Friendship: The Story Behind Baltimore's First Airport

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By Jeff Korman

While waiting in line to pass through security at BWI Thurgood Marshall International Airport last week I gave some thought to the evolution of our busy, ultra-modern airport. I go way back with this place. Trips to the airport were not unknown in my youth. A favorite stop on a sunny day was a drive out to the airport to watch planes from the outdoor observation deck (a dime to enter and another ten cents to use the mounted binoculars!). Before becoming a mega-airport, BWI was Friendship Field International Airport, an important step in Baltimore’s bid to become a major metropolitan market.

Friendship Airport Poster
Friendship Airport on the cover of the
1960 Baltimore telephone directory

Dedicated by President Harry S. Truman, Friendship opened on June 24, 1950. It was named after Friendship Methodist Church, on whose land the $15 million, 3200-acre complex was constructed. A grand opening committee made up of prominent Baltimore businessmen and civic leaders knew the new airport would be a major attraction for the City and planned for an expected crowd of 100,000-200,000 for the opening ceremony.

With only one two-lane access road (Belle Grove Road) to get to the airport, it could have been the greatest traffic jam in local history because the Baltimore-Washington Parkway was not completed at the time. However, when June 24 rolled around the weather was so hot and unpleasant (95 degrees) only about 10,000 people made it to the dedication. Fifty-six aircraft used the airport on its first day.

Friendship was the most modern of all the post-war terminals. It even offered the latest in comfort, 22 air-conditioned roomettes on site for the weary traveler. (Room service was not available as there already was a coffee shop and snack bar in the building).

The success of the location and the growth of passenger travel via air prompted the State of Maryland to purchase the complex from the City of Baltimore in 1972. The name was changed to Baltimore-Washington International to improve marketing the airport to the Washington region. Expansion and renovation began in the 1970’s and has continued as the number of carriers and flights have grown. Today many consider BWI to be the best U.S. airport of its size. Impressive, considering the new airport was built right over the original Friendship building.

With about 700 flights a day and more than 2 million passengers a month, BWI Thurgood Marshall rivals the bigger airports for convenience and service. In fact, it boards more passengers than Dulles or Reagan airports in D.C.

Friendship Airport Photo
Friendship Airport in 1950,
2nd level observation deck in red

My only disappointment is that there’s no observation deck. There is a large window for viewing planes near Concourse B, but it is not the same as that wonderful observation deck at Friendship (which, by my estimation, was just about where Concourse C is today). But don’t go out there looking for it. In the post-9/11 world you’ll need a ticket and have to pass through security to get that far into the complex.

If you enjoy airports too, stop by the Maryland Department at the Central Library. We can show you material on all of Baltimore’s airports or any form of transportation in Maryland.

Great post, Jeff. I never knew BWI's early history. Apparently, Maryland is also home to the oldest continually operated airport in the United States:
Posted by: Claire W at 11/8/2012 9:50 a.m.

As I recall and -- more important -- according to BWI's own website, the original name was Friendship International Airport. No "Field."
Posted by: Rabbit at 11/8/2012 3:28 p.m.

I don't know much about aviation history, but what about Logan Field, or Baltimore Municipal Airport?
Posted by: Brenna C at 11/8/2012 3:46 p.m.

In response to Rabbit's comment about use of "Field" in the airport's name: The name on the terminal was Friendship International, but The Sun consistently referred to the airport as Friendship Field until some time in 1956. My interest in this came from curiosity about how it got the name "Friendship"- but that turned out to be pretty simple to find.
Posted by: Jeff Korman at 11/8/2012 4:29 p.m.

I first flew out of Friendship in the summmer of 1966 on an American Airlines Boeing 707 "Astrojet" to Dallas Love Field...what good memories i can still remember walking out to the 707 (no jetways back then) from the now Pier C. Remember waving goodbye to my grandmother and aunt, they were up on the observation deck!!! Good memories my grandfather would take me to the observation deck alot on Sundays, i remember those 10 cent binocular viewers!!! What great fun!!
Posted by: Ron at 9/18/2013 12:14 p.m.

I remember hearing the noise of the bulldozers in the not too far distance awaydoing its thing clearing the area We used to bike from E balto and camp overnite on a hill top near with a swimming hole down below. We always referred to it as -Duels or Dual's pond. Always have been (and still do) interested in knowing where it was located. Pretty sure it was filled and covered up.
Posted by: bernard helinski at 1/4/2014 2:38 p.m.

I was there for the dedication ceremony in 1950 with my parents and other family members. There was a huge mural that had been painted by my cousin R. McGill Mackall, a renown Baltimore artist whose talent contributed many murals in the Baltimore area as well as landscapes and portraits. I wonder what the fate of that mural was? Mac Palmer
Posted by: R. McGill Palmer at 4/26/2015 4:34 p.m.

I am the son of Bruce Chilcote who worked as airport engineer in the 50's and 60's and retired in the 90's. He passed last October. I have many memories going to the airport on saturdays and watching the activities on the field while he caught up on paperwork. Planes and people came and the fire department worked on there equipment which was housed at the end of the observation deck. He even took me over to Friendship School to fish in the pond while we ate lunch. Many good memories.
Posted by: James Chilcote at 9/10/2016 9:23 a.m.

I have many memories of Friendship Airport from the 1950s. I vividly remember the observation deck. I have recently tried to orient the runway directions from the 1950s to the current runway directions that BWI now has, and I am sure they had to be different back then. I remember the big planes almost came over our Glen Burnie house in the 1950s. But no current runway direction would now orient airplanes over the house I lived in the 1950s. Where the current runway 33KL/15R ends at Dorsey Road, in the 1950s there was the old Barrett School for Girls. I do not remember a runway ending there back then. I also remember a road that used to wind around the airport to the right of Elm Road (coming from Linthicum). That might have been the road that went by the old Methodist Church with the cemetery. You could still drive on that road in the 1950s.
Posted by: Henry Gilligan at 9/26/2016 1:34 p.m.

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