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What's In A Name?

Wichitans are getting used to flying out of Dwight D. Eisenhower Airport, now that the old name of Mid-Continent has been retired.

The story of that name is a curious one. Originally, flights arrived and departed from Wichita Municipal Airport. That was the name of the old art deco structure at the end of George Washington Boulevard. In 1954, the name carried over to a new facility in the southwest part of town.

Back then, there was already a Mid-Continent Airport... in Kansas City. After the floods of 1951 devastated the air facilities in the Kansas city area, local officials established a new “industrial” airport that served TWA and Mid-Continent Airlines. Later merged into Braniff, Mid-Continent Airlines got its name from serving cities of the Mid-Continent Oil Field and became the name of the new airport, with official letters of MCI. A decade later, the decision was made to expand this airport into Kansas City International Airport. The old name was retired in 1972.

Meanwhile, back in Wichita, there had been concern that “Wichita Municipal Airport” seemed too modest. There were many ideas proposed, including naming it after a prominent person. The city’s park board, which ran the airport at the time, was adamant in not naming it after a person. A 1973 article in the Wichita Beacon explained the rationale: “applying the name of a former citizen of Wichita to the airport might seem a fitting memorial to many persons locally, such a name would have no significance and convey no geographical point of reference to the millions of passengers from elsewhere.” Instead, the board decided to appropriate the now discarded name, Mid-Continent. The same Beacon article continued that “it combines both the flair of a cosmopolitan atmosphere with the distinctiveness of a geographical location.”

So it is ironic that the name "Mid-Continent" has now been left behind as sounding provincial and parochial, while naming the airport after a person, seen as confusing to the flying public in 1973, is now the preferred alternative.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.