Filed Under Transportation

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport

When Cleveland Municipal Airport opened on July 1, 1925 it became one of the first municipally owned airports in the country. City Manager William R. Hopkins took much of the credit for this feat, and the airport was named for him on his 82nd birthday in 1951. Earlier in 1925, Hopkins convinced Cleveland City Council to approve a $1.25 million bond issue that was used to purchase the 1,040 acres of land near the intersection of Brookpark and Riverside roads where the airport would be constructed. Skeptics scoffed at the long distance (nearly 11 miles) between downtown Cleveland and the new airport, but this proved to be a non-issue. Streetcars and other forms of public transportation could cover the distance in about a half hour.

The first flights at Cleveland Municipal Airport carried mail for the U.S. Air Mail Service. Beginning in 1919, Air Mail planes had landed in a section of Woodland Hills Park near East 93rd Street and Kinsman Road. This small airfield soon proved to be inadequate though, providing a major impetus for a new municipal airport. Henry Ford's commercial air mail service, the nation's first, conducted flights between Cleveland and Detroit right from the time that Municipal Airport opened. These early commercial airlines also carried passengers, but the cost of a plane ticket precluded all but the wealthy from partaking in these early flights.

The number of planes using Cleveland Municipal Airport jumped from a few thousand in its inaugural year to nearly 20,000 by 1929. A new terminal building constructed that year contained the world's first air traffic control tower -- a tall, glass-enclosed structure with a 360-degree view of the air field. Soon after its construction, two-way radio was installed in the tower, the first time this had been used in the aviation field. This proved to be an important addition, as in its early years the airport used the "allway" landing mat process, which allowed multiple planes to land simultaneously on different parts of the air field — a process designed to prevent pilots from having to wait mid-air for space to land.

During World War II, the area around the airport's periphery became a key part of the war effort. In 1941, a laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) opened on its western end. The laboratory originally conducted research on airplane engines before turning into the NASA Lewis Research Center in 1958. The center was to play a crucial role in the drive to put a man on the moon. In 1942, the Cleveland Bomber Plant also opened nearby in what is now the I-X Center. Here, workers built B-29 aircraft bombers which when finished would take off from the airport to wherever they were needed. Cleveland Municipal Airport was also the regular site of the National Air Races between 1929 and 1949.

By the mid-1950s, all of the original structures at the airport had been razed to make way for expansions. The original Cleveland Municipal Airport was gone, but Cleveland Hopkins International Airport remained a thriving center of the commercial aviation industry.


Passenger Waiting Room, 1937
Passenger Waiting Room, 1937 Passengers wait for their flights at Cleveland Airport in 1937 Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Air Traffic Control, 1937
Air Traffic Control, 1937 A man tracks flights in the Cleveland Airport's air traffic control tower in 1937. Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Air Traffic Control Tower Plans
Air Traffic Control Tower Plans This drawing shows the plans for the Cleveland Airport's air traffic control tower. The tower was attached to the main terminal that opened in 1929, and was the first air traffic control tower in the nation. Two-way radio communication was added to the tower around 1930. This was also a first in the aviation industry. Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Aerial View, Aug. 1940
Aerial View, Aug. 1940 An aerial view of Cleveland Municipal Airport in August 1940 shows the aircraft hangars that then made up the bulk of its infrastructure. The building with the elaborate lawn is the main administration building. It was topped by a glass-enclosed dome that housed air traffic control. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Dungan Airways Hangar, 1928
Dungan Airways Hangar, 1928 A closer look at one of the aircraft hangars that lined the grounds of Cleveland Airport in its earliest years. Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Air Mail To President Hoover, 1929
Air Mail To President Hoover, 1929 An Air Mail pilot poses in front of his plane with an oversized letter addressed to President Herbert Hoover. U.S. Air Mail flights made up the bulk of Cleveland Municipal Airport's early flights. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Rear of Admin. Building, 1952
Rear of Admin. Building, 1952 Passengers wait behind Cleveland Municipal Airport's main terminal and administration building in 1952. The structure, built in 1929, was torn down a few years later to make way for an expansion. The original air traffic control tower can be seen at the top of the image. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Hopkins Aerial, Ca. 2005
Hopkins Aerial, Ca. 2005 This aerial image taken by a NASA satellite shows Cleveland Hopkins Airport around 2005. The cluster of buildings at the top left is the NASA Glenn Research Center.


5300 Riverside Dr, Cleveland, OH 44135


Michael Rotman, “Cleveland Hopkins International Airport,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 19, 2024,