Did you know that our greater St. Louis region has our own air and space museum? Well, just across the river in Cahokia, IL we do, thanks to a few former McDonnell Douglas staffers who wanted to showcase St. Louis’ rich aviation history.
The museum was initially located at Creve Coeur Airport before a disastrous flood in 1986 lead them to move to the Spirit of St. Louis Airport. The flood of 1993 hit the museum hard as well, and after closing public displays in 2001, they re-opened in an old Curtis-Wright hanger at the Greater St. Louis Downtown Airport in January 2005.
If you’re lucky enough to snag a docent tour, you’ll learn all about the unique artifacts such as early pilots licenses signed by Orville Wright, the original space suit worn by Gus Grissom in the famous photo of the Mercury 7 (alongside more memorabilia from the astronaut’s St. Louis training), some really cool planes and more artifacts and memorabilia than you’d think could fit in their small space.
At one time there were seven companies making planes in the St. Louis area, and museum has an impressive collection of models of many of the planes that have been made here.
One such company belonged to a man named Benoist, who manufactured seaplanes at his factory on Delmar and opened the first airplane parts store in the country on Washington Avenue in the early 1900s. Benoist’s seaplanes were the first seaplanes used in commercial flight.
The museum also includes a wide variety of engines (from the earliest planes through modern models) as well as a number of planes and flight simulators that were used over a number of years for a number of reasons.
Their memorabilia includes smaller items as well. St. Louis hosted some of the earliest major air races, and an original poster from the 1923 International Air Races hangs on the wall alongside an original banner from the 1937 International Air Races.
The museum also makes sure you’re aware that though Kitty Hawk may have been home to the first air flight, Glenn Curtis made the first aeroplane flight from Forest Park, and Aviation Field in the park is so named because from 1920 – 1921 the area served as a landing field for airmail service between St. Louis and Chicago. (The pilots averaged about 77 miles an hour, reaching Chicago in about three and a half hours.) Also, that police horse barn nearby – it used to be an airplane hanger.
And the museum has big plans, from fixing their leaking roof to repainting an old 727 to display half of it’s old TWA colors and half of it’s previous Ozark Airlines colors – a mission that will compliment their TWA and Ozark Airline exhibits. The plane will serve as both a museum exhibit and an airport fire department training plane. Ozark Airlines started their operations from the building now housing the museum.
The museum is clearly a labor of love for the docents who volunteer their time restoring their planes and sharing their love of our region’s place in the history and future of flight. They also serve as a reference source with thousands of documents and historical records stored at the museum. Whatever you’re level of interest, you’re guaranteed to learn a lot.
The Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum is open Friday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. The museum is located at 2300 Vector Dr. Cahokia IL, 62206. www.airandspacemuseum.org.