• Milwaukee’s First Airport

    Posted on February 16th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    This story could be from anywhere and anytime during our nearly 110-year aviation history. The mayor had decided that it was time for a new airport. The only question remaining was where to locate the facility. The mayor asked seven local businessmen, each with an interest in aviation, to meet in his office on Tuesday. A five-man committee resulted from that meeting. The committee’s charge was to investigate potential airport sites and secure the needed property.

    The meeting could have occurred anywhere and anytime. In this case, it was Milwaukee in 1919. Milwaukee Mayor Daniel Hoan held the meeting on April 29, 1919. Members of the airport site committee included W. E. McCarty, Milwaukee County Board, chairman; F. A. Vaughn, president Wisconsin Aero Club;  August H. Vogel, War Industries Board; Charles B. Whitnall, Milwaukee County Park Board; and Alfred W. Lawson, Lawson Aircraft Company.

    Historical Marker at site of Butler Airport (Rose Dorcey photo)

    The committee wasted no time in getting to work touring several potential sites the very next day. The committee’s work ended with Butler Airport beginning operations on July 3, 1919. The airport would suffer from identity crises over its life. The facility was located on Lisbon Road near the Village of New Butler. It was called both Lisbon Field and Butler Airport. The airport, owned by Milwaukee County, would serve the area’s aviation needs for seven years.

    Change came about as a result of the airmail service that began on June 7, 1926. The airmail route, CAM 9, ran between Chicago and Minneapolis with stops in Milwaukee and La Crosse. Soon complaints came from several directions. The airfield was located too far from the city, some said, while pilots complained about obstructions surrounding the field. The airmail contractor, Charles Dickenson, threatened to discontinue service to Milwaukee unless the situation was improved. The outcry by area businesses and the press had a powerful effect; reaction by Milwaukee County was swift.

    On August 11, 1926, just two months after airmail service began, the County Board unanimously adopted a resolution that the County Highway Commission expend the funds necessary to either improve the existing airport or purchase a new airport site.

    Hamilton Metalplane, Milwaukee County Airport, ca 1930

    Thomas F. Hamilton owned a successful aircraft and propeller manufacturing business in Milwaukee. In 1920, Hamilton had purchased the Hirschbuehl farm located on Layton Avenue on the city’s south side. He located his business there and built an airport on the site that would serve both his business and its customers.

    The Hamilton facility would top the list of potential sites according to an August 13, 1926 Milwaukee Sentinel article, “Hamilton airfield, near Cudahy, was looked upon as one of the most desirable of available properties…”

    The Milwaukee County Board, on October 5, 1926, approved an appropriation of $150,000 and directed the County Park Commission to purchase and equip the Hamilton Airport. Milwaukee County Airport came into existance on October 29, 1926, when the transaction was completed. The Butler Airport site was abandoned and became Currie Park, a part of the Milwaukee County Park System.

    On March 17, 1941 the Milwaukee County Airport was renamed General Mitchell Airport in honor of General William “Billy” Mitchell, famous Milwaukee aviator. The airport’s name was changed one last time, on June 19, 1986, to General Mitchell International Airport.

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