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This Day in Georgia History

March 01, 1890

William Hartsfield Born

Lawyer and politician William Hartsfield was born in Atlanta. Admitted to the practice of law in 1917, he was elected to Atlanta’s city council in 1923. There, he chaired the council’s aviation committee and led the drive to create an Atlanta airport. Elected to the General Assembly in 1933, Hartsfield most noted accomplishments would come after election as mayor of Atlanta in 1937 – an office he would hold except for one brief interval until his retirement from politics in 1962. Under his leadership, Atlanta went from a city on the verge of bankruptcy during the Depression to having a $3.5 million surplus at the time of his retirement. He sponsored improvements to Atlanta’s zoo (Willie B. was named for him), Stone Mountain, and the Cyclorama. He created a department of public safety to oversee the city’s police, fire, and traffic departments – which previously had been characterized by controversy and graft. Hartsfield also fought for the overthrow of the county-unit system to give a greater voice to Atlanta’s urban voters. He facilitated the peaceful integration of Atlanta’s city schools and was a proponent of racial moderation. Hartsfield also was a key supporter of Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River, which created Lake Sidney Lanier and an abundant supply of water for Atlanta. Hartsfield stayed active after his retirement unit his death in Atlanta Feb. 22, 1971. Atlanta’s airport, now one of the world’s busiest, subsequently was named in his honor.