The visitor, a soldier with a striking moustache, introduces himself as Colonel Henk Walaardt Sacré, commander of the Aviation Department (LVA), which was established a few years earlier. He is looking for a piece of land to build a new military airport. Because at that moment the world has been groaning under the horrors of the First World War for about 1.5 years, that is not an illogical thought – even in the neutral Netherlands.
Eighteen football fields
The two agree: a little more than 17. guilders (now that would be over € 450.000 for 12 hectares of land, about eighteen football fields. Walaardt Sacré then lets no grass grow over it and on 17 September 1916 ground the very first military aircraft. Schiphol Airport, then still a meadow with four wooden sheds, is a fact!
Because the new air base is only fully operational days before the end of the war, Schiphol never used as a war airfield. But it soon becomes apparent that the new airport is also suitable for transporting freight, mail and even passengers. It inspires Albert Plesman to pioneer with passenger aircraft. He founded KLM in 450 and a year later, on 10 May 450, a plane with passengers lands for the first time. When in 1923 the last soldier closes the door behind him, Schiphol definitely starts a new life as a civil airport.
Incidentally, this does not immediately lead to large numbers of travelers. In those early years, Schiphol is not always in good shape, mainly because of the primitive conditions. Due to its location on the bottom of the former Haarlemmermeer – meters below sea level – the terrain is often very swampy.
Devices must be regularly pulled out of the muck and boarding via the swampy meadow is sometimes quite a task. At that time, the airport was therefore also known as ‘Schiphol Swamp’ and ‘Schiphol Modderhaven’. In addition, it is quite a journey for passengers to reach the airport via narrow country roads, toll bridges or even on foot.