Initially, the area now known as Lambert-St. Louis International Airport was a balloon launch location called Kinloch Field.
President Theodore Roosevelt, the first president to ride in an airplane, took his first ride at the Kinloch airfield. Soon after, the first experimental parachute jump in the world took place in St. Louis.
Major Albert Lambert saw Kinloch Field as his own launching pad to pursue air service to St. Louis. Major Lambert was the first person in St. Louis to receive his pilot’s license, having trained in an airplane with Orville Wright. In June of 1920, the Missouri Aeronautical Society leased the 170 acre field. At his own expense, Lambert turned rows of former corn producing soil into an airfield by clearing, grading, draining the land and erecting hangars. In 1925, Lambert bought the airfield as development continued into making it a base for passenger and freight service 11 miles northwest of Downtown St. Louis.
On May 12, 1927, Col. Charles Lindbergh departed St. Louis for New York to begin his historic non-stop solo flight to Paris, France. About this time, Lambert Field was dubbed "The New Union Station of St. Louis." However, the City of St. Louis had yet to purchase the field as a municipal airport.
In November 1927, Major Lambert offered Mayor Victor Miller and the City Administration, Lambert Airfield for $68,000, the price he had paid for the field alone, even though improvements had been made to the field. The additional acreage was obtained through a passage of a $2 million bond issue. Prior to the passage of the bond issue, Major Lambert agreed to lease the airfield to the city for fifteen months for a total of $1. Finally, on February 7, 1928, the city accepted his generous offer, contingent upon the passage of the airport bond issue. Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport became the first municipally owned airport in the country.
In 1933, Lambert's first passenger terminal was constructed for Robertson Airlines, which featured St. Louis to New Orleans service. Next, Marquette Airlines began service from St. Louis to Detroit. In that year, Lambert Airfield served a total of 24,133 passengers with more than 170,000 departures and landings. By 1938, total passengers increased to 40,000; landing and departures rose to more than 170,000. Development and services at Lambert Airfield continued to expand. McDonnell Aircraft was established at Lambert Airfield. That was the predecessor to McDonnell Douglas Corporation (and now Boeing). Service to St. Louis from Nashville, TN, and Miami, Fl, was begun by Eastern Airlines.
During WWII, airport traffic did not increase at the same rate as in previous years, yet by the same token, St. Louis' industry rapidly became aviation oriented. Three companies came into the forefront: Curtiss-Wright, Robertson, and the McDonnell Aircraft Company. Together, they manufactured over 3,000 military airplanes. Further development came when an air traffic control tower was built atop the Naval Air Reserve Building, and McDonnell Aircraft Corporation purchased land at Lambert to construct factory buildings. Proceeds from the sale of the land were used in airport improvements.
In 1956, Minoru Yamasaki's domed design for Lambert's main terminal became the forerunner of modern terminal building plans. Both the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and the Charles DeGualle Airport in Paris, France followed the lead of the domed design of Lambert's Main Terminal. The present four-dome main terminal was built originally with three domes; the fourth followed a few years later.
The "Jet Transportation Era" began at Lambert with the inauguration of Trans World Airlines' Boeing 707 service in 1959. Around this time, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation started assembling the Mercury series spacecraft at Lambert. Just after that, McDonnell Aircraft merged with Douglas Aircraft Company. Working together, McDonnell Douglas watched the first production model of the F-4E Phantom make its first flight.
In 1971, the airport’s name officially changed to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. TWA continued to expand while establishing the first Lockheed 1011 service with a flight from St. Louis to Los Angeles flown entirely on autopilot.
By the mid-1970s, both parallel runways had been extended, instrument landing systems were added, and the operational capacity of the airfield was increased by 50 percent. In addition, new taxiways and aircraft ramp spaces had been created.
Terminal expansion brought gate capacity to 81 gates. The overall cost of expansion upon completion was approximately $290 million, with an economic impact of $2 billion to the St. Louis area. Lambert's traffic increased to 428,000 aircraft operations and 19 million passengers annually.
In 1982, TWA named Lambert-St. Louis International its principal domestic hub. Four years later, it would buy Ozark Airlines which was the prime tenant in the new Concourse D. Southwest Airlines began service in 1985, the same year TWA began international flights to Paris, London and Frankfurt.
By 1986, Lambert's traffic figures increased to 458,293 aircraft operations and 20 million passengers. That breaks down to 54,000 travelers per day, just about the population of Columbia, Mo. This surpassed previous studies which projected an average of 5 to 8 percent annual increase.
In 1987, construction began on an 18-mile long light-rail transportation system to be called MetroLink. Completed in July 1993, the light-rail system connected nearly 20 stations between East St. Louis, Downtown St. Louis and Lambert - St. Louis International Airport. The line now stretches 46 miles and has 37 stops between Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and Shiloh-Scott Air Force Base station in Illinois.
In 1998, Lambert dedicated the 220,000 square foot East Terminal as the new home for Southwest Airlines. That same year, the FAA endorses the “W-1W” airfield expansion plan which calls for building a new 9,000-foot parallel runway. The $1.059 billion expansion program was designed to alleviate airline delays, especially in bad weather.
The expansion program would take more than seven years and would involve 550 companies. It began with the acquisition of 2,000 residential and commercial properties, and construction began in 2001. In April 2006, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport officially opened Runway 11-29. By late 2006, Lambert had also constructed two new 9,000-foot taxiways, built the first tunnel in Missouri with the new Lindbergh Boulevard alignment under the runway, rerouted a section of Natural Bridge Road, built a new airfield fire station, constructed a new school in the Pattonville School District, and established a new fire station: the Robertson Fire Protection District.
Lambert now sits on approximately 1850 acres of land inside the fence line. In 2006, over 15.2 million passengers traveled through the airport.
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Avoid parking fees the next time you pick up a passenger. Lambert provides free waiting zones for motorists near each terminal.