BRIDGEPORT, Pa. — In the continuation of a series highlighting past individuals who competed in water polo and made their marks outside the water, the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) highlights the story of Chicago Herald and Examiner publisher and University of Chicago alumnus Merrill Church Meigs.
Born in Poweshiek County, Iowa, he grew up on a farm near Malcom, Iowa, where he was more interested in the mechanical devices used to raise crops than actually farming. In 1901, he took a job as a salesman for the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company in Racine, Wisconsin. Within a year, he was in charge of the company’s sales for South America.
Despite not having graduated from high school, Meigs was allowed to enroll at the University of Chicago, where he played football under Amos Alonzo Stagg and also played baseball and water polo. The starting left guard of the 1905 University of Chicago national championship football team, he also became the campus correspondent for the Chicago Herald and Examiner, of which he would become the executive later in his life. During World War II, Meigs served on the Office of Production Management as the aircraft expert.
In time Meigs would become a senior vice president of the Hearst Corporation, publisher of the old Chicago American newspaper as well as becoming the head of the Chicago Aero Commission. Meigs insisted that in addition to Midway Airport (then called Municipal Airport) and O’Hare Field (then called Orchard-Douglas and named for fellow former water polo player Butch O’Hare), the city needed an airfield within ten minutes of the Loop. It opened in December 1948 and was renamed Meigs Field in his honor the following year. Fifty-four years after the renaming, Meigs Field was demolished by order of then-Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley.
An avid pilot who was friends with William Randolph Hearst and Henry Ford, Meigs gave President Harry Truman his first flying lessons and had passed along putting tips to the Duke of Windsor among other notable activities away from the water and the newspaper business.
Meigs retired in 1962 and became a consultant to the newspaper industry. He died at age 84 on January 26, 1968 in Palm Beach County, Florida.