For most people, it was a normal day at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, with air travelers hurrying to and from their gates.
But Tuesday also commemorated an important milestone for America’s eighth-busiest airport: Its 70th birthday.
Airport officials threw a party in the central terminal, flying two large, silver “7” and “0” balloons and offering passersby an assortment of stickers, chocolate airplanes and balsa-wood models. Nearby, travelers and airport workers donned party hats and posed for photos.
“It’s cute that they’re recognizing it,” said Casey Gould, a Seattle resident on her way to New York. “Party hats are always fun.”
Sea-Tac opened during World War II, as the U.S. military took over Seattle’s Boeing Field and other regional airfields for the war effort. With limited flight options available for civilians, the Port of Seattle backed the construction of a new airport near Bow Lake. By 1946, regular commercial flights were taking off from the site, although historians say the “terminal” was a corrugated steel hut heated by a potbellied stove.
It wasn’t until July 9, 1949 — the anniversary celebrated Tuesday — that the airport and a new terminal building were dedicated. An estimated 30,000 people attended the dedication.
The airport has grown far beyond what it was then, said Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper. It took about five years for the facility to get its first million passengers, he said, and this year airport officials anticipate fifty times that.
“The region is growing so fast,” Cooper said, “and we see that same reflection here at the airport.”
An average 136,000 passengers a day move through Sea-Tac, according to Cooper, with summer days seeing nearly 170,000 passengers.
As for what Sea-Tac will look like 70 years from now? Who knows, Cooper said.
“Does that mean by then we’ll have gotten more autonomous-type aircraft, or maybe we’ve got more helicopter-type things? … Or maybe this could be like a space opportunity,” he speculated. “You’ve just got to think those people who were first here, those first flights, would’ve had no idea this entire region would get to the size that we’d need to have a facility for 50 million people.”