The airport, then known as Rhein-Main Airport and Airship Station, handled 71,000 passengers in its first year of operations and was instantly a hit with locals, although it was still very basic in terms of facilities.
“The airport still looked very much like a farm,” notes Markus Grossbach, head of the Fraport central archive.
“Sheep grazed on the airfield and the green areas were kept free of woodland growth by farming potatoes.”
The outbreak of WW2 unfortunately put an end to things for a while and indeed around 2,000 bombs fell on Frankfurt Airport during the war, almost completely destroying what infrastructure it had.
However, when after the end of the war, air traffic in Frankfurt increased very rapidly again thanks to the reconstruction of the airport with the help of the US military.
“Even before normal political life had developed, former employees of the airport were working with pickaxes and shovels to save existing material from the ruins,” says Grossbach.
“It was very important to the population and airport employees to rebuild their gateway to the world.”
The first civilian aircraft landed as early as May 1946. Following the Berlin Blockade, the airport was part of a large-scale humanitarian mission, when dozens of American ‘raisin bombers’ carried food and coal from Frankfurt and other airports to West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift.
That way, supplies were provided to the city’s population, which was cut off from all possible supply routes by land.
The number of passengers has grown continuously since regular passenger traffic resumed in 1950. Ten years later, in 1960, the airport served 2.2 million passengers and by 1980 the annual total had reached the 17.7mppa.
Over the next ten years, this figure doubled again to almost 30 million passengers and in 2015 it hit an all-time high of 61 million.
Today, Frankfurt Airport today provides some 80,000 jobs and is arguably the key component of Germany’s largest economic cluster.
New infrastructure over the past few decades has included the opening of Terminal 2 and the Sky Line people mover connecting the airport’s two terminals, and last October it held the ground-breaking ceremony for its future Terminal 3.
“In contrast to the situation in countries such as Britain or France, Frankfurt Airport’s leading national position was not predestined from the start and certainly could not be taken for granted,” comments Grossbach.
“The rise of Frankfurt Airport after 1945 was aided largely by the Western Allies and specifically the Americans, who turned their ‘gateway to Europe’ into Germany’s 'gateway to the world'.”