I moved into this area of Saint Paul, MN, about 30 years ago. At that time, in the late 90’s the ammunitions plan was still being used, though most of the building were gone. Now there is just that building (above) and a few piles of concrete. There is a walking trail going past that building that I always see while walking, and it gets me wondering what it was like–the history of this entire area. I have been curious about it since I ran into those piles of concrete (pictured above). Here is an article I ran across.
Female employees work at TCOP in this April 1942 clipping from “Minneapolis Times.” The original caption: “The delicate feminine touch is a vital factor in the rigid inspection of caliber cartridges.” In addition to inspecting, women employees worked as guards at the plant. Photo courtesy of Shoreview Historical Society
Editor’s note: Claeys, the photo archivist for the Shoreview Historical Society, has compiled an album of historic photos donated by the TCAAP plant to the society several years ago. Claeys wrote the following history of TCAAP and loaned photos from the album. Several of TCAAP’s first employees lived in Shoreview, she noted.
ARDEN HILLS — Land that now encompasses the former Twin Cities Army Ammu-nition Plant (TCAAP) was once home to 48 farming families.
Prior to 1942 the land, bordered by Lexington Avenue on the east, County Road I on the north, the Forest Lake cutoff (now Highway 9) on the west and Country Road G (now Highway 96) on the south was primarily used for farming. Local children attended a school at the corner of County Road H and Mounds View Road.
Also located on the land was a 40-acre farm owned by University of Minnesota Plant Path-ologist Dr. Jonas J. Christianson. Christ-ianson had more than 5,000 trees on his land, including most species native to Minnesota. The farm also housed a variety of shrubs, vines and perennial plants — more than 25,000 plants in all.
With the threat of war on the horizon, the U.S. Army searched for and found the Arden Hills site as a viable place to build a new ordinance plant for production of small-caliber ammunition. The St. Paul Pioneer Press Sept. 11, 1940, noted that the purchase price of $133,685 would be divided among various land owners. All land had to be vacated within a couple of months, which meant farmers had to abandon unharvested fields. Christianson found a home for some of his trees, shrubs, vines and plants at a location in South St. Paul, although most had to be abandoned. Two taverns were also part of the purchase; the Rainbow Inn at the junction of Highway 8 and Highway 10 and the Hillside Inn at the junction of Highway 10 and County Road G. These buildings became offices for the plant.
Construction of the $30 million plant began in August, 1941. The major contractors were Walbridge Aldinger Co., which is still operating out of Detroit, Mich., and Foly Brothers. The private firm producing the ammunition — with a contract that reportedly amounted to $87 million — was the Anoka-based Federal Cartridge Corp.
Within 15 months, the Army had built 323 buildings, 21.4 miles of water lines, 21.7 miles of roads, 15.6 miles of railroad track, 31.3 miles of sewer lines, 14.1 miles of gas lines, 16.8 miles of steam lines, 28.9 miles of electric wires and 11.1 miles of telephone lines. In 1941 a Fort Snelling water tower was dismantled, transported and reassembled on a hill near what was to be known as the Twin Cities Ordinance Plant (TCOP).
In between all the construction, soldiers harvested the crops that were growing on the property, including potatoes, garden vegetables, apples, hay and grain. The harvested fruits and vegetables were transported to Fort Snelling for use by military personnel while the grain and hay were sold via sealed bid.
On Dec. 9, 1941, before the first shipment had been produced at TCOP, Army officials swept into various Twin Cities defense plants in search of alien workers. There were no alien workers at TCAAP, though some were removed from private industrial plants.
FDR among officials to visit the plant
Many dignitaries visited the unique plant through the years. Gov. Harold Stassen was at the groundbreaking dedication ceremony in August, 1941. Charles Horn, president of Federal Cartridge Corp., attended the groundbreaking and visited periodically. President Franklin D. Roosevelt toured the plant in 1942. Crown Prince Olav of Norway was quoted after a visit as saying “You Americans do things in a big way.”
Employment and production
Production began at TCOP in January of 1942. Because the primarily rural community needed to employ about 20,000 people, workers were transported from other parts of the Twin Cities. The Twin City Rapid Transit Co. added 15 buses on a run from New Brighton. Minneapolis obtained a (busing) permit, but a similar permit was denied to St. Paul until the Minnesota Railroad and Warehouse Commission reversed its decision.
Initially, more than 600 people applied for jobs daily. Many were rejected as “questionable alien”; others were rejected because they were likely to be drafted, they had a police record or they could not pass a physical.
There were apparently several controversies surrounding methods of hiring and concerns about jobs being “sold” to out-of-towners. Unions in St. Paul and Minneapolis were both concerned that contractors favored the other city’s members. There were strikes as well.
Bus service increased and the number of TCOP employees grew. The rapid growth began to be felt in the area. New Brighton realized it must construct a sewer system because of the boom in population. The Twin Cities was designated a defense area, which meant it became eligible for Federal Housing Administration mortgages for up to 90 percent of the cost of constructing homes for defense workers. At the same time, it was decreed that no homes could be built in an area adjacent to defense plants bec-ause of concern about enemy bomb attacks. As a result, three trailer camps, each consisting of about a dozen trailers, sprung up in the plant vicinity.
The plant was in full operation by 1942. It took 26 to 27 working days for a hunk of brass to become a finished loaded cartridge. Once completed, bullets were tested on a plant firing range.
In November 1942 tragedy struck when Alexander P. Nelson, 67, was killed in his yard by a ricocheting bullet from the plant. Nelson Road just off Lexington Avenue is named in his memory.
By 1943, there were 21,200 employees at TCOP. Women filled many roles at the plant. They were on the production lines and worked as inspectors looking for faulty slugs on the moving belt lines. By 1943 they were working as sub-inspectors for $4.80 per day. Some were employed as guards. The St. Paul Dispatch of July 7, 1943 reported that “Members of the women’s guards were formerly social workers, school teachers, department store clerks and beauty operators. They go to school once a week to learn the fundamentals of first aid, methods of fire prevention, judo for self-defense and military drill.”
As the war progressed, concern grew for the safety of the country. At the plant, guards were increased and watched all activities including daily work of the switchboard operators and inspection of any new items that arrived on the premises. Signs were posted warning workers and visitors against sabotage and espionage: One warning noted that sabotage was punishable by $10,000 or up to 10 years in prison (or both) and another said espionage could result in “imprisonment for 30 years or death.”
Demand declines after war
With the end of WWII, activity slowed at the plant. Governmental budget cuts in 1946 canceled some programs. Some of the small buildings, which were marketed as being suitable for cottages, garages and tool sheds, were sold and moved. Some former office buildings became classrooms, a cafeteria and a study hall at St. Thomas College.
During peace time, the plant produced tractors and farm implements.
The plant’s arsenal was reactivated in 1950 during the Korean Conflict, in 1965 in support of the Southeast Asia conflict and in 1991 to help meet the needs of Operation Desert Storm. It was renamed the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in 1962.