Nebraska Historical Marker: Naval Ammunition Depot
Nebraska Historical Marker: Naval Ammunition Depot
100-232 S Technical Blvd, Hastings, Adams County, Nebraska
View this marker's location 40.581022, -98.32672
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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 2200 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.
One of the largest depots of its kind, the Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot covered 75 square miles of land south of Hastings. At one point, it supplied 40% of the ammunition for the United States Navy. Its construction had profound effects on the city of Hastings.
Origins The city of Hastings was founded in 1872 and grew steadily in population over the next 70 years. Its population in 1940 was 15,145. Only one percent of its population was black, and all other races were statistically insignificant. At the onset of World War II, the Great Plains region was deemed desirable for military installations because it was in the middle of the country, far from potential enemy attacks. Nebraska’s congressmen lobbied for military installations to be built in the state because the influx of labor and capital would help the depressed Plains economy. The military agreed that Nebraska would be a good place to build installations because it was equidistant from the two coasts. On June 10, 1942, Senator George Norris and Representative Carl Curtis of Nebraska announced that the government had approved the building of a $45 million ammunition depot south of Hastings.
Construction The construction of the depot began immediately. To make space for the plant, 48,753 acres of land were purchased from 232 landowners. There is some controversy whether the landowners were fairly compensated. Construction began on July 14, 1942. The first phase of construction lasted 18 months and employed 5,000 workers. Huge numbers of construction workers and depot employees arrived in the city. On July 15, 1942, the Hastings Daily Tribune reported that 55 new families had arrived in 2 weeks; by August 11, the newspaper reported that over 300 new families had come to the city. In 1945, when the depot was at its peak capacity, about 2,000 military personnel and 6,692 civilian production workers plus 2,000 construction workers were employed at the depot.
The depot produced bombs, mines, artillery shells and projectiles.
Accidents The depot had a very good safety rating, but accidents still occurred. Four explosions killing 21 people occurred at the depot. The first explosion happened on January 27, 1944, when a shell exploded and killed three men, all part of the Negro Ordinance Battalion. On April 6, 1944, 100,000 pounds of explosives killed eight people. The explosion was so big that it could be felt as far away as Omaha. Storefronts in the nearby town of Glenvil were shattered, and several other nearby towns were damaged. A smaller explosion occurred on June 10, 1944, when a detonator went off and killed one man. The largest explosion took place on September 15, 1944. A 550 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 50 feet deep crater was created, killing 9 servicemen and injuring 53 more. The numbers may have been higher, but security issues kept newspaper reports to a minimum. The blast was so strong it was felt in Iowa and collapsed the roof of a school in nearby Harvard, Nebraska, injuring 10 children.
Effect on Hastings In 1944, a city director estimated that Hastings’ population had increased to 22,252, an increase of 47% over three years. In comparison, the city grew 33% during the entire decade of the 1920s. This influx of newcomers caused a severe housing shortage in the city. Rents skyrocketed, in some cases increasing from $35 a month to $70 a month. Price increases created enmity between the newcomers and local landlords. The government threatened to control rent prices if abuses did not stop, and in 1943 the Office of Price Administration did impose rent controls.
Many groups tried to help the situation. The Hastings Area Emergency Committee was created to help with labor and housing problems related to the depot. Federal housing projects around the city were created to house workers. The War Production Board approved the creation of 300 houses to be built by private contractors as homes for incoming workers. The city extended public works to include these new areas. Most of the help came from the federal government, who built an elementary school and created child care and recreation programs for the new families. Locals also contributed. Local women served as hostesses for the troops arriving at the depot, and Hastings College held dances for servicemen. Some families let newcomers rent rooms in their houses so they could avoid exorbitant rents.
The influx of workers benefited some businesses. Local contractors were paid to build federal housing projects, and store owners increased their hours to accommodate workers’ schedules. However, it also caused some problems because the depot’s high wages stole some workers from private businesses in Hastings. Workers were paid 74¢ an hour, the maximum allowed by the government, and worked 54-64 hours a week with benefits. By comparison, many jobs in the city paid only 40¢ or 50¢ an hour. In 1944, Hastings was declared a class one labor shortage area.
Many of the workers who came to Hastings were not whites, causing a racial divide in the city. Before the war, only one percent of the city was black. Beginning in 1942, hundreds of black and Native American workers arrived at the depot. In November of that year, about one hundred Chippewa and Sioux Indians were brought to the depot as construction workers. In December, about four hundred black sailors were sent to the depot, and more blacks were hired as employees. Mexicans also came to work at the depot. The presence of minorities in Hastings was unsettling to many residents. A newspaper article described Sioux workers as “braves… on the warpath.” Some whites refused to sit next to “colored” people on the bus. Residents asked that minority workers be put in separate housing areas, and a separate recreational center was created for black sailors. The racial logic of some Hastings residents is summarized in the following comment made by the leader of a pro-segregation group of residents:
Negro people are proud of their color. …They, too, want their own communities, their own schools, their own recreation. …We’re proud of them and the contributions they are making in the war effort. …They too are faced with problems, being uprooted from their established homes. …It would be best if they could be given a community of their own.
As a result of these attitudes, blacks were given separate housing both on and off the base. Despite this, minority children attended the same schools as whites. “You’ll accept most anything during the war,” one resident said. Even white workers in Hastings experienced segregation and discrimination. Residents complained about the poor sanitation and rowdiness of the trailer camps set up for workers. Strict enforcement of city ordinances kept workers living in trailer camps from integrating into the community. A family living in the trailers wrote to the local newspaper that the workers had come here to help the war effort and make a living but were forced to live in “concentration camps” and be abused by “morals squads.” A resident responded that the newcomers were like Hitler, forcing people out of their established homes. The entire town was more congested with all the new workers. Traffic and crime increased, and schools were overcrowded. School rosters increased 47% between 1941-42 and 1943-44.
After the War The number of employees at the depot was decreased to 3,000 after the war and fell to 1,189 in 1949. During the Korean War, over 2,000 employees worked at the site, but after that war its use was mostly gone. It was closed in 1966. Part of the land on which it was built is now used by the United States Department of Agriculture, part is used by the Central Community College and the rest is now the Hastings Industrial Park East. After the war ended, many of the newcomers left, thus returning Hastings to about the same demographic make-up it had before the war. The depot caused ground and soil pollution that still affects the city. The clean-up process is on-going.
Russell, Beverly. “World War II Boomtown: Hastings and the Naval Ammunition Depot.” Nebraska History. Summer/Fall 1995:75-83.
“The Naval Ammunition Depot.” Adams County Historical Society. http://www.adamshistory.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=30&Itemid=42
James W. Pieper, comp., with contributions by John E. Carter, “Nebraska Historical Marker: Naval Ammunition Depot,” Encyclopedia of Nebraska History. Nebraska State Historical Society, November 3, 2014. http://www.e-nebraskahistory.org/index.php?title=Main_Page Accessed, September 21, 2018.
See Nebraska Historical Marker Program for more information.