Queensline: JFK Airport opened in July 1948

By Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history

Welcome to July 1948!

JFK Airport (then called Idlewild, or officially, the New York International Airport.) opened that month.

The first scheduled international flights arrived July 9, when two DC-4s from Peru landed within an hour of each other. One carried freight; the other 33 passengers. Later that day, a flight from Seaboard and Western (a carrier later merged into Federal Express) arrived from Europe carrying two racehorses. It was the first trans-Atlantic flight to Idlewild.

At the formal opening July 31, a mighty sky armada unseen since the war buzzed the skies of Queens as all the nation’s airlines converged on the 4,900-acre field on Jamaica Bay. The pageant, marking the start of the International Air Exposition, began a half hour after President Harry Truman dedicated the field at 3 p.m. that day.

It was the greatest display of air power witnessed in the United States up to that time. More than a thousand planes, described as bombers, super–bombers and jet fighters, as well as other types of military craft, took part in that military parade.

Also present on the reviewing stand was Gov. Thomas Dewey, who made the event a milestone for another reason. It was the first time that candidates from both parties (Truman and Dewey) met on the same platform during a presidential campaign.

In keeping with the occasion, both men arrived by plane.

Throngs of spectators (estimated to reach 100,000) converged on Idlewild to witness the greatest air show ever held. Thousands of autos and buses rolled over Queens highways and the Long Island Rail Road ran special trains to Aqueduct. Over 1,500 police were detailed to handle the crowds. Shuttle buses transported spectators from parking lots (for a 50-cent fare) to the reviewing stands. They gawked at the largest bombers at that time, B-29s and B-36s, which were parked on the runway and on display that week.

Traffic was jammed on roads every weekend that month for other reasons. Beaches in the borough held a staggering estimated 1.5 million bathers on July 11, as the temperature climbed to the mid–’80s. Scarcely an unoccupied spot was visible on the sand of the Rockaways, where over a million sought relief in the surf. Crowds jammed smaller spaces along the North Shore and in Jacob Riis Park.

The Rockaway Chamber of Commerce estimated that 2.5 million descended on the community over a three-day weekend. In the first 11 days of July, the number reached 6.8 million, a record for the period. The average for the month was historically between 10 million and 12 million.

They did not miss much in the way of television, then in its infancy. Only four stations, WPIX (Channel 11), WNDT (4), WABD (5), and WCBS (2) broadcast between 4 and 11 p.m.

For further information, contact the Society at (718) 278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.