City and business leaders around the nation rushed to develop big modern airports to take advantage of the enormous growth of commercial air travel after World War II. Originally intended to draw business into the city, the airports themselves quickly became major development hubs, even though they were often located far from the city center and from existing roads and transit lines.
United Airlines advertisement, October 1960
OHare International Airport opened to commercial air traffic in 1955 and modernized and expanded in 1959. It was developed on an old airfield in a quiet community far northwest of Chicago. The city annexed the land and built the Northwest Expressway to the airport in 1960. By 1961, OHare was the worlds busiest airport, and many businesses had sprouted up around the site. By the end of the 1960s, industrial parks, manufacturing plants, office complexes, parking lots, and hotels dominated the surrounding countryside.
The jet airliner offered more than an advance in speed. It revolutionized the cost and comfort of flying. Lower maintenance costs meant lower fares. Smooth flight above most turbulence attracted passengers otherwise wary of flying.
In 1960, two years after the Boeing 707 began flying commercially, air travel accounted for 42 percent of U.S. commercial passenger travel. By 1980, it was 84 percent. To learn more about the way the jet revolutionized air travel, visit the Smithsonians National Air and Space Museum.