History of Washington Dulles International Airport

Construction of the Dulles Main Terminal
Construction of the Dulles Main Terminal

Fewer than 10 years after Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport opened, the United States Congress put plans in the works to build a second airport to serve the Washington, D.C. area – an Airport now known as Washington Dulles International Airport! Dulles is located in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in Northern Virginia, about 26 miles from the heart of Washington, D.C. Dulles Airport is spread over 11,830 acres, but much of that land is surrounded by forest. The trees make the Airport less noisy for its neighbors.

The architect of the Main Terminal at Dulles – Mr. Eero Saarinen – did not want to design an ordinary airport. His main goal was to find “the soul of the Airport.” The Main Terminal alone cost $108.3 million dollars to build, and that was in 1962! Because of its unique design, the Airport uses Mobile Lounges (big vehicles which hold 102 people) to transport passengers from the Main Terminal to the Concourses (the buildings where passengers actually board the planes). In order to make it easier for passengers to drive to the Airport, the Dulles Access Road was constructed, connecting the Airport to the Capital Beltway near Tyson's Corner and to I-66 in Falls Church, Virginia.

math activity Math Activity:
In 1962, a loaf of bread cost 21 cents. Next time you go to the grocery store, see how much a loaf of bread costs now. Can you figure out how much money $108.3 million in 1962 (the original cost of the Main Terminal) might be needed to build the Main Terminal today?

President John F. Kennedy,  former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and sculpture of John Foster Dulles President John F. Kennedy (on the left) and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower (in the center, holding his hat) walk up to a sculpture of John Foster Dulles (on the far right) at Dulles Airport!

President John F. Kennedy dedicated the Airport on November 17, 1962. He named the Airport after John Foster Dulles, who was the Secretary of State for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (To learn more about John Foster Dulles, click here!) In 1962, Dulles Airport was one of the most modern airports in the whole world! While only 666,559 travelled through the Airport in 1963, 19.8 million passengers were served by 1999. Throughout the 1990s, Dulles Airport went through a lot of construction. This construction included making the Main Terminal bigger, building new Concourses and adding more parking areas for cars.

Dulles Airport is now undergoing another big construction program which includes adding two more runways and building an underground Airport Train System and stations. To learn more about the construction program, click here!

Construction of Train Station for the underground Airport Train System
Construction of Train Station for the underground Airport Train System

Dulles Airport is an important part of the economy of the Washington, D.C. area. It employs thousands of people and generates billions of dollars of business. Houses and businesses continue to be built around the Airport.  Now the challenge for Dulles and its neighbors is to grow in a way which makes life better for everyone.