Charlestown, IN and the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant:

The Making of A War-Industry Boom-Town

Rob Vest

As America entered World War II in 1941, the lives of all Americans were greatly changed. While though those most affected by the war experienced it first-hand, those who remained at home would experience the war in a completely different way: rationing, growth of war-related industries, and an increasing number of women and minorities entering the workforce. Among those changes on the homefront was the rise of the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant (INAAP), an ordnance works plant near Charlestown, Indiana, a small town located in the southern portion of the state, about fifteen miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. This paper will examine the role that the INAAP played during the war, and how the presence of the plant affected Charlestown.

INAAP consists of three major facilities: Indiana Ordnance Works Plant 1 (IOW#1), a smokeless powder plant; Hoosier Ordnance Plant (HOP), which manufactured, loaded, and packed bags for propellant charges; and Indiana Ordnance Works Plant 2 (IOW #2), a rocket-propellant plant. (1)
 

Setting the Stage

World War II was in full swing two years before America joined the Allies December 8 1941, but the US was already providing aid by selling arms and ammunition to the British and French. (2)

On June 26 1940, one month after the fall of France, Congress passed the first national defense appropriations act, and four days later, approved the Munitions Program, which paved the way for construction of IOW#1, the first single-base smokeless powder plant authorized by the National Defense Program. (3)

Before the summer of 1940 Charlestown was a small bedroom community with a population of roughly 900. The "business district" consisted of the post office, a bank, two restaurants, a tavern, a few gas stations, and a few stores selling groceries, dry-goods, and hardware. The only paved road in town was the state highway. The town had only recently built a waterworks plant, and had yet to complete the installation of sanitary sewers. (4)
 

Building the Perfect Beast

In the summer of 1940, the Louisville Courier-Journal announced that the world's largest smokeless powder plant would be constructed on the outskirts of Charlestown. (5) The location was chosen for its proximity to the Ohio River, as a plentiful supply of water being essential in powder production. Charlestown was also attractive for the amount of undeveloped land between the town and the river, thus decreasing the number of people who would be displaced. The land was also inexpensive, as farming in the area was declining. (6) Much of this land was purchased by the contractor and resold to the government, though the majority was acquired by the government through Declaration of Taking. (7)

Indiana Ordnance Works Plant 1, though government-owned, was operated by the DuPont Company. (8) The INAAP represented a chance at a new life for the thousands of Hoosiers, Kentuckians, and other Americans who had been hit by the Great Depression. According to Julius Hock, a former employee at IOW#1, DuPont paid its unskilled laborers sixty cents per hour. (9) Construction officially commenced on August 26, 1940, but actual building did not get underway until September 4. (10) By December 1940 the population of Charlestown had swelled to over 13,400, (11) with some 10,000 working at the INAAP. (12) By May 1, 1941, employment at the plant reached its height of 27, 520 persons. (13) Hock characterized the plant during construction as "a beehive." (14)

On February 5, 1941, construction began on the Hoosier Ordnance Plant, a load, assembly, and pack (LAP) facility which was used to prepare cannon, artillery, and mortar projectiles. The plant went into operation on September 2 of that year, and construction was completed by January 31, 1942. (15) The operation of HOP was handled by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. (16)

Work did not begin on IOW#2, the rocket propellant plant, until December 1944. Though the construction of the plant was never completed, production did take place there for about five weeks before the facility was shut down shortly after Japan's surrender in August 1945. (17)

The INAAP, when complete, covered 10, 655 acres, and consisted of 1700 buildings, eighty-four miles of railroad track, 190 miles of road, and thirty miles of fence. (18) The final cost of the plant was over 133.4 million dollars. (19) In 1989 the US Army placed the "replacement value" of the INAAP at 1.9 billion dollars. (20)
 

Mass Production

On April 11, 1941 IOW#1 began producing smokeless powder and black powder for distribution to load, assembly, and pack facilities, such as HOP. Single-base smokeless powder (the base ingredient being nitrocellulose) acted as the propellant for the projectile, while the more volatile black powder was used to ignite the smokeless powder. (21) By July 1941, IOW#1 had produced twice as much powder as the entire nation had the previous year. (22)

The production of smokeless powder started in the 100 area of IOW#1, where nitrocellulose production took place. (23) The process began with shredded cotton and wood pulp, which were "nitrated" with mixed acids to form nitrocellulose. The nitrocellulose was then transported to the next part of IOW#1, the 200 area. (24) According to former employee EJ Howard, the nitrocellulose went "into a blocking press, which would take the fluffy stuff and actually make it into a big block." (25) These blocks, weighing up to 69.5 lbs, were cut into smaller blocks and pushed through a macaroni press, which shaped the nitrocellulose into strands that were cut to lengths required by various types of charges. The powder was then sent to a blending tower, where several batches were blended to make one uniform lot of approximately 150,000 lbs. The lots were then stored or shipped to HOP or another LAP facility. (26)

Beginning on September 2, 1941, operations at HOP involved two separate functions-bag manufacturing, and the LAP process. In the LAP process, smokeless powder was weighed, placed in the bag, and sewn shut. Each charge consisted of a stack of up to seven bags (increments) of powder fastened together. The increments were placed, in order, in the outer charge bag. The charges were next packed in containers and either shipped or put into storage. (27)

IOW#2, in operation from July 20 to August 31, was designed to produce double-base rocket powder. (28) Double-base powder differs from single-base in that it consists of a 60-40 mixture of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine, which was used to power bazookas and other rocket weapons. (29) Production of double-base powder is similar to single-base powder. (30) In the five weeks that it was in operation, IOW#2 produced about 292,700 lbs of rocket powder. (31)
 

Welcome to the Boomtown

The social impact of INAAP on Charlestown was immense. Shortly after the announcement in the Louisville Courier-Journal in the summer of 1940, job-hunters began arriving in droves from all parts of the US. The majority were men, many with families, seeking steady work and a place to call home. Charlestown was not ready for this influx of ten to fifteen thousand people. The most immediate problem was finding a place to stay. All hotels and boarding houses within twenty-five miles of Charlestown were filled to capacity. Residents of the town rented out the rooms in their own homes, converted their garages into sleeping quarters, and turned their yards into trailer parking lots. Some people spent their nights in tents, while others slept in their cars. (32) Harry Payne, who owned a barbershop in town, states that some workers even "...made apartments out of chicken houses and they were living in baseboard boxes and everywhere around there." (33) EJ Howard claims that people would even pay to sleep in barber chairs. (34) Payne also mentioned that some workers commuted from as far as Bloomington, approximately eighty miles away. (35)

The onslaught of workers affected Charlestown in other ways. The local restaurants, swamped with customers, had little time to devote to sanitation. The sewers were unfinished, and garbage collection and disposal were inadequate. (36) As each shift ended, the highway was choked with autos from Charlestown to the nearby city of Jeffersonville. (37) EJ Howard describes the situation vividly: "Transportation became impossible. They actually built Highway 62 and widened it in order to let people drive their cars and get in and out of that plant. I have been in that plant parking lot for over two hours at the end of the day trying to get out." (38)

The crowded conditions also interfered with routine activities in Charlestown. "If you went to the bank you'd be standing in line," Payne says. "It was a lot of waiting in line for groceries, banks." (39) It was not unusual for such lines to banks, restaurants, grocery stores, government offices, and other establishments to be two or three blocks long. (40)

Crime also increased. The number of fines levied by the justice of the peace increased from two in the first half of 1940, to eighty-two in the second half. The daily average number of inmates in the county jail (located in nearby Jeffersonville) in 1939 was just under thirteen. In the summer of 1941, at the height of construction, the daily average was over thirty-six inmates. From March through September 1941, nearly 1200 people were arrested by the Indiana State Police alone, the majority of these (1085) being traffic violations. The majority of criminal and misdemeanor arrests were for public intoxication, (41) which is no surprise considering that the only tavern in Charlestown "did a most thriving business in the sale of beer." (42)

Charlestown's town board looked to the State Planning Board of Indiana for aid, but to no avail due to lack of funds. Planning Board member Henry B Steeg volunteered to investigate, and found the situation beyond the town board's control. Steeg quickly arranged a meeting with Indiana governor M Clifford Townsend, members of the town board, and representatives of several State agencies. The State agreed to fund a special administrator for Charlestown, and the governor appointed Steeg-an engineer by trade-as the town's Defense Planning Coordinator October 10, 1940. (43) Steeg determined that Charlestown needed suitable public health measures and sanitation, more school facilities, a building code, and additional police protection and traffic control. (44)

Shortly after his arrival, Steeg speeded up construction on the sewer project. The federal Works Projects Administration brought in workers from nearby towns and by working in two shifts, the sewers were completed eight months ahead of schedule. Every residence, restaurant, and trailer camp was required to connect to the system immediately. (45)

The Public Health Nursing Association sent two nurses to Charlestown, and the State Board of Health showed free health films every week in the local school, and regulated the restaurants, tavern, and rooming houses. In March 1941, a health survey was conducted, and immunizations against smallpox, typhoid, and diphtheria began in July. (46)

Additional school facilities, though considered a high priority by Steeg, did not come until long after the bulk of the plant's construction workers left the area. By April 1941, near the height of construction, the student body numbered 800, though the school could only accommodate 500 students. According to Steeg, "child education suffered a serious setback" during INAAP's construction. (47)

The building code was drafted by Steeg and approved by the town board. The State Fire Marshall's office loaned an inspector to Charlestown, who insisted that everyone observe proper safety precautions and all building regulations. (48)

The Coordinator considered additional police protection a "must." The Indiana State Police were requested to establish a presence in Charlestown, but the department did not have funds to build a barracks or radio station. Steeg solved this problem by convincing the local Army Quartermaster to lend a building on the plant site to the ISP and to build a radio tower. (49)

With the arrival of the State Police, the traffic problems were somewhat lessened. The situation was further improved when the Works Projects Administration repaired and paved the town's streets, which were severely damaged by traffic and rain. Road congestion was also decreased with the aid of bus lines and shuttle trains. (50)

Though the boom presented many problems, it was a blessing for the business community. The First Bank of Charlestown experienced an increase of approximately 500 percent in deposits within six months. Not only were established businesses making money, but new ones opened up, creating new economic opportunities. Demand for housing resulted in a brisk business in real estate, and allowed landlords to raise rents. (51)
 

Men (and Women) at Work

Outside the plant, an artificial labor shortage had been created by many Charlestown business, who often discriminated against potential employees due to age, race, sex, color, and marital status. This labor shortage opened up opportunities for those who felt disenfranchised by the practices of local businesses. (52)

Though the majority of employees at INAAP were men, a significant number of women were also employed. Roughly one-fourth of all employees at IOW#1 were women. At HOP, however, women made up over two-thirds of the workforce. Reasons for this difference are varied, but generally attributed to the fact that the design of HOP was influenced by the likelihood of a great number of women being employed there. (53) HOP was a bag manufacturing facility, of course, and the sewing machine was at the time one of the few items of technology found in the most traditional of female workplaces-the home. (54)

INAAP also employed a number of black workers. Figures for Indiana Ordnance Works list about ten percent of employees as black, whereas blacks made up less than four percent of Indiana's population prior to World War II. (55) Though opportunities for blacks were greater at INAAP, segregation still existed, as office jobs at the time were bestowed solely upon whites. (56)

For a short time at IOW#2, German prisoners of war were used to supplement the labor force, chiefly as unskilled labor, such as digging ditches. The first POWs arrived in May 1945, but were quickly repatriated at the end of the war three months later. (57)

Safety was always of paramount concern at the plant. The danger of explosion was ever present, so buildings were spaced widely apart. Transfer chutes were used to reduce airborne powder circulation to a minimum. Conductive soles were issued to reduce static electricity. Employees were searched for matches before clocking in. Emergency slides were installed in some buildings to provide quick escape from the upper levels. (58) Though accidents did take place at INAAP, they were few and far between. The worst occurred when a fire in a blending tower killed three people in the summer of 1944. (59)

INAAP also took great interest in the health of the employees. The hiring process included an extensive examinations by as many as three doctors. Employees received physicals at least annually, sometimes monthly, depending on their job description. Pregnant females were forbidden to work near toxic chemicals, and every new male employee was tested for syphilis. (60)

The plant also campaigned to keep morale up during the war. Parallels were drawn between the workers at the plant and American soldiers on the front. The ideal worker was a fictional character called "Joe Smith," who appeared in Du Pont's company newspaper, the Powder Horn. Joe was a "production soldier" who supported the war by working hard and buying defense bonds.
 

End of the Line

After the war ended, Charlestown returned to a semblance of normal life. Trailer parks were closed, store hours returned to normal, and traffic jams vanished. Hundreds f employees were laid off, parts of the plant were leased to other companies, and most of the land purchased for IOW#2 was sold. The plant's post-war mission was to store War Department materials and to be ready to go into production on a substantial scale should the need arise, which it did during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Throughout the years, Charlestown would experience a yo-yo cycle of economic rise and fall tied directly to the operating status of INAAP. (61)

Today the facility stands largely unused, though portions of it are still leased out to private companies, three of which still produce explosives. Currently INAAP is being considered for serious commercial development, but the facility must first be cleaned up, as years of use has resulted in vast environmental contamination from explosives production. (62)

In conclusion, INAAP serves as a good historic model on the symbiotic relationship shared by technology, politics, economics, and society.
 
 

Bibliography

Fine, Lenore and Jesse A Remington. The United States Army in World War II. The Technical Services. The Corps of Engineers: Construction in the United States. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, United States Army, 1972.

Haffner, Gerald O. A Brief, Informal History of Clark County, Indiana. New Albany, IN: Indiana University Southeast Bookstore, 1985.

Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Office of Land Quality. Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. ONLINE. 2001. IDEM. Available: http://www.in.gov/idem/land/federal/derp/inammunitionplant.html

Pursell Carroll, ed. American Technology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.

Snead, Walter A. "The Upheaval of Charlestown." Part I. Madison Courier. 11 December 1940.

. "The Upheaval of Charlestown." Part II. Madison Courier. 12 December 1940.

. "The Upheaval of Charlestown." Part III. Madison Courier. 17 December 1940.

Steeg, Henry B. The Story of Charlestown. Copy on file, Indiana Room, Charlestown Clark County Public Library, Charlestown, IN, nd.

US Army Armament, Munitions, and Chemical Command. Installation Profile Indiana AAP. Rock Island, IL: AMCCOM, 1988.

US Army Corps of Engineers. Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Supplement Photographic Documentation of Archetypal Buildings, Structures, and Equipment for Army Material Command National Historic Context for World War II Ordnance Facilities. Plano, TX: Geo-Marine, 1994.

Installation Action Plan for Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. ONLINE. 2001. GlobalSecurity.org. Available: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/enviro/INAAP_IAP.pdf

_____. The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation. Plano, TX: Geo-Marine, 1995.

_____. The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Transcripts of Oral History Interviews. Plano, TX: Geo-Marine, 1996.

Ward, Joe. "Loaded With Possibility." The Louisville Courier Journal. 31 March 2002.

Yater, George H. 200 Years at the Falls of the Ohio. Louisville, KY: Heritage Corporation, 1979.
 
 

Endnotes

1. US Army Armament, Munitions, and Chemical Command, Installation Profile Indiana AAP (Rock Island, IL: AMCCOM, 1988), 3-4. The three facilities were consolidated in 1945 into the Indiana Arsenal. In 1961 the Indiana Arsenal was redesignated as the Indiana Ordnance Plant. The facility was redesignated again in 1963 as the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. See US Army Corps of Engineers, Installation Action Plan for Indiana Army Ammunition Plant,2001 <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/enviro/INAAP_IAP.pdf> (26 March 2002).

2. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation (Plano, TX: Geo-Marine, 1995), 13.

3. Ibid, 5, 13-14.

4. Henry B Steeg, The Story of Charlestown (copy on file, Indiana Room, Charlestown Clark County Public Library, Charlestown, IN, nd), 1.

5. Ibid, 1-2.

6. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 14.

7. Ibid, 78-79. Declaration of Taking is the process by which the government takes private land for public use and compensates the former land owners, who have little choice in the matter. See United States Code, Title 40, Chapter 3, Section 258a <http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/40/258a.html>.

8. Gerald O Haffner, A Brief, Informal History of Clark County, Indiana (New Albany, IN: Indiana University Southeast Bookstore, 1985), 191.

9. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Transcripts of Oral History Interviews (Plano, TX: Geo-Marine, 1996), 8.

10. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 30.

11. Haffner, 192.

12. Walter A Snead, "The Upheaval of Charlestown,"part I, Madison Courier (11 December 1940).

13. US Army. Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 30.

14. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Transcripts of Oral History Interviews, 8.

15. ,US Army. Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 8.

16. George H Yater, 200 Years at the Falls of the Ohio (Louisville, KY: Heritage Corporation, 1979), 207.

17. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 76-77.

18. Haffner, 191-192. US Army AMCCOM figures differ slightly: 10, 649 acres, 185 miles of roads, and eighty-six miles of railroad track (pg 2).

19. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 34, 62.

20. US Army AMCCOM, 2.

21. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 36.

22. Ibid, 38. See also Lenore Fine and Jesse A Remington, The United States Army in World War II, the Technical Services, the Corps of Engineers: Construction in the United States (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, United States Army, 1972), 315.

23. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 18.

24. Ibid, 36, 38.

25. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Transcripts of Oral History Interviews, 25.

26. , US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 38.

27. Ibid, 65-66, 73.

28. Ibid, 76, 77.

29. Encyclopedia Britannica, sv "Gunpowder," "Military Rockets."

30. Encyclopedia Britannica, sv "Gunpowder."

31. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 77.

32. Walter A Snead, "The Upheaval of Charlestown,"part II, Madison Courier (12 December 1940). See also Steeg, 2.

33. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Transcripts of Oral History Interviews, 65.

34. Ibid, 29.

35. Ibid, 65.

36. Haffner, 192.

37. Walter A Snead, "The Upheaval of Charlestown,"part III, Madison Courier (17 December 1940).

38. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Transcripts of Oral History Interviews, 28.

39. Ibid, 64.

40. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 85, 88. See also Steeg, 2.

41. Ibid, 95-97.

42. Steeg, 2.

43. Ibid, 2-3. See also US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 90-91.

44. Haffner, 192. See also Steeg, 3.

45. Steeg, 4. See also US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 92.

46. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 91-92. See also Steeg, 4.

47. Ibid, 95.

48. Steeg, 4.

49. Ibid, 4.

50. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 92, 94.

51. Ibid, 99.

52. Ibid, 107.

53. Ibid, 111-113.

54. Carroll Pursell, ed, American Technology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 199.

55. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 115.

56. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Transcripts of Oral History Interviews, 93.

57. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 116, 118.

58. Ibid, 18, 66, 73, 120-121. See also Joe Ward, "Loaded with possibility," The Louisville Courier Journal, 31 March 2002, E1.

59. US Army Corps of Engineers, The World War II Ordnance Department's Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, 121.

60. Ibid, 92, 120-121.

61. Ibid, 8, 129-131, 133.

62. Ward, E1-2.


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