Eugene@150: 'Sweet' aviation history

Eugene@150: 'Sweet' aviation history »Play Video
Crew of the planes that made the first round-the-world flight. Taken at the Eugene Air Park in 1923. Courtesy Mahlon Sweet Airport.

EUGENE, ORE. -  From a cow pasture to modern day terminals and runways, the Eugene Airport has had a rich history.

As a part of the Eugene@150 series, KVAL's Tom Adams relived how the efforts Mahlon Sweet, a local car dealer, put Eugene on the aviation map.

Born in Illinois in 1886, Sweet arrived in Eugene in 1909. While he initially started up a car dealership, Sweet had other transportation on his mind.

Curator Dave Galbraith at the Oregon Air and Space Museum told KVAL News, "Mahlon Sweet, who was a Studebaker dealer in town and also an avid aviator was very instrumental in getting this
airport formed and built."

After the first plane landed in an open Eugene farm field in 1918, Sweet started calling for a real airstrip.

One year later the Eugene Air Park was established at the southeast corner of West 18th and Chambers. While there wasn't much more than one dirt airstrip in a field, historians say Eugene was ahead of its time by likely establishing the first municipal airport in Oregon.

By 1939, more room was needed for a bigger airport.  In 1943, the early version of what we know as the Eugene Airport was born.

Aviation flourished during wartime.

"It was a good place for, especially during World War 2 for the aircraft to stop and get fuel and things on their way from Seattle to the Bay Area." Air and Space Museum president Bruce Lamont explained.

United Airline commercial service to Eugene also began in 1943.  The old United terminal building lives on today as part of the LCC flight program.

The airport grew through the years--newer terminals, new air carriers, all under the name Mahlon Sweet Field. In 1989 the latest Eugene air terminal update was finished...70 years after the opening of Sweet's modest air park.

Tom Adams asked Bruce Lamont, "What do you think Mahlon Sweet would think of all the changes?"  Lamont: "I think if Sweet was here today I don't think he would believe it."

Airport officials in the 1990s switched the name to "Eugene Airport" for better marketing, but the terminal building is named after Mahlon Sweet.