GREEN RIVER ORDNANCE PLANT

Lee County IL

Written by By Kari Politsch
Amboy High School, Amboy

Contributed to Genealogy Trails by Karen Holt

“The Green River Ordnance Plant
is a large munitions factory complex between
Dixon and Amboy in Lee County, Illinois that
was hastily constructed in 1942 and just as quickly shut down in 1945.
It lies on the south side of U.S. Highway 30.
Great numbers of men and women contributed to the war effort on the homefront during World War II. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the War Department began searching for an inland site for an ordnance plant, one that would be safe from attack. Six farms were purchased just northwest of Amboy, Illinois. Construction of the ordnance plant commenced and was completed within weeks. The plant was operated under a contract with the Stewart-Warner Corporation, and it became a self-contained community.

By March 19, 1942, preparatory work had begun. The federal government purchased farmland, homes, and trucks from farmers. The trucks shipped railroad supplies to build an entire railroad system. New roads were also constructed. Completion of the plant included nine wells and a sewage system. Long metal buildings were built for manufacturing explosive devices, and explosion-proof, earth-covered storage bunkers contributed to safety. Almost eight thousand workers aided in construction. On December 10, 1942, munitions production began. Police patrolled the perimeter on horseback, and a chain-link fence encircled the plant for security.

Various skills and physical characteristics were required for workers, and mandatory training programs were provided. These factors helped the Green River Ordnance Plant run smoothly. For instance, physically fit guards, drivers, and factory workers were in demand. Courses in safety, operation, inspection, and first aid were provided.

The government expected everyone to participate in the war effort. Handbills like this one often played on an individual's sense of duty to the soldiers at the front. Truck drivers were very valuable people. They transported highly explosive bombs. Caution was a major factor when attempting this. Awards were given to those who went a full year without an accident. Out of one hundred drivers, only four received the safety award.

Accidents were a tremendous part of what authorities and surrounding families feared most. Although there were no tragedies that took a great number of lives, mishaps did occur. One of these unfortunate cases involved a woman working on an assembly line. She was in charge of adding the powder to a certain type of grenade. When she inadvertantly dropped it, her whole stomach and back were blown up. The person before her on the assembly line had failed to place the pin in the grenade. According to most sources, however, working conditions were satisfactory. Pay was better than most other jobs, and employees were generally compatible. Only those who did not favor working energetically were displeased.

This ordnance plant consisted of seven lines and six groups. The lines contained bombs, shells, bazookas, rifle grenades, detonators, and seventy-five-millimeter projectiles. The groups ranged in number from ten to sixty. They held anything from gunpowder to live ammunition. Sources say that certain chemicals caused strange effects when absorbed, such as turning hair green.

Depending on the department in which an employee worked, hours fluctuated. Security guards and factory laborers worked nights and days, while truck drivers operated every day of the week except Saturday. As a whole, everyone accepted and agreed with these hours.

This extremely busy plant not only made weapons; it became a city within a city. The property included its own hospital, fire department, garage, repair shops, office buildings, warehouses, and dormitories. Everything that was needed for daily life was provided. The workers even had their own newspaper.

The Green River Ordnance Plant employed some 4,500 workers. In order to apply for a job, they were forced to join a union. In most cases, men and women began work the same day they applied. Even though dormitories were provided, living space was sparse. Because gasoline was so expensive, employees could not always commute to work individually, and workers were bussed in from a fifty-mile radius. Those employees who lived nearby often housed those who did not. Some families had up to four extra people in their home.

The ordnance plant closed down in late 1945 as the war came to an end. A year later, more than four thousand acres of farmland and buildings were for sale.

Today the land is an industrial park. The open areas are again farmland, there is an expanding landfill, and the bunkers are used by a private company to store explosives. The remaining land includes salvage yards, warehouses, and chemical storage facilities. Neighbors fear pollution from present uses and from the World-War-II disposal site located on the land.

The Green River Ordnance Plant most definitely assisted war efforts. Without its speedy construction and large-scale production, our soldiers battling in World War II would have been provided with considerably less ammunition and explosives. The plant's slogan "safety, quality, and quantity" certainly applied. Everything the plant furnished was critical to the war effort.

From "The Green River Ordnance Plant," Meanderings;
The Green Riverite, Aug. 28, Sept. 11, 1942;
Student historian's interview with Lester Kellen, Jan. 14, 1995.

More History of Green River Ordnance Plant

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