The original Eddie Martin Airport began as a private landing strip, built in the 1920s by aviation pioneer Eddie Martin on Irvine Company land. In 1923, Martin founded a flying school and Martin Aviation, one of the nation’s oldest aviation firms. It became Orange County Airport, a publicly-owned facility, in 1939 through a land swap between the Irvine Company and the County of Orange. After serving as a military base during World War II, it was returned by the federal government to the County with the stipulation that Orange County Airport remain open to all types of aviation uses.

In 1967, a 22,000 square foot Terminal was built. The Eddie Martin Terminal was named after the original founder and pioneer.  In 1979, the Board of Supervisors for the County of Orange renamed Orange County Airport to John Wayne Airport, Orange County, in memory of the late movie star and Newport Beach resident.

The Thomas F. Riley Terminal opened to the public on September 16, 1990 and is named after the former Fifth District Supervisor whose role in community negotiations advanced the Airport Improvement Project that resulted in construction of the new Terminal complex. The original Eddie Martin Terminal was demolished in 1994.