Governor Arthur Langlie dedicates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on July 9, 1949.

  • By Walt Crowley and Kit Oldham
  • Posted 2/01/2009
  • Essay 1006
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On July 9, 1949, Governor Arthur Langlie (1900-1966) presides at the dedication of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.  He warns eagles, hawks, and skylarks to move over for "We, too, have at last won our place beside you in the firmament of heaven."  Emphasizing the governor's point, squadrons of Air Force and Navy bombers and jet fighters thunder overhead, while on the ground crowds line up to tour commercial airliners and military planes.  Opened during World War II, the facility has been serving passengers for several years under the name Seattle-Tacoma Airport.  The dedication ceremony celebrates both the completion of a modern new administration building and passenger terminal and the official naming of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.   

Airport at Bow Lake

The Port of Seattle agreed in 1942 to develop a new airport at Bow Lake, midway between Seattle and Tacoma, to help relieve pressure on existing airports, notably Seattle’s Boeing Field and Tacoma’s McChord Field, caused by the demands of World War II military aviation. The first runway at Seattle-Tacoma Airport (quickly shortened to "Sea-Tac") was completed in 1944.  It was used primarily by the Army Air Force until the war ended. 

Significant commercial passenger service at Sea-Tac began in 1946 in makeshift facilities. The first passengers used a Quonset hut, called "The Pantry," heated by a single potbellied stove. Planners for the Port of Seattle recognized that such primitive accommodations would have to be replaced quickly to meet the anticipated post-war surge in air travel. After a bond issue on the November 5, 1946, ballot failed due to insufficient turnout, the Port used its reserves to fund the $3 million cost of building a new state-of-the-art terminal and administration building.   

A New Terminal

Colonel Earle S. Bigler, who took command of Sea-Tac for the Port in 1947, supervised the project.  The new building  was designed by Herman A. Moldenhour (1880-1976) and Port of Seattle architects and was built by the Lease-Leighland company.  At the time, the gleaming white building with its soaring control tower and airy, glass-walled concourses was hailed as America's most advanced airport terminal. The 1949 structure has since all but disappeared within repeated expansions and modernizations of Sea-Tac's terminals.

By the time the terminal and administration building was completed in July 1949, the Port, together with the federal government and the airlines, had spent a total of $11 million on the airport, including the $3 million for the terminal.  More than 30,000 people turned out on July 9, 1949, to celebrate the completion of the acclaimed new building and the dedication of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.  

Numerous dignitaries addressed the crowd from a flag-draped balcony, including the mayors of both cities represented in the airport's name. Seattle Mayor William F. Devin (1898-1982) served as master of ceremonies and praised the cooperation between Seattle and Tacoma in developing the airport at Bow Lake.  Tacoma Mayor Val Fawcett also spoke, as did U.S. Representative Hugh B. Mitchell (1907-1996).  Governor Langlie gave the primary dedication speech.  He called the occasion a "conqueror's day" and asserted:

"Man, on Puget Sound can now tell the eagles, the hawks, and skylarks to move over and say "We, too, have at last won our place beside you in the firmament of heaven'" ("Airport 'Dream'...").

Crowded Skies and Long Lines 

Any birds in the vicinity probably did move over as military aircraft roared repeatedly over the terminal to salute the dedication.  New jet fighters dazzled the crowd and squads of bombers, troop carriers, and patrol planes also participated in the air show.  According to Post-Intelligencer reporter Stub Nelson: "The scores of planes flew in almost perfect formation, indicative of the fact that the fighting airmen are ready, even in peacetime" (Nelson).  

Spectators waited in long lines for closer views of the newest military and commercial aircraft, which were displayed on the airport loading ramps.  All four companies serving Sea-Tac -- Northwest Airlines, United Air Lines, Western Airlines, and Pan American World Airways -- had airliners available for inspection throughout the day.  They and other air carriers also presented displays and programs as part of the dedication events.  Reflecting the fact that Sea-Tac had been operating for years, regularly scheduled arrivals and departures went on throughout the day.  

After the airport dedication program concluded, festivities continued with the christening of Northwest's first Boeing Stratocruiser airliner.  Young women dressed in colorful costumes from places Northwest flew to from Sea-Tac -- Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and China -- filled a champagne bucket with water brought from their respective homelands. Margaret Ellen "Mef" Allen, wife of Boeing President William M. Allen (1900-1985), then dedicated the plane, stating:

 "With these mingled waters from distant Pacific ports, brought close by air, I christen thee Stratocruiser Seattle-Tacoma" (Hauptli).


Stub Nelson, "Sea-Tac Airport Ceremonies Thrill Throng of 30,000," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 10, 1949, p. 1; "Airport 'Dream' Becomes 11 Million Dollar Reality," Ibid., July 10, 1949, p. 13; Jack Hauptli, "Thousands See International Airport Dedicated," The Seattle Times, July 10, 1949, p. 1; Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works (Seattle: Tartu Press, 1998), 408-409; Robert Serling, Legend & Legacy: The Story of Boeing and Its People (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), 79-80;, The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Sea-Tac International Airport: Part 1 -- Founding" (by Walt Crowley) (accessed January 28, 2009).
Note: This essay substantially expands an earlier timeline essay on the same subject.

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