Allis-Chalmers Greendale Research Facility

In 1958, Allis-Chalmers announced that it would build a research laboratory for development and testing of nuclear technology. The 30-acre site chosen was a few miles south of West Allis in the village of  Greendale, Wisconsin, a planned community built during the Great Depression. The facility consisted of 2 main structures totaling 27,000 square feet* of space for labs, office areas, and a machine shop and staffed by 200 employees. (1) The laboratory was up and running by 1959, and scientists at the laboratory were able to conduct Wisconsin’s very first nuclear reaction in a model reactor they built. (2)

The company’s need for an advanced research facility can be traced back to Allis-Chalmers’ work with the Manhattan Project during World War II. The Hawley Plant, built at the West Allis Works, housed operations for filling wartime orders–one being equipment that helped build the first atom bomb. Management at Allis-Chalmers could see the peaceful uses of atomic energy for the future. (3)

Interior of facility at Argonne National Laboratory –notice AC logo at lower left.(Will

In October 1954, the company was awarded a contract by the Atomic Energy Commission to build equipment for an experimental reactor at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago.  The scientists at the laboratory built the reactor components, and Allis-Chalmers designed and built the power systems. (4) This was one of several AC nuclear energy projects. It’s work in the nuclear field prompted the company to establish a nuclear power division and erect the facility in Greendale.

Fuel Cell Testing Courtesy of West Allis Historical Society)

Fuel Cell Testing (Courtesy of West Allis Historical Society

)In 1959, Allis-Chalmers introduced a tractor powered by fuel cells–the first vehicle of its kind. This breakthrough launched the company into another field of advanced technology. Soon scientists and engineers with the company were building fuel cell components that powered golf carts, submarines, forklifts, and space equipment for NASA.  The U.S. Military began ordering millions of dollars worth of fuel cell equipment for military projects. (5)

Greendale Expansion Project 1966 (Courtesy of West Allis Historical Society

)In 1966, Allis-Chalmers announced that the Greendale facility would be expanded to include the fuel cell technology. Work on fuel cells had been done at the West Allis Works and a lab in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (north of West Allis). The addition to the Greendale complex was roughly 20,000 square feet**. About 500 employees worked at the Greendale facility on both the fuel cell and atomic energy programs at Allis-Chalmers. (6)

Despite relative success in the fields, Allis-Chalmers shut down these branches of the company. Management divested in the nuclear testing program in 1966. The government canceled its contracts for fuel cell equipment as interest in the space program waned. As a result, Allis-Chalmers laid off workers and eventually shut down that program as well. By the early 1970s, the Greendale facility sat vacant.



(1) MKE Sentinel 01/7/1958
(2) MKE Sentinel 11/13/1959
(3)An Industrial Heritage-pg 350
(4)MKE Sentinel 10/8/1954
(5)Fuel Cell Accomplishments of Allis-Chalmers Research Division. Box 8, Folder 41 “Fuel Cell Technology, Allis Chalmers Corporation Files. Milwaukee County Historical Society
(6)MKE Journal 01/10/1966

*Figures announced in a press release said 23,000 sq/ft, but company information shows 27,000 sq/ft.

** Figures announced in a press release said 32,000 sq/ft, but company information shows 20,000 sq/ft.


Going Underground…What Would You Bring?

Ivy Mike Hydrogen Bomb – 10/31/1952

Imagine a world where you live in constant fear of being annihilated by nuclear weapons. You are going about your day, and in the late afternoon the neighborhood sirens blast, your radio and TV switched to emergency messages saying terrorists are launching a nuclear attack on the United States. You have 15 minutes before the bomb hits, and you need to get into the fallout shelter you have built under your backyard.

Private Shelter

Family Fallout Shelter
(“Fallout Protection: What to know and do about Nuclear attack” -1961)

The shelter will not protect you from the intense heat that is emitted from the blast. If you are within 20 miles of the blast, you will be severely burned. If you escape the blast, you worry about the deadly fallout radiation that will settle afterwards.  You have to pack your shelter with enough supplies to last until the danger of radiation passes, approximately 2 weeks. What are you going to pack to ensure your survival? What do you think you will need to stay in a dank, claustrophobic shelter for up to two weeks? Comment on what you think should be in the shelter, and what you could not go into it without? You might be surprised of what the U.S. Government recommended in 1961.

Civil Defense in Wisconsin

I am about a month into my final year of undergraduate college. One of the privileges I have in my history degree program is to conduct some in-depth research on a selected topic. The class is called History Seminar and covers areas in history for students to research and write on. My particular seminar deals with the decade of the 1960s. The class is reserved for seniors and is the capstone class of the history degree program. In the class it is each students’ job to research a topic from this era and to propose a paper, a rather lengthy paper, that could be written about the topic using primary sources. An amazing advantage that we have here in the UW system is the ability to call up primary sources from archives all over the state and have them brought right to our campus.I began exploring different areas of history from this decade that I go could a topic on.

I will be honest, the 1960s don’t really interest me that much. I really didn’t feel like doing something about the hippies, Vietnam War or protesting. I thought about researching the U.S. vs U.S.S.R. race to the moon, but our state archives doesn’t have primary sources that could help me with that. I eventually ran into something I thought could be an interesting topic to explore, Civil Defense. Our state historical society has an abundance of material that covers this topic. I am more interested in how CD was portrayed/planned in the state of Wisconsin during the 1960s.

Fallout Shelter sign from the Cold War Era.

Before I can being my research, I have to first explore what historians have said about CD programs and its reception by the public. Although I am narrowing my view of preparations in Wisconsin, there are not, from what I could find, secondary sources specifically covering CD in Wisconsin. So, I have to first see the overall picture of what was going on in the 60s with the programs.  I can then apply what I have learned from my secondary sources to establish a thesis for what I believe was happening on a local level in Wisconsin.

I am very excited to jump into the depths of history to understand this complex plan our government had in place. I am sure I will learn a lot, and I hope that I can share what I have learned with everyone else with my research paper. It is going to be a great semester! I will keep you updated on the progress and what I discover.