Those Places Thursday: Lambert Field in St. Louis, MO.

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Gerard William Helbling at Lambert Airfield in St. Louis, Missouri. (Click to enlarge.)
Gerard William “G.W.” Helbling at Lambert Airfield in St. Louis, Missouri, 1931. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Helbling Family (Click for Family Tree)

Browsing my files for other photographs for other posts, I came upon this one that I had not really noticed before (more Heritage Ramblings). Anna May Beerbower Helbling was good at keeping photos in albums (lucky us!), and she labeled them well most of the time (even luckier us!). This photo was in an album from 1931.

Growing up in the northern St. Louis suburbs, Lambert Airfield was an integral part of life. The whole family would load up in the two-tone blue AMC Rambler station wagon, circa 1960?- and head out for the parking area across from the main runway at Lambert. We took popcorn and snacks, and watched the planes come in and fly out, and just talked as a family. As we got older, we didn’t want  to go with family, but instead went with boyfriends…

The history of the airport is interesting. It began as a launching base for hot air balloons in Kinloch Park. The Wright Brothers visited the field, bringing their aircraft and pilots on tour sometime between 1910-1911. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to fly, and he did so from Lambert in 1910. The first experimental parachute jump took place at the Kinloch base. The field was purchased by the Aero Club of St. Louis along with the old Kinloch Racing Track plus 170 cornfield acres, and became the Lambert-St. Louis Flying Field. A passenger terminal and hangars were built after the property was purchased in february 1925 by Albert B. Lambert, for whom the field was named. Lambert was the first St. Louisan to receive a pilot’s license, and a major supporter of Charles Lindbergh.

Charles Lindbergh played a role in early Lambert Airfield history before his famous flight across the Atlantic- his first job flying was ferrying air mail from Lambert Field. In 1927, Lindbergh had been at Lambert one week before he went to New York to begin his historic flight to Paris. “The Spirit of St. Louis” replica plane that hung in the concourse was always a favorite stop when we would go for a day’s visit to the airport, or to meet family- back then, you could be waiting at the gate for loved ones and watch them walk down the rolling open stairway and cross the tarmac from plane to terminal. That same year as Lindbergh’s historic flight (1927), the airport was sold to the City of St. Louis, and it became the first airport owned by a city in the US. The airport complex included a Naval Air Station (there are lots of pilots in the Navy) which became an active duty base during World War II and a base for manufacturing by McDonnell Aircraft and Curtiss-Wright.

This is how airplanes of that era looked:

1929 Fairchild KR-34C
1929 Fairchild KR-34C at an airshow in 2009. From Wikimedia, CC License.

G.W. Helbling was a prodigious reader, thinker, tinkerer (he developed a vibrating bed for his wife who suffered from bedsores likely due to diabetes and being bedridden), and man of many interests even though he never received formal education beyond the eighth grade. It is highly probable that he was very interested in flight.  He got married the year after the Wright Brothers completed their first powered flight in 1903, so was old enough to follow the developments of the industry. Knowing him, it is highly likely that he attended the Wright Brothers’ flying exhibition.

It is wonderful to have at least the caption in the photo album for this picture, but we do so wish there was more information. Had G.W. gone to Lambert sightseeing like his descendants did, or was he out there to pick up a fearless airplane passenger? Was he out there just to watch “those daring young men in their flying machines”? Or maybe even take a flight himself? We probably will never know, but what a treasure we have found in this image!

The old cars give us a comparison to see the size of the airplane hangars of the day. G. W. died in 1971, so he did see a lot of expansion and changes at Lambert-St. Louis Airport, including the addition of the iconic terminal built in 1953-6.

Lambert-St. Louis Airport, circa 1960s?
Lambert-St. Louis Airport, circa 1960s? With kind permission via CardCow.com.

Below is Lambert airfield in 2010- with its 9,000 ft. runway and redesigned terminals, G.W. wouldn’t recognize it!

Lambert field from the air
“Lambert field from the air” by United States Geological Survey – High Resolution Orthoimagery via EROS. 2014. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lambert_field_from_the_air.jpg#/media/File:Lambert_field_from_the_air.jpg

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) Additional Lambert-St. Louis images: https://www.google.com/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x87df36b4c56388f1:0x9dabcdbc663077a6!2m5!2m2!1i80!2i80!3m1!2i100!3m1!7e1!4shttp://www.panoramio.com/photo/91063151!5slambert+st+louis+airport+terminal+1959+-+Google+Search&sa=X&ei=PnQ2VcrmMvG0sAT814CIAw&ved=0CIcBEKIqMA4

2) Wikipedia articles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambert–St._Louis_International_Airport

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_brothers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_Exhibition_Team

3) CardCow.com– a great resource to buy old postcards, and they generously allow posting of their images with attribution and a link.

 

 

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