Historic Memphis Airport

 ...in Vintage Photos and Postcards


Memphis entered the air age in 1927 when Mayor Watkins Overton created the Municipal Airport Planning Commission.  Their first task was to choose a site for the airport.  They chose Ward Farm, a 200 acre tract located 7 miles from Downtown, where there was room for future growth.  The Memphis Municipal Airport, consisting of 3 hangers and a sod runway, was dedicated June 14, 1929.  By the following year, the airport had its first lighted runway and as many as 15 passengers a day arriving and departing from the airport.  The two carriers serving the airport were American Airways and Chicago & Southern Airlines.  J. Walker Canada, Jr, piloted the first plane to land at the new field,



By 1956 a new Airport Planning Commission was named and their first order of business was to plan a new terminal to meet the demands of the "Jet Age".  That new terminal, designed by architect Roy Harrover, was dedicated in 1963 and the name of the Airport was changed to Memphis Metropolitan Airport.  The name was changed again in 1969 to Memphis International Airport, to reflect  the city's status as a point for international passengers and cargo to enter and exit.


Click on the small photos to see an enlargement.


        The Airport Opening 1929

Airport Circa 1929

Airport Circa 1929

Opening Air Show 1929           


For the opening of the new airport in 1929, a tremendous air show was produced.  More than two hundred planes and pilots flew in to celebrate the opening.  The sod runway was improved in 1934 when 3 asphalt diagonal runways were constructed.


The Airport 1934



1937 New Terminal planned


The first modern terminal was built in 1938 to meet the demands for increased commercial passenger service.  Four new Carriers came to Memphis in 1939 after the modern terminal opened - Braniff, Capital, Eastern, and Southern Airlines.    With them came the DC-3 aircraft and the "air age" was well on its way.

1929 Americn Airlines    


Braniff, Capital, Eastern, Southern Airlines and the DC-3 aircraft come to Memphis in the late 1930s and 1940s



The Airport Planning Commission spent over $50,000 and made numerous trips to Washington to get Memphis on the airmail route.  It worked.  The first Airmail letter arrived in Memphis via a Ford Tri-motor plane at 11:30 AM on June 15, 1931.  It was from New York and traveled to Memphis via Cincinnati.


First Airmail 1931


First Airmail to Memphis First Airmail First Airmail Vintage Airmail Service


When the United States entered World War II, the U.S. Army assumed control of the Memphis airport facilities.  The airport was used as a hub for sending aircraft overseas and was responsible for the delivery of critically-needed items to every theater of the war.  The military use of the airport halted any real airport expansion and progress but as soon as the war ended airport officials began responding to demands for passenger travel.  By 1947 the original terminal was enlarged and a Master Plan was begun to improve the runways for larger planes.  By 1949 six major carriers were landing in Memphis.


1941 Aerial view 1941 1943 1949-50


1953 Entrance 1950s Korean Vets 1951



Airfield 1956


        Data Sheet



There was also an airport on Mud Island,  dedicated in 1959.  Owned by Memphis and leased for private operation, it was the first airport in the U.S. built so close to a downtown.  Business travelers were the primary travelers.  There was a great slogan, "You're strictly uptown when you land downtown".  The Mud Island airport closed in 1964.

  1959 Mud Island Airport 1964 Last flight -Mud Island

By the late 1950s, the Airport Planning Commission announced that it would build a spacious new terminal to accommodate the new jets.  When the $5.5 million terminal opened in 1963, the airport name was changed to Memphis Metropolitan Airport, and it featured 22 gate positions -  enough space for seven airlines to operated daily flights.  The new terminal was designed by architect Roy Harrover in the Contemporary New Formalism Style.  The building has received national praise and awards from the American Institute of Architects.   In 1969, the airport's name was changed again to Memphis International Airport to reflect it's status as a point of entry.  The airport terminal capacity more than doubled over the next 10 years.

Architect Roy Harrover



New Terminal 1966

Terminal today

Terminal at Night

Departures Hall


Aerial View

Tower - old and new

Airport Sign


Commercial Appeal .  June 7, 1963 .  Dedication Issue

Gail des Lauriers of Lexington KY came across a box of old newspapers that her mother, Mrs. Bradley des Lauriers, had saved.  Among the papers was this 1963  "Dedication Issue" for the Memphis Metropolitan Airport, which Ms. des Lauriers graciously forwarded to this website.  It's a large file and may load slowly.  Please be patient.

    June 7, 1963  



Memphis International Airport received a huge boost in 1973 when FedEx was founded in Memphis, and the company built a sorting facility and an administration building on the airfield.  This package-sorting complex, now know as the "Super Hub", as well as the company's around the clock operations, have combined to make Memphis International the number -one busiest cargo airport in the world for 18 consecutive years.  In 2010 it was overtaken by Hong Kong and is currently #2.

Fed Ex




Fed Ex Fed Ex Fed Ex Air Cargo Port


In 1985, Republic Airways chose Memphis as one of its hubs, which dramatically boosted passenger service.   A year later Republic merged with Northwest Airlines.  This began a series of construction projects so the airport could keep up with the increase in traffic.  These projects included expanding baggage handling facilities, updating food and beverages facilities, repaving runways, construction of a new maintenance complex, enlarging passenger waiting areas, and a new control tower.  The Airport Authority also completed work on their Master Plan which included constructing a third parallel north-south runway, and building a new International Arrivals Facility.  The new International Arrivals Facility opened in 1995 and the first flight was Northwest/KLM Airlines Memphis to Amsterdam.  It looked good for Memphis.


Republic Airways



Master Plan


But in 2008, Delta Air Lines purchased Northwest.  Although during the negotiations, Delta promised not to change the Memphis Hub, they began cutting flights immediately, and the KLM flight to Amsterdam was dropped in September 2012.  Memphis is just too close to Delta's headquarters in Atlanta.  By the fall of 2013 Delta will officially drop Memphis as a "Hub".

  Delta-Northwest Delta


As of August 2013, Memphis International Airport continues to feel the impact of Delta's cuts.  In spite of their disappointment, airport officials say, at least on the record, that Delta's downsizing may come with a silver lining, allowing the airport to attract or recruit other carriers and services that may have been scared off by Delta's presence.   And to help this work, the Airport Authority board has approved a new "incentive policy" aimed at making the Airport more attractive to new air service providers.   

2013 "write in" campaign                  




In 2011, Memphis was named the most expensive U. S. airport to fly out of - and that's not an honor.

Famous Celebrities at the Airport 

Whether in town for a performance or just passing through while waiting for a connecting flight, celebrities  have always provided a photo-op for the local newspapers.  Below are just a few of the Who's Who of the World as they have passed through the Memphis airport.


Beatles 1966 Fisher-Taylor 1959 J. L. Lewis 1982 J.L.Lewis-wife-1958 Nick Adams-Elvis 1956

Flight 381 10:30 AM, April 3, 1968

Ford - 1976 Geo Bush-Japanese PM 2006

Danny-Marlo 1970


      Roy Acuff 1953

B. Obama - 2011

R. Reagan - 1960

Elvis-Priscilla 1971

Elvis 1956


R. Reagan - 1976

Andy - 1956

Jeff Bridges - 2008

 Nixox - 1974

Sen. Nixox - 1952


Morgan-Polk 1943

Priscilla 1962

William Faulkner 1950

Elvis 1957

Esposito - Elvis 1974


E. Roosevelt 1954

Prince Harry 2014

Prince William 2014

George Bush 1989

Ginger Rogers 1973


Elvis 1956  

Stella Stevens 1961


Joan Crawford 1970


Memphis Airport Memorabilia

Airport Souvenir 1930

Original American Logo

Chicago-So Logo

Republic Logo


Aviation School at the airport

Braniff Stewardesses 1930s

C-S Map

 1950 Ad

C-S stewardesses 1940s


Republic Postcard     

Hertz Ad

1st Airmail Stamp 1918

"See Tennessee" Tour -1957

"See Tennessee" Tour-1957


Memphis Belle arrives 1946       Matchbook AA agent Marilyn Thoni Braniff Airline

1931 Airmail Stamp

Control 1963 Airport

Police Patch


Vintage Airport Hanger

First Corvair arrival

Airport Canteen WW2 postcard

Airport Patch


1970s Postcard Vintage Postcard 2011 Ad

TWA Inagural Flight 1984


Vintage:  Braniff Life at Memphis Southern Northwest

Airport Drawing



Plantation Restaurant Menu




CREDITS: The "Historic-Memphis" Team would like to acknowledge and thank the following organizations for their contributions which helped make this page possible:  Memphis Public Library, University of Memphis Libraries, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Flyer, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Memphis Heritage, Tom Leatherwood Shelby County Register, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Joe Spake,  and many other individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on individual photos.


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