Why "Mills Field"?

This is a blog post by megan.callan that was published on August 08, 2018 .

From attached handwritten note: “02838 / 4-4-28 Aerial”. Black and white photographic negative depicting oblique aerial view over Mills Field Municipal Airport of San Francisco, April 4, 1928, facing south with straight-away view of runway flanked by bay at left and Bayshore Highway at right; inscribed on border, bottom: “A 988. 4/4/28 MILLS FIELD.”

negative: Mills Field Municipal Airport of San Francisco, aerial, 1928, Collection of SFO Museum, 2011.032.0077

This website is named in honor of the original “Air Port” at the site of what is now San Francisco International Airport. Between the Wright brothers’ historic flight of the first successfully powered and piloted heavier-than-air machine in 1903 and the 1920s, fascination with and the use of airplanes grew quickly. San Francisco’s leaders were determined to have their city represented in the burgeoning industry of commercial aviation. Their resolve coalesced with the passing of the Air Mail Act of 1925, which transferred airmail service from the U.S. Post Office to contracted private operators. These private carriers were not allowed to utilize the Army’s airstrip at Crissy Field, so another location was required.

From attached handwritten note: “View N. Site of Mills Field 03542 January 1927”. Black and white copy negative depicting oblique aerial view over Mills Field Municipal Airport of San Francisco, facing north with San Francisco Bay at right and old Bayshore Highway at left; structures visible in background against San Bruno Mountain; Mills Field Municipal Airport of San Francisco; photo taken January 1927; inscribed on white border, right: “JAN 1927”.

negative: Site of Mills Field Municipal Airport, Mills property east of the Bayshore Highway, January 1927, Collection of SFO Museum, 2011.032.0021

The Mills Field property was chosen for San Francisco’s municipal airport from a number of possible sites. Located twelve miles south of San Francisco’s Civic Center, its 150 acres of cow pasture were leased in March of 1927 from the estate of the late banker D.O. Mills at the rate of $1,500 per year for a total of three years. The location was considered temporary and experimental, pending recommended further research into its suitability.

Two weeks after the May 7, 1927, dedication of Mills Field Municipal Airport, Charles Lindbergh made his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, garnering worldwide acclaim and inspiring generations of aviators. Lindbergh’s national tour following his historic flight included a stop at Mills Field in September 1927, where he was welcomed by huge crowds of people and was wildly celebrated in a parade down Market Street.

Black and white photographic copy print of Charles Lindbergh arriving in the Spirit of St. Louis on Mills Field Municipal Airport, San Francisco, September 16, 1927. Image depicts airplane from front at oblique angle with crews in white coveralls under airplane wings. propeller is in motion, with men in suits approaching airplane. Police officers on motorcycles and crowd of people in background.

photograph: Charles Lindbergh at Mills Field Municipal Airport of San Francisco, September 1927, Collection of SFO Museum, 2011.134.001

As interest in aviation and air travel continued to grow, additional buildings were erected at Mills Field and the runway developed and expanded. The City and County of San Francisco purchased the land in 1930, along with surrounding acreage, and what was a temporary airstrip was formally renamed San Francisco Airport in 1931, and San Francisco International Airport after World War II. Given effort and time, it is SFO Museum’s intent that our own experimental site here will slowly but surely become a permanent fixture of our digital presence.

For additional information and pictures of Mills Field, we invite you to view collection items associated with the early air port, to scan through a timeline of SFO’s history, and to watch an Inside SFO episode that celebrates 90 years of SFO’s history.