Inaction is a tradition at National Airport.
Federal officials bickered for more than a decade over its location until 1938, when President Roosevelt grew "tired of waiting for Congress" to choose a site for the airport and selected the mud flats at Gravelly Point.
Travelers had complained for years that airport facilities in the nation's capital were dangerously inadequate. Hoover Field, near the current site of the Pentagon, opened for business in 1926. The next year, Washington Airport set up as a competitor right next door, and by 1930 they had merged into one private facility.
Military Road cut the runway in half, however, and the airport was forced to post guards to halt auto traffic when a plane was about to take off or land. Whenever a wind crept up, pilots refused to land there.
Fearing disaster, public officials denounced the airport with regularity. Between 1926 and 1938 Congress produced 37 committee reports on the situation before it took action, according to FAA records.
" It ill becomes the Nation's Capital that it does not have an outstanding and model airport in keeping with the requirements of safety laid down by the Bureau of Air Commerce," said the original 1938 legislation to build National Airport.
Although it is difficult to contemplate today, when the main terminal was completed in 1941 Architectural Forum magazine attacked the design, saying it sacrificed utility for the "needless luxury of space."
Another problem that has dogged National is the jurisdiction to which it belonged. During construction, the legal division of the Civil Aeronautics Authority said it could not properly decide whether the airport was in Virginia or the District of Columbia, according to FAA records.
In 1846, the boundary was set at the mean high-water mark along the Virginia shore of the Potomac. Artificially altering the shoreline for the airport created immense legal problems.
On one occasion, Virginia and District police refused to respond to a robbery there. And when a guard died at the airport, officials were unable to get a coroner to certify his death. To resolve the conflicts, Congress declared in 1945 that the airport was in Virginia.
Although the facility had been used occasionally since 1940, National officially opened for business June 16, 1941, when an Eastern Air Silverliner Peachtree roared in from New York on its way to Tampa, Fla.
More than 5,000 visitors lined the tiers to see the first scheduled airplane taxi up the runways with its 16 passengers.