In 1923, a Chicagoan named Joe James landed a biplane in a field roughly located at Grand Avenue and Church Street. Shortly after that, Fred Bouchard and Mr. James named that space “Eagle Flying Field” and founded the airport that would be incorporated, in 1929, as the Elmhurst Airport, the first airport for small aircraft west of Chicago.
The Elmhurst Press wrote an article that year with ads and articles about the airport, including an ad for the Humming Bird Flying Club, complete with free flight instruction. The paper included this ad promoting flying lessons for 47¢ a day, for beginners or licensed pilots.
The airport had two grass runways with no lights available until the last several years the airport was in operation. When making a night landing, pilots had to use two flares that marked the end of the runway. At first, the airport served small planes and offered flight training. At one point, helicopters flew in with mail. For somewhere between five and ten dollars, anyone wanting a new thrill could take a flight above the Elmhurst area.
At this early stage in air travel, there were no requirements for cross-country pilots. There were so many airports and flying fields in the Chicago area, pilots easily found their way from one to the other. Light plane pilots rarely flew far from home, working primarily for local customers. When the war broke out, many of the small airfields like Elmhurst Airport played an important role in winning the war by providing trained pilots for the new airplanes rolling off the production lines.
In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CTPT). Initially, the CPTP training was offered only by colleges who arranged lessons with local flight schools for their students. Elmhurst and Wheaton Colleges, in Chicago’s west suburbs, were among the earliest to participate in the program using the Elmhurst Airport. When the CPTP was announced, the small grass flying fields like Elmhurst Airport finally allowed the operators of these airports all over the country to earn their first living wage and allowed civilians to help with transporting war materials and personnel, and train military pilots for participation in battle.
In 1945, Tufts-Edgecumbe Company took control of the Elmhurst Airport, managing the airport until 1956. It operated planes, improved runways and built training facilities. The company also offered civilian classes, flying lessons, sales and service of aircraft. When O’Hare International Airport expanded, the land Elmhurst Airport occupied was deemed more appropriate for industrial development and now houses an industrial complex on the North border of Elmhurst adjacent to Bensenville.
Information for this article was provided by The Elmhurst Historical Museum who provided both pictures and information.