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Houston's 1940 Air Terminal Museum Showcases Civil Aviation History

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

1940 Air Terminal Museum in Houston, Texas

1940 Air Terminal Museum in Houston, Texas

Preservation of Civil Aviation History

The 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport in Houston is a must-see venue for people interested in civil aviation history. This facility was the first Houston municipal airport terminal to welcome people from around the world.

The modernist Art Deco style of the building is another reason to pay a visit. Joseph Finger designed this building, as well as others in Houston. His works were noted for their distinctive Art Deco architectural styles. Our City Hall in downtown Houston is one example.

The 1940 Air Terminal Museum stands in testament to the glamorous days of early flight. People traveling by air used to dress up in their finest clothing. Stewardesses used to serve meals on china plates to the passengers. There is a nice example of some of the uniforms worn by stewardesses in bygone days. Of course, people serving in that capacity are now called flight attendants.

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

— Leonardo da Vinci

Below is a video showing the terminal before the Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society decided to take on a massive restoration project of this historic building.

Before my husband and I even entered this museum we took a look at the airplanes parked outside. A little Cessna 310 was parked nearest the building with a Hawker Siddeley HS-125 business jet in the forefront of this photo shown below.

Every third Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm, aficionados of older aircraft and classic cars like attending the Wings and Wheels event. Aircraft tours are given as well as museum tours all for one ticket price. Food is available on site.

Below is a video of one such weekend.

Interior of Museum

Beautiful marble flooring is immediately seen when entering the doors into the open spaced atrium of this multi storied building. My photos show different angles taken of this same atrium lobby. Notice the Art Deco chandelier hanging from the ceiling above. It is original to the building.

At the present time all of the displays are located on the first floor. Upper floor restorations will take place as monies are raised for multiple purposes.

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Braniff and Eastern Airlines were the first two major airliners based at this terminal.

One such example of how fund raising can help the museum is demonstrated in the video below.

Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes—famed aviator and entrepreneur—had his own hangar at Hobby Airport. There are many photos of him and his airplanes as a part of the extensive memorabilia inside this museum.

An interesting letter signed by Howard Hughes to Cordell Hull who was Secretary of State back in 1939 was on display. He was thanking the state department personnel for the planned sub-stratosphere flight from New York to Paris upon which he would have flown. It never happened because of the “international situation” which prevented it at the time.

There is so much of history on display inside this 1940 Air Terminal Museum. In the first photo below, an agent is standing behind the Eastern Airlines counter waiting to check in passengers and baggage. Humphrey Bogart is seated on the left waiting for his flight.

You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky

— Amelia Earhart

This quote, in addition to the earlier one by Da Vinci, were on display inside the museum. There are multiple rooms on the first floor of this museum. Numerous display cases hold many items of interest.

What is now called Hobby Airport first originated in 1927. It was a general aviation airport called W.T. Carter Field and was privately owned. The City of Houston acquired it in 1937 and renamed it Houston Municipal Airport. For a brief period of time, it was renamed Howard R. Hughes Airport but that did not last long. According to federal regulations at that time, an airport could not be named after a living person. It reverted back to Houston Municipal Airport.

1954 was the year Houston International Airport became the new name.

In 1967 3 years after the death of William P. Hobby who was the 27th governor for the State of Texas, the airport was renamed Hobby Airport. It still bears that name today. Obviously, that federal rule has been changed as our major airport on the north side of Houston is named the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

In earlier days of flight passengers were pampered. Playing cards were distributed free of charge and just about every airline had their brand emblazoned upon the cards which became souvenirs. According to information posted over 3,000 designs given out by more than 438 airlines are in existence.

After airline deregulation took place in 1978 and due to subsequent cost cutting, airline playing cards are now a rarity.

Window Coverings Inside Museum

Translucent window coverings for many of the windows on the first floor of this air terminal museum have images imprinted from the past. The image with the vintage sofa and dressing table is in the women’s restroom.

Nearby Hangar Museum Exhibit

When enough people had come to the museum we were gathered as a group and invited to go to a nearby hangar where airplanes and more items related to bygone days of aviation are kept. It was interesting looking at the various displays.

Many of the volunteers working at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum are also pilots. Therefore they seem to delight in answering people’s questions when touring this facility.

There is even an old flight simulator on display inside of this hangar. The two people pictured in the cockpit were not only visitors but are also pilots.

Farman Biplane and Replica

This is what was posted regarding the Henry Farman biplane including the 5/12 scale replica of the biplane pictured below.

“The Farman III, also known as the Henry Farman 1909 biplane, was an early French aircraft designed and built by Henry Farman in 1909.”

“This replica of Louis Paulham’s Farman biplane was generously donated by the South Houston Chamber of Commerce. The model, frequently on display at South Houston events, replicates the aircraft flown by Paulham on February 18, 1910. This occurred two weeks before a military flight at Fort Sam Houston, making it the first flight of a heavier-than-air flying machine in Texas. The South Houston flight was part of a land development promotion sponsored by the Western Land Corporation and the Houston Post. Promoters arranged special trains from downtown Houston, Galveston and Hudson to the 100 by 500 foot field just outside of town near Spencer Highway. Tickets were $1.25 and included the train trip. On the first day of flight, February 18, 1910, some 2,500 people witnessed the event. The following day, between 4,000 and 6,000 people wondered at the new technology called flight. His flights lasted between 10 and 15 minutes each. For this Paulham was paid $20,000.00.”

Annual Raffle Plane

Each year an airplane is raffled off which is a major fundraiser for the museum. 2,500 tickets are sold at $50.00 each. At their July Wings & Wheels event the winner’s name is drawn from among the entries. Volunteer pilots fly this airplane and keep it in good operating order. This Piper Cherokee 1964 airplane was the one being auctioned off at the time of our visit to the museum.

1964 Piper Cherokee 180 (foreground) being auctioned off at 1940 Air Terminal Museum Hangar

1964 Piper Cherokee 180 (foreground) being auctioned off at 1940 Air Terminal Museum Hangar

Event Venue

Private events can be held in the hangar as well as the atrium lobby and theater in the 1940 Air Terminal Museum. Prices range from $600 up to $7,500 depending upon the space selected.

Watching the video below you now know that wedding guests could be wowed by the arrival of a bride and groom via this Cessna Bobcat airplane to the museum.

As you can undoubtedly tell from my photos there is much to do and see at this museum. They have film nights, concerts and even dances here among other things. You can always keep up to date on their special offerings by checking their website.

They have some wonderful offerings in their gift shop ranging from t-shirts to model airplanes and more.

Would you believe that the admission charge for adults is only $5.00! Children under 12 are admitted for $2.00. That is quite a bargain! The charity organization operating and restoring this museum is definitely worth supporting. They are grateful for volunteers and always need more.

See a slideshow of the museum from 1940 to 2009 below.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Peggy Woods

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