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Oklahoma Memories

Mayor Hefner and Tinker Bonds

2012-04-21

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"When we vote for bonds Tuesday, we are voting to increase employment and to increase business."

That was Oklahoma City Mayor Robert Hefner campaigning for a $982,000 bond election to pay for land where the Army Air Corps planned to build a maintenance base east of Oklahoma City.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

In late 1940, the Army Air Corps announced plans to locate an air base for bombers at the Oklahoma City airport. Sources told the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce that 200 officers and 2,000 enlisted men would be assigned to that base and at least a million dollars would be spent on barracks, chow halls, and other buildings. More land would be needed at the municipal airport, then located southwest of the city, and a committee within the Chamber of Commerce was promptly organized to raise the capital to buy the land. In an article in the Oklahoman in December 1940, publisher E. K. Gaylord made the first public announcement of the committee and its purpose.

At nearly the same time, Oklahoma City car dealer Fred Jones was working as a one-dollar-a-year member of President Roosevelt's War Production Board. During a discussion with several military officers talking about ways to get the country ready for war, he was startled to hear of a proposal for building a large air depot somewhere between Kansas City and Dallas-Fort Worth. Following that meeting Jones called Stanley Draper, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, and told him to get the Chamber in gear. Soon the Chamber learned that the depot would be a permanent installation employing as many as 2,500 workers located on at least 900 acres of land, most of which should be flat and that construction would cost the Army between 10 and 15 million dollars. They also learned that the Army was also looking for a location for an airplane factory, but it was unlikely that the same city would get both the depot and aircraft plant. So the Chamber had to decide which one to go after.

Meanwhile that committee to buy more land at the municipal airport now formed a foundation for the purchase of the land. An Army Air Corps colonel looked at two areas near Oklahoma City...one northeast of Norman, the other on Southeast 29th Street, east of Oklahoma City. He liked that Southeast 29th Street location better, and now the foundation very quietly began buying land around that intersection.

Once the land was in hand, and the Army agreed to build not just the depot but the aircraft factory as well on the site, Mayor Robert Hefner called a bond election to reimburse the foundation for the purchase of that land. He also included the purchase of land northwest of Oklahoma City near Bethany for the construction of a new airport there.

Thus in April 1941, this announcement was seen on movie theaters around Oklahoma City.

"This bond money will be used primarily for the purchase of land on which the Army will spend millions of dollars for construction and employment. The great air supply depot alone will mean 16 million dollars in construction by the government with our city supplying only the land."

On Tuesday, April 29, 1941, voters went to the polls and when the ballots were counted the bond passed by an amazing 19 to 1 margin. The city manager of Oklahoma City, H. E. Bailey, announced that construction would begin as soon as possible. The name of the facility posed a problem for the Army. Because they had already located a bomber detachment at the municipal airport that was already named the Oklahoma City Air Field; the name for the new facility would be the Midwest Air Depot, and the city that grew around the base thus was named Midwest City.

You can learn more about the our military heritage by visiting the Oklahoma History Center, just east of the state capitol on NE 23rd Street in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.