Newark’s aviation history dates back farther than most people realize. Long before Terminal C was a glimmer in the Port Authority’s eye, airships, balloons, biplanes and even rockets filled New Jersey’s skies—all in the name of industry and progress.
SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
When Newark residents looked up to see this floating behemoth at the start of the 20th century, they were getting a glimpse of their own future. Within a quarter-century, the city’s fortunes would be forever linked to air travel.
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME
Hillside Park—with its racetrack, roller coaster, boating lake and other attractions—was a popular gathering place for the people of Newark at the turn of the century. This postcard shows an amazed crowd watching a show by a stunt balloonist, very likely George Taylor, who was employed by the amusement park. A few years after this event took place, Taylor performed a difficult double-double parachute jump at the park, but his second chute failed to open. He landed feet-first on the ground (yeesh!) and died several days later.
BAD YEAR FOR GOODYEAR
This envelope, cancelled at Newark Airport, memorializes the airship Akron the day that 73 of 76 crewmembers perished in a thunderstorm off the Jersey coast, on April 3, 1933. During the 1930s, it was a toss-up between zeppelins and airplanes as to which mode of transportation would win out for the trans-Atlantic passenger trade. This tragedy, along with the Hindenburg disaster four years later, ended the “air race.”
BLAST FROM THE PAST
In 1935, stamp dealer Frido Kessler commissioned a fleet of mail-carrying rockets to be built—not to deliver mail more efficiently, but so that he could make a killing selling commemorative stamps to well-heeled collectors. The first experiment was a disaster and the plan was abandoned. Had Kessler stuck with his plan, the Newark to New York City “route” would have been completed in seconds. However, one wonders how Manhattanites would have felt about a guy from Newark firing rockets at them.
(RE)OPEN FOR BUSINESS
A consortium of New Jersey mayors celebrates the reopening of Newark Airport in 1941—among them Newark mayor Meyer Ellenstein, who had ordered the airport closed more than a year earlier. Following the 1939 opening of the airport in Queens (now known as LaGuardia), three major airlines left Newark because of poor management. Under Ellenstein’s watch, a new management team revamped the facility’s operations and set it back on course. When Newark Metropolitan Airport originally opened in 1928, it was the nation’s first major commercial airport. By 1930, it was the busiest airport in the world. Its administration building, built in 1935, is a national historic landmark.
The rapid growth in commercial air travel following World War II prompted the Port Authority (which took ownership of Newark Airport in 1948) to construct a new, modern terminal. The structure opened in the summer of 1953. This special envelope—featuring President Eisenhower in Army garb—was created exclusively by cartoonist Milton Caniff for the dedication ceremony. Caniff was the creator of the popular comic strips Steve Canyon and Terry and the Pirates. This envelope was flown to Idlewild, LaGuardia and Westchester County Airport by American Airlines and cancelled at each stop. Money raised from this four-airport extravaganza went to hospitalized war veterans.
A LITTLE SUGAR
For frequent travelers, airport food is its own special hell. Indeed, to some the concept of “terminal cuisine” is redundant. Alas, it wasn’t always this way. When the new terminal at Newark Airport opened in 1953, Joe Baum (The Four Seasons, Brasserie, Windows on the World) launched a restaurant offering one of the finest dining experiences in the Garden State. Known for its ambitious menu and large portions, The Newarker gave diners a seventh oyster with every six ordered and a third lobster claw with every two. Remember when they wrapped sugar cubes? This one has stayed under wraps for more than a half-century!
(RE)ALL DECKED OUT
This souvenir postcard shows the observation hall of current-day Terminal B after its opening in 1973. A and B opened at the same time, but Terminal C remained unfinished until 1988. Today, Newark Liberty handles the most flights of any NY-Metro airport and serves an average of just under 100,000 passengers a day—second to Kennedy Airport.
In 1999, artist Peter Max was commissioned to paint a Continental 777 to serve as the Millennium Plane. It made many flights to and from Newark Liberty in the ensuing years. Max’s interest in “flight” actually dated back to 1971, when he published a book of 33 paper airplanes. The Millennium plane flew until 2008, when it was repainted—but lives on as a popular die cast collectible.