World War II
Hastings was buzzing with excitement on June 10, 1942, six months after Pearl Harbor, when Senator George Norris and Congressman Carl Curtis announced that the Navy had authorized the establishment of a $45,000,000 Naval Ammunition Depot southeast of Hastings.
The former Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) is one of Nebraska's four major former ammunition plants: the Cornhusker Ordnance Plant, the Nebraska Ordnance Plant and the Martin Bomber Plant. Its construction began in July 1942 on 49,000 acres (200 km2) and was completed in early 1943 with over 2,000 buildings, bunkers, and various other types of structures. The cost of construction was over $71 million.
The Navy built in this location due to the proximity to the area's three railroads, the abundance of underground water, cheap natural gas and electricity, the stable work force, and the distance from either coast (being well beyond the range of Japanese or German bombers). At one point during World War II the facility was producing over 40% of the U.S. Navy's munitions. It manufactured 40 mm shells, 16-inch projectiles, rockets, bombs, depth charges, mines, and torpedoes. Production peaked in June–July 1945, when the depot employed 125 officers, 1,800 enlisted men, and 6,692 civilians.
Image Credit: U.S. National Archives and Record Administration (NARA)
The U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot, known locally as "the NAD," was the largest of the navy's World War II inland munitions depots, occupying almost 49,000 acres of Adams and Clay County farmland. Construction began in July 1942; loading, assembly, and storage of ordnance continued until final closing in June 1966. By V-J Day in 1945, the NAD employed 10,000 military and civilian workers. At one point during the war the NAD was producing nearly forty percent of the navy's ordnance, including sixteen-inch shells.
Costing $71 million, the NAD had 207 miles of railroad track, 274 miles of roads, and 2,200 buildings, including hundreds of igloo-shaped explosives storage magazines. The depot embittered farmers whose land was taken by the government, but it produced an economic boom as Hastings's population jumped from 15,200 in 1942 to 23,000 in 1943. A September 1944 explosion killed 9 workers, injured fifty-three, and left a 550-foot-long crater. The blast was felt 100 miles away and shattered windows for miles around.
Image Credit: Hastings Museum - Naval Ammunition Depo Bunker
In June 1942, just six months after Pearl Harbor, Sen. Norris and Congressman Carl Curtis announced the proposed construction of a mammoth ammunition project, the largest of its kind in the U.S. Government agents had to buy up some 49,000 acres of farmland South and East of Hastings from 232 owners. (Note: There was a great deal of animosity toward the government by a good many of those 232 farmers, over the high-handed way that the land was "purchased" from them. Some of that ill feeling exists to the present day.) At the time Adams County, still suffering from the drought and Depression years of the '30s, had an unemployment rate of nearly 40 percent. The promise of 60-hour work weeks, at 74 cents per hour was very appealing. (At the time, a typical sales clerk in Hastings was being paid 25 cents per hour.) Before very long, the local work force had been absorbed in the project and people were streaming in from all parts of Nebraska and adjoining states to fill those jobs at the Ammo Depot.
Life on the base usually consisted of work, work, and more work. At its peak capacity, the depot employed more than 10,000 workers: 2,000 military personnel, 6,700 civilian production workers, and 2,000 civilian construction workers. The changing racial makeup of employees began with hiring 100 Sioux and Chippewas for construction. After that, 400 Black sailors were brought to the depot at the end of 1942. African Americans were hired in construction and production, and Mexican Americans were also.
Eventually, 1,600 sailors, including many Black sailors, ages 18 to 25, were brought in from the Chicago/Great Lakes region. Because of racial segregation in the armed forces, Black sailors were not allowed on ships and so could only be sent to assignments on land, including places like the Hastings Ammunition Depot, where they worked in the Negro Ordnance Battalion. This would change following World War II, with President Truman’s Executive Order 9981 in 1948 establishing racial equality in the armed services, at least on paper.
In just three years, the population of Hastings nearly doubled from 15,500 to some 25,000 with military personnel and the workforce attracted by this wartime opportunity. It changed the face of Hastings, literally. Several hundred workers and sailors were African-American, initially creating social tensions on both sides in this predominantly white community.
A tremendous explosion on September 15, 1944, killed nine and injured 53. Caused by human error during train loading, the blast was felt 100 miles away in Lincoln, shattered windows in Hastings, and collapsed a school room in Harvard. There were three other loss-of-life explosions during 1944 as well, claiming an additional 12 lives.
Following the end of World War II, the Navy began to deactivate the facility. But the outbreak of the Korean War reactivated the depot in 1950, though not to the extent of its role in WWII. Still, 200 buildings were added. The facility was used for ordnance manufacturing storage until June 1966, when the facility was officially decommissioned.
The 50-acre Hastings Groundwater Contamination Superfund site in Hastings, Nebraska, is one of EPA's largest and most complex groundwater cleanup projects. State investigations showed that industrial and commercial grain chemicals had contaminated area soil and groundwater. The EPA placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1986. Cleanup activities included establishing land use controls, providing an alternate water supply for affected users, conducting a well inventory, and starting a groundwater monitoring program in 2001.
For decades, central Nebraskans have known of the former Naval Ammunition Depot near Hastings. Scores of buildings and hundreds of storage silos still stand. From 1943 to 1966, bombs made here helped the U.S. through three wars.
There's another chapter to the story that may not be as well known, and the remnants of it are just now being cleared up. Every bit of ammunition made out at the NAD, especially rocket delivery systems, had to be tested. There is an area many square miles in size on the current U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, was used for their firing range. It's an area described by John Kochefko, an ordinance and explosives safety specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Project 15 was a rocket test range," said Kochefko. "(That's) where they would go and test rockets in various configurations to verify what was made over on the ammunition assembly part of the installation functioned the way it was supposed to."
The Navy closed the facility in 1966, though reserve forces continue to train here. Other tenants on site include a community college, and an industrial park, with some civilian ordnance-related production. The United States Department of Agriculture operates the Meat Animal Research Center here and research cattle roam some of the grounds. Most of the buildings and storage igloos are still unused.
The World War II Naval Ammunition Depot in Hastings was initially built for producing munition for the United States Navy. The site has since been repurposed as a location for companies to run their businesses.
The nearly 49,000 acre lot with 2,000 buildings was constructed as one of four locations where the U.S. could manufacture naval munition when it was at war with Japan and Germany.
NAD was fully constructed by 1942, but became fully out-of-commission for its original purpose by 1966.
From there on, many companies came through the site, running their businesses out of these buildings. Some, making it big and moving up and out of them, while others stuck around awhile.
Every spring and fall, the Hastings Museum offers bus tours of that feature the history of the NAD and the city of Hastings during WWII.
The Library Resource Center in Hastings is a Superfund site for the former Naval Ammunition Depot. Per federal law, the "U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact" documents are part of library collections and are available to the public. For questions, please contact a library staff member in Hastings, NE.
Learn more about the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot in Hastings, NE from the Adams County Historical Society.
Explore a historic buildings survey for Adams County.
The Central Community College (CCC) Hastings Campus campus sits on a WWII Naval Ammunition Depot and much of its history was captured in this informative documentary. You will learn how the war built Central Community College.
Explore 'Superfund Site Information' from the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) for Hastings ground water contamination.
Learn about Nebraska history and impact of the building of ammunition plants in Nebraska communities.
Rick Wallace interviews Willie Tripp about his experiences at the Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot during World War II. This segment is from the NET Television program Next Exit and is one of The War: Nebraska Stories interstitials.
Learn more about African American history and contributions regarding the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot in Hastings, NE.
From the Visit Hastings: Convention and Visitors Bureau, explore a tour map and facts for the grounds of the Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) in Hastings, NE.
The purpose of this guide is to provide information about the military activities that took place at the former Blaine Naval Ammunition Depot and to raise awareness of the explosive hazards that may exist at the property.
Explore Nebraska Public Media's history of the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot in Hastings, NE.
June 10, 1942, the navy authorizes forty-five million dollars to build a naval ammunition depot. Land east of Hastings is chosen as the location because of its abundance of electrical power, its location of equal distance between the two coasts, the availability of railroads, and German and Japanese aircraft can’t reach it because they don’t have the range. Construction lasts eighteen months. When completed two thousand buildings are spread over 48,000 acres. At its peak during World War II, forty percent of the U.S. Navy’s weapons and ammunition came from this depot. It employed almost eleven thousand people... a large percent were women, and several hundred workers and sailors were African American. Today, the area is home to many things including: Central Community College-Hastings campus, US Department of AG Meat Animal Research Center, industrial park, and the Nebraska National Guard.