TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
It was in the setting, in the end of a terrible Depression with no real end in sight and the rest of the world starting a new and even more destructive war, that the installation that would eventually become Tinker Air Force Base was born.
The United States was awakening to the fact that we may be drawn into another world war. However, our president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had started to work along the idea that perhaps America could be the “Arsenal of Democracy.”
Oklahoma City entrepreneurs Edward K. Gaylord, Wilbur E. Hightower, Tom Braniff, Frank Buttram, and Stanley Draper and others had formed the Oklahoma Industries Foundation after learning that the War Department was looking for an appropriate site to build three aircraft depots, one in the American Midwest. According to James L. Crowder, former base historian, “They acquired 960 acres and offered the land to the government at no cost. While holding the option on another 480 acres, they promised to provide necessary utilities, roads, and a rail spur to the airfield.” After serious competition from other locales, it was announced on April 8, 1941, that Oklahoma City had won the depot competition.
The local leaders in the Oklahoma Industries Foundation were told by Edward K. Gaylord that they could compete for an aircraft production plant that would create great wealth for a short period of time (as long as the war lasted), or they could compete for an air depot that would remain for many years – but not both.
Despite local poverty as a result of the devastating Dust Bowl Depression years, they chose lengthy service to support their country over a quick buck. Not only did war soon strike, but good karma as the War Department decided that the Douglas Plant, now Bldg. 3001 on Tinker Air Force Base, should be granted to Oklahoma City as well. Assistant Secretary of War Robert Patterson signed the official order and on April 8, 1941, the announcement came from Washington that a modern military air depot would be built east of Oklahoma City.
Great things immediately came from these choices. The Douglas Plant was tasked with building C-47 Skytrains, a.k.a. The Gooney Bird, so named because of the “first one side and then the other” way the plane took off. Production proceeded at an incredible pace.
Practically overnight, the Douglas Plant went from empty prairie to producing 5,355 Gooney Birds in the final years of the war, 13 planes a day during peak performance. For perspective, the entire United States Air Force has approximately 5,032 aircraft overall in its arsenal today. Thus, the decisions made before the war, choosing honor over gain, in the end benefited the good citizens of Oklahoma and the world that was finally, mostly by 1945, saved for democracy.
Sources include information from the Oklahoma Historical Society’s encyclopedia entry on Tinker AFB and “A Short History of the World” by J.M. Roberts and “More Valuable Than Oil” by Dr. James L. Crowder, Jr.