hare, which had opened to the airlines in 1955. Electras and Viscounts could have continued to fly out of Midway, but O’Hare’s new terminal opened in 1962, allowing airlines to consolidate their flights. From July 1962 until United returned in July 1964, Midway’s only scheduled airline was Chicago Helicopter. In August 1966 a total of four fixed-wing arrivals were scheduled, all United 727s (United was alone at Midway until early 1968).
These are some interesting facts about the Chicago Midway International Airport.