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Picatinny Arsenal Historical Overview

On 6 September 1880, the War Department established the Dover Powder Depot. Four days later, it changed the name to Picatinny Powder Depot. In 1907, the Army altered the name to Picatinny Arsenal and established its first powder factory on the site. While continuing to produce munitions, the arsenal moved into research and development work with the start of a school to instruct officers in weaponry sciences in 1911 and the establishment of testing and control laboratories during the World War I era, and the beginning of a small, experimental plant for the design and development of artillery ammunition in 1919. In 1921, the arsenal took over responsibility for experimental work on fuzes.

The arsenal continued to realize its potential as a research and development facility in the years between the two world wars. Major accomplishments of this period included better methods for storing smokeless powder, improved processing of cyclonite, more commonly called RDX, and the discovery of a new explosive, haleite. The discoverer was Dr. Ceorge C. Hale, the arsenal's chief chemist.

36 Inch Bomb
36-inch Bomb, T2 Stenciling Data and Placing Fuze Adapter Plug Picatinny Arsenal - 1944

World War II interfered with the arsenal's efforts to concentrate on research and development. As one of the few facilities with the ability to manufacture munitions, it employed 18,000 people and ran three shifts turning out bombs and artillery shells. However, it still had its research triumphs, especially the development of a delay fuze for skip bombing and special bombs for dams and oil fields. It also pioneered production processes later transferred to munitions manufacturers around the country.

After World War II, Picatinny refocused its efforts on developing new weapons and munitions. Its support to the American forces in Korea included an improved bazooka and an illuminating rifle grenade. In periods of peace, the arsenal made important contributions to progress in the areas of radar, pyrotechnics, missiles, time fuzes, and nuclear munitions. When war broke out again, it gave troops in Vietnam a complete family of 40mm ammunition for grenade launchers and helicopter gun ships.

In 1977, the Army recognized Picatinny's leadership in weapons and munitions development by headquartering its Armament Research and Development Command at the arsenal and giving it responsibility for developing small caliber weapons and munitions.

In 1983, the Army disestablished the Armament Research and Development Command and Picatinny became the home of the Armament Research and Development Center. In 1986, the name again changed to the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center. Whatever the name, the installation leads the way in weapons and ammunition development.

Expansion of the Arsenal

WPA Project
Gasoline-Electric Locomotive Shed and Garage Under Construction

A deed dated 26 June 1880 records the first land purchase for the future Picatinny Arsenal. Mr. George E. Righter transferred 1,195.8 acres centered on Lake Picatinny to the United States Government in return for $35,874.00. This area, afterwards known as the Middle Forge Tract because of the forge located there during the Revolutionary War, became the central area of the arsenal. In 1880 and 1881, the government also purchased tracts from Uel H. Wiggins, Edward C. Fiedler and other, Henry and Michael Doland, and John E. Kindred. These initial purchases, including the Middle Forge Tract, covered 1866.13 acres and cost a total of $62,750.00. At the same time, the government gave $200.00 to Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Spicer for a 50 foot strip on which to construct a road from Spicertown to the powder depot. In 1891, the Army transferred 315 acres bordering Lake Denmark to the Navy.

Over the years the Army continued to make small purchases to round out arsenal boundaries, but the next major expansion came in 1941, just before the United States entered World War II. At this time, the Army purchased the land between the Cannon Gates and the present main entrance near NJ Route 15. This included Spicertown, an unincorporated village in Rockaway Township. Spicertown had declined from a relatively thriving nineteenth century community of small but profitable farms to a rather depressed area in 1941. Still, many of the residences were in good condition and house military families to this day. Near Parker Road are buildings 1123 and 1124, both acquired from the estate of John E. Larson for $16,000.00. The purchase price included 24 acres of land. Buildings 1125, 1126, and 1127 and the accompanying 12 acres cost the government $19,769.00. On the opposite side of Parker Road are buildings 1138 and 1139, acquired from Helen Jane Larsen with 1.5 acres for $10,534.00, and building 1140, the former home of Clarence and Agnes Burdette constructed around 1919. The government appraiser praised the landscaping and the grassy knoll location.

The primary vehicle for transportation in the early days of the Arsenal was the railroad. The early Wharton & Northern (succeeded by the Jersey Central) was laid from Wharton to Green Pond through the heart of the valley in which Picatinny Arsenal now resides. This line connected the various railroads serving the Wharton area with the New York, Susquehanna & Western at Green Pond. Picatinny maintained as much as 49 miles of its own narrow and standard gauge Picatinny Arsenal Railroad to service its many transportation needs (fuel, raw materials, ammunition, etc.). Today, rail service through the Arsenal is just a memory with only a disused weed-choked stub line into the Arsenal and scattered traces of the once busy narrow gauge railway.

In 1960, the Army resumed control of land it had given the Navy, bringing the installation to its current size and shape.



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