Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

The land that would one day be home to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
By Lisa J. Huriash

Photo: Courtesy/Broward County Aviation Department

The land that would one day be home to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport started off as a golf course, played on by President-elect Warren Harding in 1921. The course was destroyed in the 1926 hurricane. Friends of World War I aviator Merle Fogg, who died in 1928 after starting 

Fort Lauderdale's first flying service, purchased the dilapidated course in his honor for $1,200. They built two crisscrossing shell-rock runways and on May 1, 1929, Merle Fogg Field opened, a site that covered less than 100 acres.

Fort Lauderdale took control of the airfield in 1929, improved the runways and erected buildings.  Pan AM and Eastern flew some charter flights in the 1930s.  In 1942, the Navy converted Merle Fogg Field into the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale-- to train pilots to fly torpedo bombers.  Three main runways were paved, and barracks, administrative buildings and  control tower were built. At its peak, about 3,600 Navy personnel and 130 aircraft were based there.  Officials said Broward County was the perfect place for training because it was so flat and the weather was good all year.

Perhaps the most famous student: Ensign George H. W. Bush, who at age 18 would become the Navy's youngest aviator and, decades later, the 41st president. After the war, the air station was closed in 1946. It remained dormant until 1948, when Broward County started leasing it from the Navy and renamed it Broward County International Airport. Passenger service began in 1953. Eventually the airport was renamed. (By Lisa J. Huriash)

Colonial Airlines


Colonial was first conceived in 1923 when a charter service known as the B-Line came into being at Naugatuck, CT. Within two years this small operation had established a scheduled service between Boston and New York, acquiring the first domestic Air Mail Contract when the Post Office Department transferred Air Mail service to private operation under the Kelly Act of 1925. During this period the name of the company was changed first to Colonial Airlines, then to Colonial Air Transport. Chairman of the Board of Directors was John Trumbull, a former governor of Connecticut. Irving Ballard, a Vice-President of the Boston Chamber of Commerce was made a Director, as were Juan Trippe, T.Q. Freeman, William Rockefeller, Harris Whittimore and Sherman Fairchild. All of these men were well known and prominent citizens.

In the spring of 1927, this growing airline broke precedent by inaugurating the first night passenger service in the U.S. between New York and Boston. Shortly thereafter Colonial's management opened Colonial Western Airways with an Air Mail contract No.20 between Buffalo and Albany. Colonial Airlines, Inc. was incorporated on March 8, 1928, and this company submitted a bid for the carriage of mail from New York to Montreal via Albany. The bid was successful and the company was awarded Foreign Air Mail contract No-1, dated July 9, 1928. Service was actually started on October 1, 1928.

At this stage of development, the line was called Canadian Colonial, connecting with Colonial Western at Albany. Also established under the management of Colonial were other ventures including Colonial Flying School, Colonial Flying Fields, and Colonial Taxi Service. Development was rather slow from 1930 to 1934. However, initially Colonial, like Pitcairn and Eastern Air Transport, operated Pitcairn PA-5 and PA-6 Mailwings, single engine, open cockpit aircraft. These were later replaced by Fairchild razor back (FC-2) aircraft and then Fokkers and Tri-motored Fords. By 1938 and 1939, Colonial had moved up to DC-2's and DC-3's.   Just prior to the merger with Eastern in 1956, Colonial operated DC-3's and DC-4's plus a leased Constellation.

At the beginning of WWII, Colonial had six DC-3's and two DC-2's. Most of these aircraft were immediately taken over by the U.S. government for use by the military. Several months after the start of the war, Colonial engaged in cargo operations for the Air Transport Command, somewhat similar to Eastern's Military Transport Division. Their routes were from New York north and east through New England and west to Chicago.

Four days before the end of WWII, the CAB extended the route system to include New York to Ottawa and Washington to Montreal and Ottawa. Eight more intermediate stops were also authorized and service was inaugurated on Feb. 16, 1946. On April 25, 1946, Colonial was awarded the International routes from New York and Washington to Bermuda.

The story of the merger goes back to the fall of 1951 when the CAB started an investigation to determine if it would be in the public interest to merge Colonial with another airline. On June 26, 1952, Eastern offered to purchase Colonial and assume its liabilities and obligations. National Airlines objected and raised the point that persons friendly to EAL had acquired control of Colonial. Although Eastern denied this, the merger was disapproved. On January 28, 1955, Colonial and Eastern entered into a new agreement which was again objected to by National, but was approved anyway by the CAB on January 11, 1956 and by the President of the U.S. on January 26, 1956. The actual merger date of formally joining Eastern was June 1, 1956

Colonial had established a proud operating history, and its 800 loyal personnel and route structure greatly enhanced the opportunity for Eastern and the U.S. to build closer friendship and commerce between our country and Canada and Bermuda.

During the late 1920's and early 1930's all of the pioneer airlines had their problems. This was before the days of decent navigational aids, instruments or radios and before airline pilots were required to have an instrument rating.  From June 1927 through June, 1930, Colonial lost 12 aircraft, six of which resulted in fatalities. The surviving pilots, similar to those of Pitcairn and Eastern Air Transport, learned their proficiency the hard way.


June 18, 1927- Fokker C-2 of Colonial Air Transport, Captain C.H. Biddlecombe. After takeoff at Teterboro, N.J. with six passengers. One engine failed and aircraft crash landed in marshy ground at south end of field. Minor injuries.

September 3, 1927- Fokker Universal 405 of Colonial Air Transport, pilot E.G. "Dan" Cline, flying mail and express from Boston to New York crashed enroute. The pilot was killed.

October 30, 1927- Fairchild FC-2 of Colonial Air Transport, pilot Leroy Thompson, carrying 3 passengers crashed near New Brunswick, N.J. killing all on board.

January 8, 1928- Fairchild FC-2 of Colonial Western, pilot Raymond Herries and 2 passengers, crashed in a dense fog near Canajoharie, N.Y. while enroute to Buffalo from Mineola, N.Y. The pilot and the two. passengers were killed.

March 26, 1928- Fokker Universal (401) of Colonial Air Transport, pilot Charles Parkhurst, flying from Boston crash landed in bad weather near New Canaan, CT. No fatalities.

January 5, 1929- Fairchild FC-2 of Colonial Air Transport, pilot Ned Harrington carrying mail from Boston to New York hit a mountain in bad weather, killing the pilot.

March 17, 1929- Ford 4-AT-41 on a sightseeing flight out of Newark for Colonial Western, pilot Lou Foote and 14 others crashed after the left and center engine failed.    The pilot was the only survivor.

April 10, 1929- Fairchild FC-2 of Colonial Western flown by pilot Ernest Basham crashed on takeoff at Syracuse. Minor injuries to the pilot.

September 17, 1929- PA-6 of Colonial Air Transport with pilot H.H. Tallman enroute from Hartford to Newark crashed in dense fog near Mount Lamentation killing the pilot.

February 3, 1930- PA-6 of Colonial Air Transport, pilot Carey E. Pridham flying from Newark to Hartford hit a building at Brainerd Field on arrival and then crashed into the Connecticut River, killing the pilot.

February 3, 1930- PA-6 of Colonial Western Airways, pilot Ernest Basham landed in trees at night in bad weather near Silver Creek, N.Y.. Minor injuries.

June 5, 1930- Ford 5-AT-33 of Colonial Air Transport with pilot Owen O'Connor and copilot and 13 passengers took off from Boston to New York. Right engine failed on takeoff. Aircraft crashed into shallow water. One passenger killed. All others had minor injuries

Editor's Note:

Art Furchgott was asked by the pilots of Colonial Airlines at a REPA Convention to include a history of Colonial to be included in the REPA archives.  As reported by Art "With the help of information from Jim Reinke, old issues of the Great Silver Fleet News, and the American Aviation Historical Society, a short history of Colonial has been developed. Hopefully, it will be published in a future edition of REPArtee." The above accounting is published and placed here on the Eastern History page of our web site.

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