Utah History Encyclopedia


By Thomas G. Alexander and Rick J. Fish

Rebuilding Tanks at Tooele Army Depot

Utah's defense industry began with explorations in the 1840s. The earliest arrival was John C. Fremont in late summer 1843. Fremont returned again in 1845, and subsequent military explorers included Captain Howard Stansbury and Lt. John W. Gunnison, in the early 1850s. Lt. Col. Edward J. Steptoe, who arrived in August 1854, set aside the earliest military reservation in Rush Valley.

Steptoe moved on to California in 1855, and Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston founded the first regular military post at Camp Floyd (later Fort Crittenden) near Fairfield in Cedar Valley after the arrival of the Utah Expedition in 1858. Sent to quell an alleged rebellion by the Mormons and to escort Governor-designate Alfred Cumming to the territory, the camp offered employment and surplus sales in addition to construction and supply contracts for the local population. It also served as an irritant as Johnston sent troops to cities like Provo and Springville where conflicts with local citizens aggravated already strained relations. During its short duration (1858-1861), Camp Floyd constituted the largest troop concentration of its kind in the United States, averaging approximately 2,500 men. After the outbreak of the Civil War, the federal government recognized the need to protect the overland mail route from Indian depredations. This led to the establishment in October 1862 of Fort Douglas by California Volunteers. Convinced that the Mormons were traitors and fanatics, Colonel Patrick Edward Connor decided not to rebuild the ruins of Camp Floyd, but to situate his command on the bench overlooking Salt Lake City. Following the creation of Camp Douglas (renamed Fort Douglas in 1878), the soldiers set out to control the Indians. At the Battle of the Bear River just north of the Utah border in Idaho, Connor's men wiped out more than 250 Shoshoni men, women, and children, in what was among the largest number of dead in any Western Indian battle.

With the Indians subdued for a time, Connor encouraged a peaceful solution to the Mormon problem by promoting the development of mining in Utah. He calculated that a huge Protestant and Catholic influx would eventually displace the Mormons.

After the Civil War, the federal government began to move Indians in Utah to reservations, and periodic outbreaks concerned Euro-Americans in the Western territories. Consequently, efforts to control Native Americans led to the establishment and operation of Fort Cameron near Beaver (1872-1880). Eventually, the LDS Church purchased the land and buildings, and converted Fort Cameron into an academy in 1898, known as the Murdock Academy.

As settlements advanced throughout eastern Utah and western Colorado, conflicts between the frontiersmen and Indians became more frequent. The War Department established two forts in the Uinta Basin (Fort Thornburgh 1881-1884) and Fort Duchesne (1886-1912) in an attempt to control the Utes. With the closing of Fort Duchesne, Fort Douglas again became the only permanent War Department installation in Utah and the principal army post in the Mountain West. By the fall of 1916, the first of 5,000 civilians were trained at Fort Douglas for various assignments during World War I. The post also housed several hundred German prisoners during the war.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Fort Douglas became an induction center, a finance office, and the regional headquarters which directed operations in the Ninth Service area including the Mountain and Pacific Coastal states. After the end of the war, many activities were curtailed, and some of Fort Douglas' property was transferred to other agencies and to state government.

After World War I, the Government constructed the Ogden Arsenal as a storage base. By 1936, however, the arsenal began manufacturing its own munitions. During World War II, the facilities expanded to include a bomb and artillery plant, while simultaneously achieving the status of a master depot and distribution center for all ordnance to the western United States. In 1955, the post discontinued its operations and transferred its real estate and facilities to nearby Hill Air Force Base. The Arsenal's ordnance functions were transferred to Tooele Ordnance Depot (now Tooele Army Depot).

Utah's first militia was called the Nauvoo Legion after a similar organization in Illinois. Abolished by the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, the militia was revived in 1894 as the Utah National Guard. The state established a camp for the guard in 1928, named in honor of Brigadier General W. G. Williams. The guard has participated in aspects of every war since the Spanish-American War, including island-hopping in the Pacific and invading Europe during World War II. Camp Williams also became a sub-post and training site for Fort Douglas during World War II. Prior to the Korean War, the state stationed three Air National Guard units at the Salt Lake Airport.

Hill Air Force Base in Davis County, formerly home of the Ogden Air Material Area (OOAMA), and now a unit of the Air Logistics Command is home base for several airplane units and provides technical and logistical support for Air Force units in nearly all the western states. The initial construction of Hill Air Force Base was completed in November 1939. During World War II, OOAMA's duties consisted primarily of supplying, storing, repairing, and maintaining aircraft. During the postwar period, OOAMA performed similar services during the Berlin Airlift and the Korean and Vietnam wars. By 1960, OOAMA was a world-wide manager for air munitions and explosives. Under the Air Force Logistic Command its duties now include responsibility for the F-16. It remains today an important link in the Air Force's space-age technology. Hill is the largest single employer in the state.

Wendover Air Force Base, opened in 1939 as sub-post of Fort Douglas' bombing and gunnery range, finally achieved official Army Air Base status in 1942. During World War II, Wendover served as a training facility for high-altitude formation flying, long-range navigation, target identification, and simulated combat bombing missions. Wendover also trained the plane crews which dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since the early '60's the base has seen very little activity, and while part has been converted to civilian uses, that portion remaining under Air Force control is administered by Hill Air Force Base. Utah General Depot (UGD) received its eighth name, Defense Depot Ogden, on January 1, 1964. At the time of its construction during World War II, it was the largest quartermaster depot in the United States, and an indispensable and permanent link in the Army's supply system. The main duties of UGD were to furnish the western states with all their nonperishable subsistence items. With the outbreak of the Korean War, receipts and shipments jumped proportionately. As during World War II, the Depot also assisted in training military personnel for the Korean campaign. Defense Depot Ogden continues to remain one of the largest supply depots in the United States.

In 1942, the War Department acquired 25,000 uninhabited acres west of the Oquirrh Mountains. Soon thereafter, the Tooele Ordnance Depot (TOD) commenced storing high explosives, vehicles, small arms, and munitions. After World War II, TOD function as a storehouse and surplus disposal center. During the Korean War, TOD's mission changed from primarily a storage depot to a manufacturing enterprise devoted to producing, rebuilding, and repairing war materiel. Since the Korean War, TOD has become the major ammunition equipment design center for the nation's Ordnance Corps. In 1962, TOD'S name was changed to Tooele Army Depot (TAD).

Also in 1942, the Chemical Warfare Service created Dugway Proving Ground for large-scale testing of chemical munitions. Following the creation of Dugway, another depot was initiated in Rush Valley called Deseret Chemical Depot (DCD). DCD was designed for the storage and shipment of all types of chemical warfare material. Eventually, the Army placed the Depot under the jurisdiction of the Tooele Army Depot. Since the nuclear age and the use of radio-active materials in warfare, Dugway has expanded its facilities for the handling, storage, and utilization of such materials. Dugway Proving Grounds has also been extremely controversial because of the highly toxic agents stored and tested there which have apparently caused some sheep deaths and may pose a danger to people in surrounding areas.

The federal government also operated a number of bases that continued during World War II and were subsequently decommissioned. The Clearfield Naval Supply Depot officially opened in April 1943. The mission of the depot was to provide a reservoir of materal in support of West Coast supply points and the advance bases of the Pacific Fleet. The Depot was also used as a depository for the personal effects of men lost in action, and housed a sizable German prisoner-of-war camp. The depot's workload declined between wars until the facilities were transferred to General Services Administration in 1962. A number of industrial and governmental enterprises have moved to the depot to take advantage of the rental storage space available. Perhaps the most regrettable incident of Utah's war years was the country's widespread prejudices against American citizens of Japanese ancestry that prompted the deportation of citizens and aliens of Japanese ancestry to relocation centers in the west. One was located at Topaz, in Millard County. Topaz was an enclosed city of barracks with limited freedoms and facilities; it operated from September 1942, until October 1945.

Other temporary installations during World War II, included the Bushnell General Hospital near Brigham City and Kearns Air Base in Salt Lake County. Bushnell served as a facility for treatment of severely wounded military personnel. Kearns functioned primarily as a training field for Air Corps personnel. Following the war, Bushnell was turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and became the Intermountain Indian School. By the spring of 1943, Kearns had grown until it was Utah's third largest city, boasting a military population of 40,000 troops. By October 1943 Kearns facilities had trained over 90,000 airmen. The base continued to function until the end of World War II when the War Assets Administration declared the camp surplus. The "surplus" townsite became one of Utah's fastest growing communities.

The federal government also financed the construction of a number of manufacturing plants during World War II, all of which were phased out after the war. These included the Geneva Steel plant near Orem, the Remington Arms Plant in Salt Lake City, the Kalunite Aluminum processing plant in Salt Lake City, a vanadium plant at Monticello, a refractory plant at Lehi, an oil refinery at Salt Lake City, a radio tube plant at Salt Lake City, and a parachute plant at Manti.

After World War II, in addition to continuing the operation of installations like Hill Air Force Base, Ogden and Tooele Army Depots, and Dugway Proving Grounds, the federal government opened a number of new facilities. These included Hurricane Mesa, the testing ground of Project SMART, Supersonic Military Air Research Track, was a mesa just west of Zion National Park, near the town of Hurricane. Seeing the need for an ejection system which would allow pilots to be thrown clear of their airplanes without injury, the Air Force contracted Coleman Engineering Company, in 1954, to design and construct such a system. By using dummies and apes in their rocket sled experiments, the Air Force standardized ejection systems for industry-wide acceptance for both fighters and bombers. By December 1961, the facility was phased out. The following year, the Ballistic Systems Division of the United States Air Force chose Green River Utah as the launch site to test their re-entry systems on some advanced ballistic missiles.

Since World War II, the United States Department of Defense installations in Utah have become increasingly important to the state's economy. Defense spending has been the single most important factor in the number of new jobs created in Utah since 1940. These installations also purchase millions worth of products annually from Utah businesses. Without these federal enterprises, Utah would undoubtedly be adversely affected.

See: Leonard J. Arrington, The Price of Prejudice, The Japanese-American Relocation Center in Utah During World War II, (1962); Leonard J. Arrington and Thomas G. Alexander, Federal Military Installations in Utah, 1858-1966, (1966) (this is a collection of a series of articles that appeared in the Utah Historical Quarterly and the Pacific Historical Review; Leonard J. Arrington and Anthony T. Cluff, Federally-Financed Industrial Plants Constructed in Utah During World War II, (1969); James L. Clayton, "The Impact of the Cold War on the Economies of California and Utah, 1946-1965,"Pacific Historical Review, 36 (Nov. 1967): 449-473.