THE POSTAL HISTORY OF ICAO

 

1944: The Chicago Conference

 

Before the Second World War, two international conventions regulated the aerial navigation: the Paris Convention of 1919 whose permanent body was the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN), and the Havana Convention of 1928 without permanent office. At that time, there were approximately fifty sovereign states in the world. The ICAN gathered 33 of these States, whereas the Havana Convention had been ratified by 11 States.

 

The advent of World War II, while interrupting civilian flying, did not stop international civil aviation, It is needless to say that the aviation made during World War II not only resulted in horror and human tragedies but that its utilization also significantly advanced the technical and operational possibilities of air transport in a world which had finally found peace again. In fact, for the first time, large numbers of people and goods had been transported over long distances and ground facilities had been developed to permit this in an orderly and expeditious manner.

 

By the spring of 1942, more than two years before the end of war, it was apparent that civil air transport would play a large and important role in international relations; serious discussions of political and diplomatic arrangements for international civil aviation had begun mainly in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. At the Anglo-American Conference held in Quebec City from 10 to 24 August 1943 (the First Quebec Conference, which took place at the Citadelle and the Château Frontenac), Roosevelt and Churchill discussed post-war aviation policy and were planning for a United Nations type of organization to handle some aspects of international civil aviation. The Prime Minister of Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King, hosted this wartime conference. Meanwhile, as the year 1944 progressed and as the war took a turn for the better, it became even more apparent that the time was rapidly approaching when some nations would want to initiate new international air services on a regular commercial basis.

 

One of the Quebec City’s best-known and historic landmarks is the Château Frontenac. Architect Bruce Price designed the grand hotel for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. It opened in 1893 as a luxury hotel, named for Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac and Governor of New France in the later part of the 17th century. The Château Frontenac, one of Quebec City’s most popular tourist attractions, overlooks the St. Lawrence River with a spectacular view that extends for several kilometres. Seen from across the river, the hotel is Quebec City’s most prominent feature in the skyline. Indeed, the building has become a symbol of the city.

 

Chicago – Postcard showing the Stevens Hotel

On 11 September 1944, the United States extended an invitation to fifty-three governments and two Ministers in Washington (Danish and Thai) for an international civil aviation conference to be convened in the United States on 1 November 1944 to "make arrangements for the immediate establishment of provisional world air routes and services" and "to set up an interim council to collect, record and study data concerning international aviation and to make recommendations for its improvement." The Conference was also invited to "discuss the principles and methods to be followed in the adoption of a new aviation convention". On 7 October 1944, the Department of State announced the selection of the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, as the site for the International Civil Aviation Conference. Because of the Dumbarton Oaks conversations (from 21 August to 7 October 1944), the first concrete step towards an international organization for the maintenance of peace and security, were a Washington conference, President Roosevelt requested Adolf A. Berle, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State, Head of the US delegation to the conference, to find another site for the aviation conference. The city of Chicago was suggested, which would bring an international conference to the isolated Midwest.

 

Commonwealth civil aviation discussions were held in Montreal at the Windsor Hotel from 22 to 27 October 1944 in preparation of the Chicago Conference. Immediately following this Conference and before the Commonwealth representatives would return home, the same hotel would become the host of a two-day Commonwealth meeting on 9 and 10 December 1944.

 

Out of the 53 invited states, only two did not accept: Saudi Arabia, and the USSR which refused to participate. Opened on 1 November 1944, the Chicago Conference, as it came to be known, was eventually attended by fifty-two nations (including USA) together with two observer nations, without the privilege of voting, Denmark and Thailand; the occupied Denmark and Thailand were represented only by their Ministers with the rank of Ambassadors attending in their personal capacity. The Conference was attended by a total of 185 delegates, 156 advisers, experts and consultants, 45 secretaries, 105 clerks and stenographers, 306 members of the Conference secretariat and 158 press representatives, for a total of 955 persons participating directly or indirectly. This was estimated to be the largest international conference held in the United States in those years. The great percentage of military officers (i.e. 90) in the delegations was at that time the demonstrative evidence of the close relationship between military and civil aviation.

 

The Stevens Hotel, facing Lake Michigan near the centre of the City of Chicago, was built in the mid-1920 (at a cost over US$30 million) as the world's largest and most sumptuous hotel and designed in a modification of the style of Louis XVI; it opened on 2 May 1927. The Stevens Hotel (now the Chicago Hilton) developed by the Stevens family (James W. Stevens and his son Ernest) of the Illinois Life Insurance Company and owners of the LaSalle.

 

Chicago – Poster Stamp

celebrating the Antique Exposition and Hobby Fair, held at the Stevens Hotel from 13 to 18 November 1944

The Stevens occupied an entire city block on Michigan Avenue between Seventh and Eighth Streets. With 28 floors, this massive brick-and-stone edifice contained 3,000 outside guest rooms, each with private bath, a convention hall with 4,000 seats, a roof-top 18-hole golf course, 3-story laundry, an in-house hospital and 5 sub-basements. Unfortunately, the Depression of the 1930s brought with it hard times for the Stevens and the hotel company was ruled insolvent in June 1934. In 1942, the Stevens Hotel went to war and was occupied by the United States Army during World War II. The hotel reopened to the public in 1943. During the Conference, rooms were rated at $6 to $9 per day for double-occupancy bedrooms and at $4 to $7 per day for single-occupancy bedrooms.

 

At the time of the Conference, the Stevens Hotel was one of Chicago's grand but already aging hotels; it was not as commodious in its accommodations as had been expected by most of the participants, who described it as a mammoth second-rate hotel whose lobby was like the lobby of the Grand Central Station in New York. It would take up to one hour a day waiting for elevators and perhaps half an hour a day waiting to complete telephone calls. One reason it was chosen was that Berle anticipated at most a three-week meeting. As it turned out that the Conference lasted 37 days (instead of 25 as anticipated) and accommodations could not compensate for the intensities, fatigue and frustrations, many of the participants registered their displeasure with the hotel. However, most delegates and reporters found amusement in the hotel's bar, noting that sleep was the most-welcome recreation when sessions sometimes lasted all night. During the Conference, a large Antique Exhibition was held at the Stevens Hotel from Monday 13 to Saturday 18 November 1944. This must have entertained the participants too!

 

Chicago – 7 December 1944

Final plenary Session in the Grand Ballroom of the Stevens Hotel

For seven weeks, the delegates of fifty-two nations considered the problems of international civil aviation. The most important result of the conference was the drawing up of a Convention on International Civil Aviation (i.e. the Chicago Convention, the original text of which was in English, French and Spanish), the charter of a new body established to guide and develop international civil aviation.

 

The Executive Committee of the Conference recommended that the seat of the provisional ICAO be located in Canada, taking into consideration the war circumstances in Europe and the wish to start its work rapidly; Canada was also a logical choice as an important aviation nation and one with strong links with Europe. However, the permanent seat of the Organization would be determined at the final meeting of the Interim Assembly of the Provisional ICAO. 

 

The Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO) was established by the Chicago Conference, as an interim body pending the ratification of a permanent world civil aviation convention. The Canadian Government chose Montreal for locating PICAO’s headquarters, as it was at that time the leading metropolis of the country, the most cosmopolitan and international city; it was also the main hub for international civil air transport.

 

On 7 December 1944, the Conference concluded with the signature of a final act that was a formal and official record summarizing the work. Forty delegations signed their adherence to the new Convention on that date. The following main instruments were contained in this final act:

 

Preamble to the Chicago Convention,

signed on 7 December 1944

1.       The Interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation was opened for signature. Its purpose was that of a bridging mechanism to permit an early beginning of the global effort while awaiting the ratification of the Convention (see below) by the 26th State. This interim agreement was accepted by the 26th State on 6 June 1945. Thus the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO) was born on that date. It functioned remarkably well until the permanent organization came into force on 4 April 1947.

 

2.       The Convention on International Civil Aviation was opened for signature and designed to provide a complete modernization of the basic public international law of the air. After ratification by twenty-six States, it came into effect on 4 April 1947 (30 days after the 26th State had ratified the Chicago Convention) with the constitution of the new permanent International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, thus bringing an end to PICAO.

3.       The International Air Services Transit Agreement or "Two Freedom" agreement, under which the aircraft of member states may fly over each other's territory and land for non-traffic purposes, e.g. refuelling. This document was a great step forward in the path of international air transport development over a large part of the world.

4.       The International Air Transport Agreement or "Five Freedom" agreement. In addition to the first two freedoms of the agreement mentioned above, three freedoms concerning commercial transport rights were enacted.

5.       The Drafts of twelve Technical Annexes (numbered from A to L) cover the technical and operational aspects of international civil aviation, such as airworthiness of aircraft, air traffic control, telecommunications, etc. The conference achieved real advances in technical matters that would make international flying much safer, more reliable and more straightforward than it had been before the Second World War. From twelve Technical Annexes defined by the Conference, nineteen Annexes to the Convention are now maintained to achieve standardization through a uniform application of international standards and recommended practices.

6.       A standard form of Bilateral Agreement for the exchange of air routes was prepared and recommended by the Conference as part of its final act.

 

It is to be noted that out of the 33 States, parties to the Paris Convention, 25 participated in the Chicago Conference; 19 of these put their signature on 7 December 1944 to the Act comprising the Final Convention; thus, the importance of ICAN’s work was seen distinctly.

Signatures of the US Delegates on the original Chicago Convention, with those of  L. Welch Pogue and Edward Warner, respectively Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board

 

The International Civil Aviation Conference turned out to be one of the most successful, productive and influential conferences ever held, and the Stevens Hotel in Chicago had been its host. As a result, ICAO became the sole universal institution of international public aviation rights, superseding the Paris Convention of 1919 and the Havana Convention of 1928. For the first time in the history of international aviation, an authority would facilitate the order in the air, introduce maximum standardization in technical matters to unify the methods of exploitation and settle any differences that may occur.

 

On 8 December 1944, the Conference was convened in plenary session to elect the States to become members of the Interim Council. Twenty of the twenty-one seats were filled (i.e. Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, El Salvador, France, India, Iraq, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States; note that Cuba had offered to relinquish its seat on the Council in favor of India). It left one seat vacant for the USSR, should it decide to adhere to the Convention. The latter country did not finally adhere to the Convention until 1970.

 

Fifty years later, from 30 October to 1 November 1994, an important gathering of aviation and aerospace leaders took place at Chicago in the Chicago Hilton and Towers Hotel (previously named the Stevens Hotel) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Convention and to share views on the future of the world’s aviation and aerospace business. This Conference and Exhibition attracted over 500 participants in the world civil aviation industry. L. Welch Pogue, one of the few surviving US delegates to the Chicago Conference, was among the list of speakers. The ICAO Council held, for the first time at its birthplace in Chicago, a special commemorative meeting on 1 November 1994, exactly 50 years after the opening of the Conference on International Civil Aviation and expressed gratitude to the members of the delegations from 52 states of the world community who worked together to draft and perfect the Chicago Convention.

 

More information on the Chicago Conference can be obtained by clicking on the following link: The Stevens Hotel : Genesis of ICAO.

 

Bronze plaque showing the emblem of the Stevens Hotel and located above the entrance to the Hotel.

 

Metal poster announcing the room price of the Stevens Hotel at the time of its opening.

Quebec City, Canada - Anglo-American Conference from 10 to 24 August 1943.

L.W. Staehle design. Smart Craft cachet.

Chicago, IL.  cancel dated 26 January 1945.

USA Stamp Scott #905, Win the War, American Eagle violet, issued on 4 July 1942

 

Postcard from early 20th century showing the Citadel

and Château Frontenac in Quebec, Canada

 

List of the 55 Governments and Authorities to whom the invitation to attend the Chicago Conference was extended. Saudi Arabia and USSR eventually did to attend.

Thus a total of 52 States (including USA) attended the Conference.

 

1 November 1944 – Opening Session of the Chicago Conference in the Grand Ballroom of the Stevens Hotel, Chicago.

 

1 November 1944 – Finale of the Opening Session of the Chicago Conference in the Grand Ballroom of the Stevens Hotel, Chicago. The representatives of the 52 participating nations stand to sing the Star-Spangled Banner (the national anthem of the United States)

led by the Chairman of the Conference, Adolf A. Berle, Jr.

The flags of 52 countries are shown just behind the main stage.

 

7 December 1944 – Agreements signed at the end of the Chicago Conference in the Grand Ballroom of the Stevens Hotel, Chicago.

From left to right: Kia-Ngau, China; Lord Swinton, United Kingdom; Adolf A. Berle Jr., Assistant Secretary of State, U.S.; H.J. Symington, Canada, and Max Hymans, France.

 

Heading of the “Journal” of the Conference, dated 7 December 1944,

i.e. the 37th and last day of the Conference.

 

Commercial cover sent by Lloyd Welch Pogue to ICAO Public Information Office (PIO)

Postmark dated 11 February 1993

Pioneering aviation attorney, L. Welch Pogue (1899-2003) was Chairman Civil Aeronautics Board in the USA from 1942 to 1946 and member of the US delegation to the Chicago Conference.

 

7 December 1994 - 50th Anniversary of ICAO – Commemorative cover

The quotation on this cover from Adolf A. Berle, Jr., U.S. Assistant

Secretary of State, Chairman of the American Delegation and President

of the International Civil Aviation Conference, at the Final Plenary Session,

reads as follows: “As a result of the work of these and many other men,

when we leave this Conference we can say to our airmen

throughout the world that they can go out and fly their craft in

peaceful service”.

 

Service cover sent from the Chicago Hilton and Towers Hotel,

previously named the Stevens Hotel – Postmark dated 6 September 1996.

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