Army Bases

Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland

The United States Army was not fully prepared to meet its new obligations as a consequence of America's Declaration of War on the Central Powers in April 1917.

One of the urgent but subsidiary issues immediately faced was to obtain needed facilities for testing munitions of war. The then-Sandy Hook Proving Ground at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, because of its location near to the populated New York suburbs and the busy New York harbor, was unable to expand to test all of the war materiel which was soon to become available. As the demands for munitions to fight the war in Europe increased, the Ordnance Department's need to obtain testing facilities for munitions and equipment became quite urgent.

Action to remedy this situation was taken at the highest levels. The Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, commissioned Colonel Colden L. Ruggles, the Commanding Officer of Sandy Hook to find a new site for the U.S. Army's Ordnance testing facilities. The qualifications for the new site were quite specific. It had to be near enough to the nation's industrial and manufacturing centers, yet far enough away from population centers so that the year-round testing scheduled for the facilities would cause neither community disturbance nor public hazard.

Colonel Ruggles' search for new testing facilities for the U.S. Army took him to the Chesapeake Bay area. He first considered Kent Island, on the Maryland eastern shore, but encountered so much opposition from the inhabitants of the island, that he quickly abandoned the idea. Influenced by a friend, a Major Edward V. Stockham who lived in Perryman, Colonel Ruggles then shifted his attention to an area along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay near the town of Aberdeen.

The area which Colonel Ruggles thought was appropriate for a new test site was then a fertile farming area. This part of the Chesapeake Bay and the lower portion of the Susquehanna River had been explored and mapped by Captain John Smith and company from the Jamestown settlement in Virginia in 1608. The entire area was subsequently included in a land grant which King Charles I of England gave to Lord Baltimore in 1632. Tomatoes, wheat, and a special kind of sugar corn called "shoepeg corn," which could not be cultivated successfully anywhere else in the country, were the specialties of the area. The canning industry produced annually more than 300,000 cases of shoepeg corn and tomatoes worth $1.5 million; and this Bay area's fishing industry had an estimated yield of approximately $700,000. Understandably, the farmers were reluctant to part with their farms, many of which, like Poverty Island, Planter's Delight, Shandy Hall, and Swamp Quarter, had belonged to their families for generations.

It took an Act of Congress and two Presidential Proclamations to persuade the farmers to leave their Aberdeen property. The Congressional Act provided financial compensation for the 35,000 acres of upland and 34,000 acres of swamp and tidal lands which President Wilson's proclamation claimed for the U.S. Government. The farmers received approximately $200 an acre for their land and were assisted in resettling in other parts of Maryland. Approximately 3,000 persons and 12,000 horses, mules, sheep, cows, and swine were forced to evacuate. Even the family grave yards were moved.

The United States Government took formal possession of the land at Aberdeen on 20 October 1917 and immediately began building testing facilities. The new proving ground at Aberdeen was to be used for proof-testing field artillery weapons, ammunition, trench mortars, air defense guns, and railway artillery. The mission of the proving ground was later expanded to include the operation of an Ordnance training school and the developmental testing of small arms.

On 2 January 1918, during a blinding snowstorm, Mrs. Edward V. Stockham fired the first gun at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and despite the snow, within 2 hours, the regular work of ammunition acceptance testing was underway. The assigned workload increased very quickly and on 28 March 1918, the Ordnance Department reorganized the proving ground. Four departments were set up to facilitate the testing process: Proof, Service, Administration, and Military. However, just as the newly reorganized Aberdeen Proving Ground was effectively performing its wartime testing missions, the War came to an end on 11 November 1918.

he peacetime mission of the Aberdeen Proving Ground emphasized research and development of munitions. Much of the work done during this period by the military and civilian personnel was in the area of the developmental testing of powders, projectiles, bomb testing, and the study of interior and exterior ballistics. Some construction continued in the years immediately after the war, although this construction was limited to facilities which were necessary for conducting tests. In 1923, two major construction projects were completed. A new hospital, building 45, on the small golf course, was erected. At the same time an airfield, hangar, and quarters for an aviation squadron were also created. The airfield was used by aircraft that supported the creation of bombing tables; the techniques these tables provided were a means of improving the adequacy of aerial bombing. The Phillips Army Air Field was named in memory of First Lieutenant Wendell K. Phillips who was killed in an aircraft accident at Aberdeen. This is the old airfield, now a portion of the industrial area. Later, in 1943, the Phillips' name was transferred to the new airfield.

A number of new and diverse activities were assigned to the Aberdeen Proving Ground during the 1930's. Some of this activity was generated by the $2 million which President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized in 1933 for the construction of barracks, roads, and test facilities. Several of these new or intensified activities lead to an increasing importance of the products of Aberdeen Proving Ground to the U.S. Army's overall mission accomplishment. One of these areas was the Ordnance Museum, begun in the years immediately following the World War, with artifacts shipped from France, and it became increasingly important and distinctive as a source of foreign and domestic technical Ordnance intelligence. The Ordnance Specialist School for enlisted personnel was transferred from Raritan Arsenal, New Jersey, in 1931. Plans were developed where the Army would consolidate and expand its performance of ballistics research at Aberdeen. A separate Research Division was formed in 1935, and 4 years later plans were approved for a special building to house a new organization called the Ballistic Research Laboratory. The building (number 328) was completed in 1941 and provided the necessary facilities for conducting research and experimentation in ballistics and fire control.

By the time that the United States went to war again in 1941, the need for testing facilities had grown so much that the Government was forced to acquire additional acreage for the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Seven thousand acres which extended the proving ground almost into the town limits of Aberdeen were added in 1942, as were 1800 acres when Spesutie Island was acquired in 1945. During the war, personnel grew to a peak strength of 27,185 military and 5,479 civilians as all fields of research, development, and training expanded and facilities were increased to meet the heavy workload of wartime. As was previously noted, the work of the Ballistic Research Laboratory was expanded and achieved increasing prominence in the Nation's scientific community. The automotive and armor testing activities were greatly enlarged. The antiaircraft gun testing mission was also expanded. A new airfield, capable of accommodating the larger aircraft being used for bomb testing, was constructed and the Phillips' name was maintained. Even the Ordnance Museum contributed to the war effort. Eighty-five percent of its holdings were given to the scrap drive, and the remainder of the collection was used for technical intelligence studies.

The technological contributions of Aberdeen Proving Ground to the war effort include the world's first digital computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC), the first man-portable antitank weapons system (the Bazooka), and the first system-wide practical applications of Statistical Quality Control. These sophisticated theories were devised by the Bell Laboratories and were first applied through Ordnance materiel procurement contracts in World War II. A sociological change of significant proportions which was shared with industry in general was the large scale introduction of women in the Aberdeen Proving Ground workforce in otherwise completely nontraditional roles.

When the war ended in 1945, the Aberdeen Proving Ground reverted to its peacetime role of research and development. But the Korean conflict of 1950 reactivated many of its wartime activities. Testing of materiel continued as did construction of facilities. The Ordnance Replacement Training Center which had been closed on 14 February 1947 was reactivated on 7 September 1950. Because of the heavy Ordnance training responsibility, the Ordnance Training Command was established at Aberdeen on 13 October 1950 and was assigned responsibility for training all Ordnance troop units. The Ordnance School and the newly activated Replacement Training Center were both made subordinate to the Ordnance Training Command.

During the 1950's and early 1960's, many technological advances were incorporated into the weapons research performed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. This was especially true of the Ballistic Research Laboratory which began to integrate work in electronic computers, space study, and satellite tracking. Climatic testing also took on added significance and Aberdeen's personnel performed these specialized tests at Yuma, Arizona, and Fort Churchill, Canada. These severe environmental tests were identified as "safari" type actions. The continued dependence on science and technology to help produce better weapons led to the establishment in 1952 of the Human Engineering Laboratory, another tenant activity at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

In 1962, as a result of a reorganization, the Army set out to centralize all of the then existing testing assets in a new environment. That new center of excellence was established at the Aberdeen Proving Ground and was identified as the United States Army Test and Evaluation Command (TECOM). The TECOM headquarters was organized to accomplish three major functions. It manages and controls 10 test installations and activities which range from the east coast to the western desert of Yuma, Arizona, and from Alaska to the isthmus of Panama. The test management staff manages the several-thousand test projects annually which span the entire spectrum of the materiel life cycle. The job of TECOM is an important part of the overall task of ensuring that the right weaponry, equipment, and other materiel items are sufficiently tested before being issued to the soldier. The general provider is the United States Army Materiel Command (AMC), TECOM's next higher headquarters.

During the period of conflict in Southeast Asia, Aberdeen Proving Ground reentered a period of intense growth and new direction. The recreation of the Ordnance Officer Candidate School (OCS) took place and the unusual contributions of the Land Warfare Laboratory increased. The intensive developmental efforts and scientific contributions of the Ballistic Research Laboratory, the Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, and the Human Engineering Laboratory made the decade of the 1960's and 1970's an extraordinary time in the history of this post. The Ordnance Center and School's contributions included three-shifts-a-day training at the height of the conflict.

A significant change was made on 1 July 1971 when the Edgewood Arsenal, the former Chemical Center and current chemical research and engineering center for the U.S. Army, was merged into the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Although the mission functions remained separate entities, the real estate and base operations functions were joined together and were operated as one post. From this point on, the Aberdeen Proving Ground was the common identifier for both the Edgewood area and the Aberdeen area.

In 1985, because the work of TECOM is so central to the ongoing performance of the proving ground, the commanding general of TECOM assumed the additional position as commander of the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Also a part of that mid-1980's proving ground reorganization was the establishment of the Aberdeen Proving Ground Support Activity (now known as the U.S. Army Garrison Aberdeen Proving Ground - USAGAPG), which handles base operations for the entire proving ground and whose commander is also the Deputy Installation Commander, and the creation of the Combat Systems Test Activity (CSTA), which most recently had been known as the proving ground's Materiel Test Directorate (MTD) and earlier by other designations. The Army's chemical demilitarization program was activated at the proving ground in 1986.

Partly because of the 1988-1989 trial and conviction of three senior Chemical Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CRDEC) employees on, charges of not complying with federal environmental laws, environmental awareness has become even more keen at the proving ground. Millions of dollars annually go into cleaning up, restoring, and preserving the natural beauty of the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

By the end of the 1980's, the Aberdeen Proving Ground's workforce had grown to over 14,000 military and civilian employees, making it the largest single employer in Harford County, Maryland. Counted among the employees are top-flight military and civilian, scientists, research engineers, technicians, and administrators, all of whom work together for the one common purpose of providing the best weapons and equipment to the soldiers of the U.S. Army.

As the decade of the 1990's begins, much has changed in the Army, the nation, and the world with the end of the Cold War and the apparent beginning of a time of contingency warfare. The Aberdeen Proving Ground participated in one such conflict in 1990-1991 in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (ODS). All elements of the proving ground helped test and field equipment, and mobilize and train soldiers for the war in the Persian Gulf. Aberdeen Proving Ground has a proud history and is still referred to as "The Home of Army Ordnance." It is indeed one of the Army's finest test, evaluation, research, development, engineering, and training installations in the world. Ordnance Musuem is also on the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Housing is available.

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