The rich history of the Netherland’s national airport: 100 years of Schiphol

Schiphol has a rich history. It all began on a reclaimed piece of land in the Haarlemmermeer in 1916. 100 years on, the Netherlands’ national airport has become a global player through determination and a pioneering spirit.

Where does the name Schiphol come from?

The name 'Sciphol’ first appeared in a 15th century document. The term may have referred to a piece of land where wood was available. In old Dutch, wood translates to scip, and get into hol or halen. 'Hol' may also derive from hell or grave because in this part of Haarlemmermeer – a large bog lake – many ships ran aground. There’s no way to know for certain.

A fort was built along the Haarlemmermeer in 1846, called the ‘Fortress at the Schiphol’. The Ministry of War designated the site as a suitable location for a military airport, partly due to this fortress. While this happened, the Haarlemmermeer was being reclaimed.

1916 - 1919

Farmer’s land becomes a military airport

In 1916, Farmer Knibbe sold his 12-hectare plot of land to the army for 55,229.40 guilders – the equivalent of 18 soccer fields, or €450,509 in today’s money. On 19 September 1916, the first military aircraft landed, which began its use as a military airport. A Farman HF-20 was the very first aircraft used at Schiphol and was flown by Lieutenant Roeper Bosch. The second aircraft, a Farman F-22, landed soon after. By 1917, Schiphol had rapidly expanded to become one of Europe's largest airports.

From military base to civilian airport

After the First World War, Schiphol remained a military base at first. Fighter planes were increasingly used to transport freight, mail and passengers. Slowly, the airport changed into a civilian airport. In 1919, civil aviation company KLM was established.

Schiphol's history is closely linked to KLM's. At the time, the Dutch national airline was known as the Royal Dutch Airlines for the Netherlands and Colonies. Schiphol is KLM’s home airport. Until World War II, KLM was the third airline company in the world. It now is the oldest still existing airline in the world.

Hangars at Schiphol in 1916

1920 - 1929

From ‘bathing resort' to gateway for Olympic athletes

In the early years, Schiphol had no paved runways. This caused problems because the groundwater was high and aircrafts had become heavier. The boggy airport acquired a few different nicknames, such as 'Swamp Schiphol' and 'Schiphol Mudport'. French pilots even talked about 'Schiphol-les-Bains', which means ‘Schiphol bathing resort’.

In October 1924, a Fokker F.VII departed from Schiphol to Batavia, which was the very first intercontinental flight from Amsterdam.

One aviation pioneer named Jan Dellaert played a major role in the development of the airport. From 1926, he was the first airport manager of Schiphol to monitor the safe use of the airport. After the war, Dellaert drew up a whole new plan that laid the foundations for Schiphol as we know it today.

On 1 April 1926, the Dutch Ministry of War gave Schiphol to Amsterdam. The municipality immediately began to improve the airport for the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. They erected a passenger building and air traffic control tower.

The first scheduled flight

1930 - 1939

A swift take off for expansions

In 1932, Schiphol had a modest network of 18 destinations with KLM. By comparison: in 2017, 108 airlines fly from Schiphol to 322 destinations. Making Schiphol the airport with the most connections in Europe.

In December 1933, the Fokker 'Pelican' flew from Schiphol to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta in Indonesia) in a record time of 4 days, 4 hours and 40 minutes. This flight became known as the 'Christmas flight’ because the airplane had mail bags with 300 letters and Christmas cards on board.

Since aircrafts had started to become heavier, Haarlemmermeer’s boggy ground was no longer an ideal place for an airport. The first paved landing strip was conceived in the USA and Stockholm built the first one in Europe. By 1938, it was Schiphol’s turn.

In that same year, KLM and the government planned to develop a national airport in Leiderdorp. Residents within Schiphol’s vicinity staged a massive and successful protest that included songs and a parade. The result was that Schiphol would stay.

The departure board in 1931

1940 - 1949

Schiphol rises like a phoenix

On 10 May 1940, Germany attacked the Netherlands. The German Air Force bombed a number of strategic sites, including Schiphol. After Dutch capitulation on 15 May 1940, the Germans repair the damage quickly and the Luftwaffe started using Schiphol as an air base. Schiphol was renamed Fliegerhorst 561.

In 1944, it was clear that Germany would lose the war. The occupiers feared that Schiphol would become an operational base for the Allied Forces. To prevent this, they destroyed the remaining runways. Schiphol was already heavily battered, but now became completely unusable.

After the war, many Amsterdam workers helped to rebuild the destroyed Schiphol as soon as possible. The government wanted to quickly establish a plan for the future of air traffic. On 8 November 1945, the government appointed Schiphol as 'Global Airport of the Netherlands'.

In 1949, Airport Manager Jan Dellaert presented his first expansion plans for the airport. A modern air traffic control tower should be built, together with 6 to 10 runways around a new terminal building. A new highway and railway line between Amsterdam and The Hague were also on Dellaert's wish-list. The cost of these ambitious plans amounted to 95 million Guilders.

In Dellaert’s final design, Schiphol had a tangential 4-lane runway system. That means that the runways fanned out in different directions. Aircrafts could land easier when there were turning winds. A central station building was planned in the middle.

Station after bombing in 1940

1950 - 1959

The rise of commerce

In 1950, Jan Dellaert became the Director Schiphol, and opened the air traffic control tower. In the same year, former ship’s hairdresser Frans Kappé opened a salon at Stationsplein, Schiphol which gave 50 cuts. For 10 cents extra, you could get some hair tonic. Kappé eventually grew to become one of Schiphol's largest retailers.

By 1951, the Fokker factory had moved from Amsterdam North to Schiphol. From then on, planes were instantly ready for test flights. In the same year, Schiphol also got its own radar installation, one of the most important innovations to emerge from World War II. After the war, civil aviation airports used this new technique to steer air traffic in safe directions.

Madurodam, a popular park which contains miniatures of Dutch heritage sites, attractions and monuments, opened in 1952. From the start, Schiphol occupied an important place in this miniature park. Madurodam’s miniature airport has been adapted over the years to make it look like the actual airport. However, the real Schiphol is 25-times bigger!

In 1957, Schiphol’s first duty-free shops were opened. A bottle of jenever (Dutch gin) cost 4 guilders and a bottle of whiskey was 8 guilders. In the first year, the total turnover of the tax-free shops was - converted to euros - around 3 million. 50 years later, that figure is now 400 million euros.

During the 1950’s, the arrival of the jet engine marked a new era. Jet airplanes flew higher and faster than propeller airplanes and they were also heavier. To accommodate those developments, a new concrete runway, 3300-metres in length, was built at Schiphol.

Jan Dellaert in 1955

1960 - 1989

Schiphol becomes a ‘mainport’

Buy the swinging 60’s, the popularity of aviation had grown. However, the jet plane’s arrival meant that Schiphol’s noise pollution had become worse, and residents in the area were increasingly disturbed. To help ameliorate relations with the community, an advisory committee for aircraft sound disturbance was established in 1961 – which was the predecessor of the current Residents' Contact Point at Schiphol (BAS).

According to Jan Dellaert’s 40s-era plans, the new station building was to be located in the middle of the airport. Construction began in 1963. The architect was Marius Duintjer, and the designer Kho Liang Ie designed its modern interior. In April 1967, the new Schiphol was finished and opened in a ceremony presided over by Queen Juliana. A brand-new air traffic control tower was in operation until 1991 (these days, it is being used by KNMI, the Dutch meteorology institute).

Schiphol continued to expand. In 1975, the new station building opened, double the size of earlier. But in 1977, Schiphol was not allowed to build any more terminals. After a period of dissatisfaction and protest, Schiphol took another approach – to actively promote the so-called 'one-terminal-concept'.

When Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus opened the new Schiphol train station on 21 December 1978, it was the first time that people could take the train to the airport. The station has 3 train tracks and 2 platforms. The specially-dug 5800-metre-long Schiphol Train Tunnel connected the airport with Amsterdam Zuid. In the following years, they also built rail connections with The Hague and Rotterdam. Curiously, a direct connection to Amsterdam Central Station was only established in 1986.

By the 1980’s, competition had grown substantially. European airlines developed their destination network according the hub and spoke concept. Passengers who depart from different airports, but have the same destination, first fly to a central point known as a hub. They transfer at the hub, then leave together for their end destination. During the course of the decade, Schiphol became one of Europe’s major hubs. In 1988, the Dutch government regarded Schiphol as a 'mainport' – an international hub of air, road and rail connections and a driver of the Dutch economy.

Building D-pier in 1989

1990 - 1999

Schiphol becomes an AirportCity

In 1991, the new air traffic control tower at Schiphol Centre began operations. Queen Beatrix performed the official opening. At that time, the Schiphol tower was the highest air traffic control tower in the world at 101.7-metres high. That height was soon exceeded by airport control towers in Vienna (109 metres), Bangkok (132 metres) and Vancouver (142 metres).

On 26 March 1995, the Schengen Agreement came into effect. Residents of the Schengen countries (Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain) were able to cross each other’s border without going through passport controls. More countries joined shortly thereafter. In December 1995, the airport was ready for the open borders. Areas were divided into a 'Schengen area' and a 'non-Schengen area'.

In that same year, a brand new central entrance was created for Schiphol called Schiphol Plaza. The Minister of Transport and Water Management, Annemarie Jorritsma, was on-site for the opening ceremony. New shops and an underground railway station were integrated into the terminal. Bus stops and taxi rankings were situated in front of Schiphol Plaza. These changes helped Schiphol to become more accessible.

Using the AirportCity concept, Schiphol was set to become more than just a place where travellers leave, arrive or transfer. The airport was to become a city that was open day and night, with amenities for everyone; shops, restaurants and hotels, as well as banks, museums, a library and a casino.

2000 - 2016

Towards being Europe's Preferred Airport

Schiphol has two air traffic control towers, the Tower Centre and Tower West. At 59-m high, Tower West was built specially to guide the Polderbaan’s air traffic. This fifth main runway opened in 2003 and its name was chosen from residents’ suggestions. At 3800 metres, the Polderbaan became Schiphol’s longest runway.

Schiphol opened the H-pier in 2005, a bare-bones pier that was intended for use by budget airlines. There were no shops and only a few restaurants and toilets. The pier did not have covered pedestrian bridges to the planes, because it took too much time to connect and disconnect them.

In 2010, Schiphol became the first airport with its own Airport Library, where travellers on intercontinental flights can learn about Dutch culture while waiting for their flight. The library also holds a wide range of translated Dutch books, photo books, movies, small exhibitions and musical recordings created by Dutch artists.

On 19 October 2011, Schiphol welcomed its billionth traveller since 1920. The unsuspecting traveller was welcomed by Jos Nijhuis, President-General of Schiphol, and Peter Hartman, President-General of KLM. That traveller was Inge Serné, who was returning home to Haarlem from New York.

In 2013, Schiphol won the ACI EUROPE Best Airport Award in the ‘Airports with more than 25 million Passengers’-category for the fourth time. The award was granted by the Airport Council International (ACI) for good service and attention to sustainability and the environment.

Earlier, all 71 gates in the non-Schengen areas had their own security check. By 2015, the security checks became more efficient, when central security filters were introduced. Checks at the gate were discontinued.

Another fun fact: Schiphol still has two remaining residents. Jo (84) and Wout de Rooij (88) live on Schipholweg, and have lived there since marrying in 1955. Their 3 children were born and raised in this house. Even though everything around them has changed, they still enjoy living in the same house.

Looking forward

Schiphol is always in flux. A new terminal is being built south of Schiphol Plaza, next to the air traffic control tower. It will be finished in 2019. The new terminal is being built because traveller numbers continue to rise and the existing terminals are becoming overcrowded.

Schiphol now welcomes around 60-million travellers every single year. The Dutch government gave Royal Schiphol Group permission to work toward 500,000 annual flight movements. Aircrafts that contribute a lot to the economy like cargo flights are prioritised. In the future, flights to holiday destinations are likely to land at Eindhoven and Lelystad airports more often. Schiphol will still be allowed to grow till 2020, but measures must be taken to reduce the inconvenience.

More to learn

There is a lot to see and learn about the story of Schiphol. Not only facts and historical notes, but personal stories from former employees, visitors and residents. That's why we have set up a special website with more facts and stories about Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Read the more detailed history of 100 years Schiphol (in Dutch)