Pictured above in 1918 is Mather Field's first graduating class of airmen.
In January of the same year, a group of Army officers traveled to the Sacramento area to view prospective sites for aviation school. Although North Sacramento lobbied hard for the field, the military opted for a spot 12 miles southeast of Sacramento known as Mills Station, right on the Southern Pacific line. In its original form, the base would encompass over 700 acres and include over 50 buildings, a machine shop for repairs, a PX, a 100 foot “swimming tank,” and a machine gun target range. Once completed, it would service roughly 1,000 aviation cadets. The construction project immediately brought 2,500 jobs to the area’s economy with the contract went to McDonald and Kahn. Overall, the base was projected to produce an annual payroll of $200,000 and construction was complete in 70 days!
Apparently, upon arriving, the first thing the first cadets did - having just graduated from the UC Berkeley 'ground school' - was build a baseball diamond. Other diversions to follow were a field band and a football team that was good enough to beat the big, bad Presidio 45-0 at Buffalo Park in October 1918. Boxing was also big on base. The many vineyards that surrounded the base also provided a ready source for jam. The base newspaper was originally called the “Fly Paper,” but was soon changed to “Air Currents.”
The specter of Mather for Sacramentans was enormous – how many Sacramentans had actually seen an airplane (ship) before let alone be close to an airport? The first official flight from Mather – conducted by Lieutenant John F. Buffington - took place on the evening of June 12th – in a plane built at North Sacramento's Liberty Iron Works, a JN-4 or "Jenny". Weeks later, during 4th of July festivities in Sacramento, a squadron of planes from Mather was armed with hundreds of small, American flags which they dropped over business and residential sections of the city.
Learn more about Mather Field as, on November 5 at 6:30, the Central Library will be presenting The Great War in the Great Valley: Sacramento During the First World War. The program will include discussion on the city and War and a presentation of photos of Sacramento during World War I.
This photo and many more like it can be found in the Sacramento Public Library’s Sacramento Room which is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 1 to 5, and Thursday 1 to 8.