The history of the Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport can be traced back to a private airfield established in the early 1920s by Dan Hunter.
The airfield was located just north of Highway 30 and west of what is now Bowling Street SW.
The service at that time consisted of a one-man private charter service and pilot training.
Airmail service into Cedar Rapids began on July 10, 1928. Due to inoperable conditions during bad weather, the old “Hunter Field” was phased out and in 1947 a new airport was dedicated in Cedar Rapids, which is the present location. The new airport was financed by a bond issue, which had previously been voted down twice.
In 1939, Jim Wathan, a former student of Dan Hunter, went to work for Hunter as a civilian pilot trainer.
In 1944, Wathan and Hunter went into business together, forming a partnership that lasted until 1952 when Wathan retired to Florida as a corporate pilot.
Two years later, Wathan returned to Cedar Rapids and started the Wathan Flying Service.
The late Donald Hines piloted the Cedar Rapids Airport from a cornfield facility to the regional operation it is today.
Hines was an original member of a longtime chairman of the Airport Commission, which has supervised airport operations since 1945. He resigned in 1973 after 28 years. He died two years later.
Under his guidance, the airport grew from little more than a dream to a multi-million dollar operation.
According to Harold Ewoldt, former chamber official, “Don Hines single-handedly brought an airport to Cedar Rapids. It wouldn’t have been done without him. And, over the years, the airport became his monument.”
When he first became interested in local airport matters, Hines had little experience with the fledgling aviation industry.
After he came to Cedar Rapids, he and Karl Blaise were appointed to Jaycees to push a bond issue that was later approved.
Hines then went to Washington D.C. to see one of the military airports being built across the country in response to the Japanese attack on the United States military base at Pearl Harbor.
Even though the airport was funded by the military and finished in 1944, it was never used for wartime purposes.
The airport was operated under the city Parks Department until a city election established the airport commission in 1945. Hines was elected chairman at the first meeting.
He was instrumental in establishing commercial passenger service to Cedar Rapids.
On April 27, 1947, the Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport, with runways 5,400 feet long, was dedicated.
During that first year, United Airlines initiated sustained east-west passenger service to the city and had more than 3,000 customers.
After a 10-year effort by city civic leaders, headed by Hines, Ozark Air Lines began north-south operations in the spring of 1957.
In 1969, the airport handled 31 commercial flights per day and recorded 353,000 passengers a year.
The current terminal was dedicated in 1986 with then U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole in attendance.
In 1997, the airport’s name was changed to The Eastern Iowa Airport to better reflect the area the airport serves.
The number of customers using the airport has steadily increased over the years. In 2000, 1 million passengers were served in one year, marking a milestone in the airport’s history.
Wrights took wing in Cedar Rapids.
While man’s first flight was in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the claim can be made that aviation took wing in Cedar Rapids. For it was here that Wilbur and Orville Wright were inspired to reach for the sky.
The Wright brothers’ father, Bishop Milton Wright, was a preacher with the United Brethren Church who was called to Cedar Rapids when his sons were young boys. The family lived on what is now Third Street SE and the two brothers attended the old Adams School on Third Street near Fifth Avenue.
History records that in the autumn of 1878, when Wilbur was 11 and Orville 7, their father brought home a French-made toy that flew under its own power. Made of cork, paper and bamboo, the small “helicoptere” was propelled by a rubber band.
Fascinated by the invention, the boys played with it until it wore out. Later the boys tinkered with bikes and kites.
The Wrights moved to Indiana in 1881, but continued to experiment with flying contraptions.
Wilbur Wright died 1912 and Orville Wright in 1948. Cedar Rapids remembers them still. The road to the airport is named Wright Bros. Boulevard.
In addition, the brothers have a school named after them; Wright Elementary School is in the northeast quadrant.