Yes, once upon a time there was literally a horse-and-buggy era in Washington air transportation. It's pictured and recalled here because of a couple of anniversaries -- a 60th and a 45th -- that otherwise might go unreported.
Size reduction and reproduction problems obliterate it, but in the original of the 1930 photograph above -- of a terminal building labeled "Washington Airport" -- is a horse and buggy presumably waiting for an arriving aerial passenger. The only other vehicles are two coupes and a bus. Contrast that with today!
This rare view, taken 56 years ago by a British tourist with a simple box camera, shows the terminal of the functional equivalent of National and Dulles International airports (with perhaps a bit of Baltimore-Washington International thrown in). The location adjoined the present Pentagon site. The view looks across the Potomac toward what is now West Potomac Park.
T.W. Snailum of Turnip Wood, Freshford, Avon, England, took this photo and another of a Ford trimotor airliner loading on an unpaved runway. Several months ago Snailum sent copies of his small snapshots to Washington airport officials, and Hugh Riddle, deputy director of the federal Metropolitan Washington Airports office, had them enlarged. Riddle sent copies of the bigger versions back to Snailum along with pictures of today's large, modern airports offering global service.
Snailum found them "a staggering contrast." He recalled seeing the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin in 1930 "flying eastward over New York City illuminated by searchlights."
Okay, the anniversaries: It was 60 years ago, in 1926, that Hoover Field -- named for Herbert Hoover, then secretary of commerce and later president -- was opened on land previously used as an agricultural experiment farm (then moved to Greenbelt). In 1927, the commercial Washington Airport was opened, with the terminal pictured above that resembles a small-city bus station of today. The two airports were merged in 1930 as Washington-Hoover Airport.
It was another 11 years -- 45 years ago tomorrow -- before National Airport opened on a nearby site. In its first full calendar year of operations, 1942, National handled 77,348 flights and 459,396 passengers; in 1985, the total was 329,245 flights and 14,690,471 passengers -- about 30 times as many passengers with 4 1/2 times as many flights, accommodated by far larger aircraft and hindered by exponentially larger ground traffic snarls.