Depression-era aerocade promoted aviation expansion

In the mid-1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, Missouri leaders pursued a lofty idea to establish Missouri as the nation’s central hub for aviation.

The capabilities of airplanes were expanding rapidly at the time. Charles Lindbergh had made his transatlantic flight less than a decade earlier. The public was enthusiastic about this new mode of transportation.

However, what Missouri lacked was the infrastructure to support what state leaders envisioned as widespread air travel and airborne shipment of goods between communities both large and small.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, then called the Missouri State Chamber of Commerce, sought to drum up support for air expansion with a series of aerocade tours, the biggest of which happened in 1934 and was chronicled by writer and chamber publicity director Art Heiberg in a series of articles for this magazine.

“There will be history in the making,” Heiberg wrote in a June 1934 article detailing plans for the trip.

Gov. Guy B. Park

Missouri Gov. Guy B. Park had already committed to joining the aerocade, representing the “first time a governor of Missouri has surveyed from high in the sky the whole domain over which he rules.”

Gov. Park would be seated in the aerocade’s flagship plane, piloted by “air ace” James G. Haizlip.

The aerocade’s 44 participants also included Missouri’s secretary of state, state treasurer and state auditor. Transporting this many people required nearly 30 planes, including a formation of military aircraft that led the delegation.

Most of the planes were piloted by World War I veterans who “came from all sections of the state at their own expense and transported guests through the tour without thought of recompense.”

The three-day trip departed on July 17 from Jefferson City with a full agenda that included touching down in 10 towns and passing over more than 40 others.

Early in the flight, Heiberg wrote, the air travelers were awestruck by the newly flooded Lake of the Ozarks. “The hundreds of inlets, bays and peninsulas and wooded headlands surrounding this inlet lake masterpiece formed a picture resembling an immense jig-saw puzzle.”

The fliers also remarked on the novelty of seeing Missouri’s hills “ironed out” by 5,000 feet of altitude, excluding the tallest peaks in the Ozarks, which sat “protruding high above the surrounding terrain.”

The first day of the aerocade included stops in Sikeston and Kennett before an overnight stay in Poplar Bluff, where “the town was in gala attire in honor of the guests.” Heiberg’s writing often mentioned the huge crowds—which he numbered in the thousands—that gathered at local airfields to greet the aerocade.

Communities that were flown over were not left out of the occasion, as aerocade fliers dropped “air messages attached to small parachutes” to the Missourians below.

The next morning the group departed on a 50-mile flight for breakfast in Koshkonong. The article speculated that this was the first-ever recorded flight taken for the sole purpose of eating breakfast.

The second day of the aerocade included stops in Springfield and Carthage before the planes landed in Nevada for the night. While the guests had slept in hotels in Poplar Bluff, in Nevada they were each given a tent and two heavy woolen army blankets.

Heiberg wrote that Gov. Park protested, saying it was too hot for wool blankets. “However, His Excellency found before morning that the two blankets were most welcome, as the temperature dropped to surprisingly low levels shortly after midnight.”

The final day of the trip included stops in Marshall and Brookfield before ending in Mexico.

Heiberg concluded that the trip was a success, noting the enthusiasm the aerocade generated at each stop and how the trip engendered discussion among many community leaders about constructing better, permanent air infrastructure.

“As a direct result of this aerocade, it is safe to predict that Missouri will soon have more airports than any other state in the middle west,” Heiberg wrote. “And true to Missouri standards, the airways will be as well marked as are the motor highways of this great state.”

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