Aberdeen Proving Ground –a nice little place to blow things up….
A Little Back Round Music
When the United States entered World War I, they weren’t quite ready for the responsibility that went along with it. You see, we had never been in a large scale war before and with the invention of new and “modern” weapons, a place was needed to test them out before putting them in the hands of the troops.
Sure, we had a place to test the weapons of the day but it was located at Sandy Hook, New Jersey and because of the large scale testing that was going to be needed, its proximity to the New York City suburbs and the adjacent harbor made it a little dangerous for the general population. What to do?
Enter then Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker who commissioned one Colonel Colden L. Ruggles with the task of finding a place that would be suitable to test the weapons on such a large scale. The main considerations in finding such a place was that it had to be near enough to the countries industrial and manufacturing centers but it also had to be far enough removed from any major population centers so that year round weapons testing could occur without disturbing the community and creating a public hazard.
Ruggles first thought was to take a look at someplace called Kent Island located in the Chesapeake Bay. Everything seemed perfect except for one thing, the residents of the island had grown sort of attached to it and they raised such a stink that Ruggles had to back off. It was then that he took the advice of a friend and scoured Maryland’s western shore and stumbled upon a sleepy little farming area known as Aberdeen.
Not surprisingly, the residents who lived there weren’t too thrilled at the prospects of having their land appropriated Beside being quite profitable, many of the farms located in and around Aberdeen had been held by local families for generations and the farm owners, quite naturally, had grown attached to the land.
So What Did It Take?
Anybody ever hear of eminent domain? It seems only an Act of Congress and two Presidential Proclamations were enough to get the farmers and their families to leave. The Act provided that the government would provide compensation for about 35,000 acres of farmland and another 34,000 acres of swampland to the tune of $200.00 per acre to the owners. It would also cover the cost of relocation. All in all, about 3,000 people and an assorted 12,000 horses, mules, sheep, cows, and pigs were forced to relocate. The graves of dead relatives were also moved along with the families.
Throughout the Years
The government took formal possession of the land at Aberdeen on October 20, 1917 and almost immediately started testing. Munitions that were tested originally included field artillery, mortars, air defense guns and railway artillery. It wasn’t too long afterwards that they began testing other types of ordnance and small arms development.
At the end of World War I, the mission at Aberdeen changed from one of testing to one of research and development of new and exciting weaponry. This included the development of new powders and projectiles, all sorts of new bombs and breakthroughs in the study of both interior and exterior ballistics. Construction also took place that included a hospital, airfields and hangars, and barracks and quarters for those personell who were stationed there. It even included such amenities as a golf course. (I don’t know about you, but golf is hard enough to play in silence. I can’t imagine trying to play while explosions are going off every other minute or so.)
Before you knew it, the United States had entered World War II and the need for testing was on the increase. In order to accommodate these needs, another 7,000 acres of land were appropriated as well as a couple of nearby islands. During its peak, Aberdeen boasted a population of 27,185 military personnel as well as another 5,500 or so civilians. The main focus of the testing was geared to automotive and armor testing as well as antiaircraft guns. The airfield was also expanded to allow for bomb runs.
Aberdeen was not only a home for weapons testing. Besides such things as the bazooka, the worlds first digital computer, ENIAC was developed at Aberdeen. Our friends at Bell Labs also kicked in and provided some pretty impressive research in the then relatively new field of Statistical Quality Control. Aberdeen also proved groundbreaking in the use of women in nontraditional roles.
At the end of World War II the focus at Aberdeen once again shifted from testing to research and development. The Korean War changed all of that Aberdeen was once again reactivated as a testing ground for new and improved weaponry.
With the explosion of technological advances in the late 50’s and 60’s, Aberdeen’s focus was once again shifted. This time, ground breaking research in the area’s of computers, space study, satellite tracking, environmental and climates took center stage.
Although it is still referred to as “The Home of Army Ordnance" these days, with the advent of bigger weaponry and with its limited space coupled with the end of the Cold War, Aberdeen has taken a back seat in the field of weapons testing. The deserts in Nevada, California, New Mexico and other western states have proven a more suitable area for the bigger bombs that seem to be needed for so called modern warfare.