Air Traffic Control Begins

controller with flagsAt left is Archie W. League, usually regarded as the first air traffic controller. The 1929 photo shows him dressed for cold weather at St. Louis, where the airport operator employed him to prevent collisions between aircraft. His communication tools were simple: a red flag for "hold" and a checkered one for "go."

Seated controllerAt right, League is shown on duty in his summer office. Note the rolled-up flags in the wheelbarrow, and the dangling lunch box. His other equipment included a folding chair, drinking water, and a pad for taking notes. (National Archives photo)

League joined the Federal service in 1937. He eventually became FAA's Air Traffic Service director and retired as an Assistant Administrator in 1973.

Radio-equipped towerThe profession that League pioneered soon gained a measure of sophistication. In 1930, Cleveland Municipal Airport established a radio-equipped airport control tower. In the next five years, about twenty cities followed Cleveland's lead. Controller Bill Darby is shown with the latest equipment in this 1936 view of Newark tower.