William B. Hartsfield

Posted in Georgia History, GSU photo archive, Politics by chamblee54 on April 3, 2018

As you may have noticed, this blog uses a lot of pictures from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”. There is one face which keeps turning up, always seeming to find the camera. This is the face of William Berry Hartsfield, the Mayor of Atlanta between 1937-1941, then again between 1942-1961. He is the namesake of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Willie B, the gorilla at Zoo Atlanta. Mr. Hartsfield is one of the reasons ATL airport is the aviation powerhouse that it is. He probably had little to do with the conception of Willie B, although one can never be too sure. This is a repost.

Mr. Hartsfield was born March 1, 1890, in Atlanta. He did not finish high school or attend college. At 25, he began work as a legal secretary, reading law journals at night. Mr. Hartsfield was admitted to the Georgia Bar on July 7, 1917.

In 1909, Coca Cola mogul Asa Griggs Candler bought some land near Hapeville, GA, and built a racetrack. There was only one season of racing (with an appearance from Barney Oldfield), before the track was shut down. There was a series of aviation exhibitions on the site in the following years, and talk of using the land as an airport.

In 1922, William Hartsfield was elected to the Atlanta City Council, and started to promote the idea of an airport. The 285 acres of the Candler racetrack was leased in 1925, On April 13, 1929, the city bought the land for “Candler Field” for $94,400. During World War II , Candler Field was declared an army air base, and doubled in size.

In 1936, Mr. Hartsfield defeated incumbent James Key to become Mayor of Atlanta. He guided the city through the last years of the depression, only to be defeated by Roy LeCraw in 1940. When Mr. LeCraw was called into military service after Pearl Harbor, Mr. Hartsfield won a special election for the Mayor’s job. He held the job until the election of Ivan Allen in 1961.

Atlanta grew tremendously during the Hartsfield years. During the civil rights era, it kept a cool head, and integrated the schools peacefully in August 1961. (After Mr. Hartsfield had announced his retirement) He was a tireless promoter, both of himself and the city. It was said that if Atlanta could suck as hard as it blows, then the oceans would be pulled up to the borders, and Atlanta would be a seaport. This might not be a good thing.

Mr. Hartsfield was the ideal mayor for this up and coming town. He never met a camera he did not like. The metropolitan area went over a million people shortly before his retirement, and “city of a million people” was a new motto. William B. Hartsfield died February 22, 1971. On the way to his eternal destination, he changed planes in Atlanta.

One Response

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  1. Dave Bearse said, on April 3, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    Love the old photos.

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