During the first World War munitions of all types were consumed at unprecedented rates. Large-scale production of artillery shells and small arms ammunition were undertaken in the United States by over 8,000 ordnance manufacturers, which turned out millions of rounds. When the war suddenly ended the Ordnance Department of the United States Army found itself in possession of vast quantities of surplus ammunition.
A Munitions Board was appointed to decide upon the distribution of this excess war materiel, including the determination of suitable storage places for it. Most of the ordnance was subsequently stored in several ordnance depots along the Atlantic seaboard, while much of the materiel was placed in a Pacific seaboard depot. The remainder was to be stored in some midwest location yet to be determined.
A search was immediately executed for a suitable site for this new ordnance depot. Favorable climactic conditions for the storage of explosives had to be provided, along with ready accessibility to major national transportation routes.
The location had to be sparsely populated and have few existing structures nearby, to minimize danger to the local citizenry in the event of an explosion. It had to also have a reasonable water supply for supporting the military residents of the post. Such a site was finally found on a high, sandy mesa just west of the mouth of Weber Canyon near Ogden, Utah.
The search results were presented to Congress, which authorized the establishment of the installation and the purchase of the necessary land on March 6, 1920. Acting Secretary of War Crowell approved the purchase of 1,200 acres of land for the arsenal on April 22, 1920.
On November 15, 1920 an additional 210 acres were purchased in order to protect the arsenal's water supply from pollution by grazing cattle. Construction of the arsenal's ammunition magazines and other buildings were quickly put out on competitive bids to speed up the process. Bids were awarded and the work began, employing several hundred people from the Ogden area.
On November 15, 1921, as construction of the Ogden Arsenal continued, War Department General Order #55 officially changed its designation to the Ogden Ordnance Reserve Depot. Work on the buildings, railroad tracks, fencing, water piping, and roadways continued through 1923 and by the end of that year the capital investment at the arsenal totaled $1.77 million.
From 1923 to 1936 the arsenal was largely dormant due to lack of defense funds and was used as a general storage depot. In 1927 another War Department General Order redesignated the installation as the Ogden Ordnance Depot. Congress authorized the purchase of additional acreage for the expansion of the Depot on May 29, 1928. But disaster struck on June 16, 1929 when a severe thunderstorm and high winds heavily damaged the installation, destroying all but six of its ammunition magazines.
Due to the extent of the damage and the national financial crisis that accompanied the crash of the stock market later in the same year, the installation was placed on inactive status. Only a skeleton crew of enlisted personnel remained to watch over the grounds.
President Roosevelt signed the Wilcox Act into law on August 12, 1935, which authorized the Secretary of War to determine the best locations for permanent Air Corps stations and depots in strategic areas of the United States, including the Rocky Mountain region. Soon after the legislation was signed, Army Air Corps officials and members of Congress made a series of visits to Utah to survey possible sites for a permanent Rocky Mountain air depot.
Sites surveyed included an area in Davis County just south of the inactive Ogden Ordnance Depot -- the site eventually chosen for what would become Hill Field.
A grant of $350,000 in Works Progress Administration funds, added to U.S. Army money, made possible the start of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Ogden Ordnance Depot on January 1, 1936. Plans included the expansion of the arsenal to include the manufacture as well as the storage of bombs, shells, and other ammunition. New buildings and ammunition magazines were built and many other improvements were made.
On February 1, 1938 the revitalized Ogden Ordnance Depot, the only Army ammunition plant west of the Mississippi, began producing its first bombs, and on September 16, 1938 Army officials rededicated the newly reconstructed and rehabilitated Ogden Ordnance Depot. Later that same year President Roosevelt authorized an initial expenditure of $55,608 to begin construction of an air depot on a parcel of land belonging to the Ogden Ordnance Depot.
During World War II the arsenal was expanded to include new ordnance production tasks, as well as completely new duties of storage and resupply of transportation parts and tools. Ammunition for various 20mm and 37mm guns, 155mm howitzer shells, and bombs ranging up to 2,000 pounds were the principal types of ordnance produced at the arsenal during the war.
When the depot came under the Army Service Forces command in 1942 it was designated as a Motor Base for the ready-storage of combat vehicles. Large numbers of tanks, half-tracks, and trucks were parked in the dry Utah air on the arsenal grounds, requiring minimal maintenance prior to shipment overseas. Combat damaged artillery pieces and various caliber weapons were also received and rehabilitated in the arsenal's shops.
By the end of 1942 the arsenal employed almost 6,000 people, the majority of them women, since most men were in military service. Post-war personnel reductions dropped the population of the workforce to 1,500 by June 1946.
In the years following the Second World War, the arsenal served primarily as a collection depot for reserve materiel. Ammunition was inspected and disassembled if found unserviceable, or repacked and placed in storage if serviceable. The identification, repair, and sale of war-surplus equipment soon became the primary activity of arsenal personnel.
Large numbers of tanks, amphibious landing craft, half-tracks, and other Army vehicles were brought to the arsenal for storage and sale to the public. Administrative functions for the installation during this period were handled by the nearby Tooele Ordnance Depot.
The Korean War gave the Ogden Arsenal a new resurgence of life in 1950. Its administrative supervision was removed from Tooele and the installation was again made independent. Assembly lines were opened for the production of 60mm and 81mm mortar shells and hand grenades. By 1953 employment at the revitalized Ogden Arsenal topped 3,000, including many who had performed the same jobs during World War II.
Due to changing military requirements, the Department of Defense combined the Ogden Arsenal with the Ogden Air Materiel Area on 1 April 1955, causing Hill Air Force Base to almost double in size. This action allowed the United States Air Force to begin performing testing, storage, and maintenance on its own ordnance. Army ordnance operations and manufacturing at the Ogden Arsenal were moved to Tooele Ordnance Depot and other Army depots around the country.
The Ogden Arsenal served the United States in war and in times of peace for 35 years. The remaining structures from the old Army installation which still stand today on the grounds of Hill Air Force Base are a proud tribute to the many men and women who served their country on the homefront, building and maintaining the vital weapons of war in the shops and warehouses of the Ogden Ordnance Depot.