Tooele Ordnance Depot


War Department run facility built in 1942 in northern Utah for the storage and shipment of ammunition and other war materiel to and from the European and Pacific fronts. Tooele Ordnance Depot also became a leading employer of Japanese Americans resettling from War Relocation Authority (WRA) concentration camps.

Tooele was part of a large build out of defense related installations in northern Utah during World War II that greatly expanded the population and economy of Utah. The Ogden Arsenal, an ammunition storage facility, had been built in Ogden in 1920, but with the U.S. entrance into World War II, a larger facility was needed. With sufficient space to expand Ogden unavailable, the War Department looked to build a new facility. With a combination of cheap available land, dry climate, sandy loam soil that absorbed shock well, and ready rail access to the major western ports, a site outside of the small town of Tooele, around thirty-five miles southwest of Salt Lake City, was chosen. The federal government acquired nearly 25,000 acres in the spring of 1942 and the $26.7 million facility was completed by January 1943, with the first work crews beginning even before then in September 1942. In addition to the storing and shipping of various war materiel, the facility also included a repair shop for trucks and tanks and equipment for the rebuilding and salvaging of various types of weapons and ammunition. With a severe shortage of housing in the area, the government also built a $2.5 million housing facility east of the depot that was named TOD Park. TOD Park included 231 buildings with 1,080 housing units, along with a school and child care center, shopping center, and recreational facilities.[1]

Tooele Ordnance Depot faced manpower shortages throughout the war. Among other strategies, the depot hired high school students, women both in the ammunition section and as bus and taxi drivers, and employed large numbers of German and Italian prisoners of war. In the fall of 1944, the War Department began to seriously recruit Japanese Americans "of unquestioned background and loyalty" incarcerated in WRA camps. The job—available only to married men willing bring their families out—offered housing in TOD Park as well as a wage starting at 77 cents per hour, some ten times the going wage offered by the WRA for work in the camps. The first Nisei family—that of an honorably discharged World War II veteran—arrived at Tooele in late September and many others followed. When Guyo Tajiri visited Tooele in January 1945 for a Pacific Citizen story, she found one hundred Japanese American families living and working at the depot. Among the workers were sixteen Nisei women in various clerical positions. Both the workplace and the housing facilities were integrated and depot spokespersons reported no racial problems. Approximately 300 Japanese Americans worked at Tooele during the war, a significant percentage of the approximately 1,800 civilian workers at the depot. A smaller number of Japanese Americans also worked at the Sioux Ordnance Depot in Nebraska. [2]

Though most of the Japanese Americans left Tooele after the war, a core group remained. Jack T. Harada, one who stayed on, reported that thirty Nisei still worked there—most "in supervisory jobs"—at the end of 1948, while another account reports forty-five Nisei employees at the beginning of 1951. With the uptick in activity at the depot during the Korean War, further recruitment of Japanese Americans took place to undetermined effect.[3]

Now known as Tooele Army Depot, the site is still in use today.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Arrington, Leonard J., and Thomas G. Alexander. "They Kept 'em Rolling: The Tooele Army Depot, 1942–1962." Utah Historical Quarterly 31.1 (January 1963): 3–25. http://utahhistory.sdlhost.com/#/item/000000031000252/view.

Fact Sheet: Tooele Army Depot. United States Army website. http://www.tead.army.mil/Documents/HistoryFactSheet_Jun2012.pdf.

Japanese American Citizens League. They Work for Victory: The Story of Japanese Americans and the War Effort. Salt Lake City, Utah: Japanese American Citizens League, n.d. [1945]. [Includes photographs of both the Tooele and Sioux Ordnance Depots.]

Tajiri, Marion. "Japanese Americans Go All Our for Victory." Pacific Citizen, Jan. 27, 1945, 5–6. http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19450127_005.jpg, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19450127_006.jpg.

Footnotes

  1. Leonard J. Arrington and Thomas G. Alexander, "They Kept 'em Rolling: The Tooele Army Depot, 1942–1962," Utah Historical Quarterly 31.1 (January 1963), 4–12, accessed on June 18, 2014 at http://utahhistory.sdlhost.com/#/item/000000031000252/view; James B. Allen, "Crisis on the Home Front: The Federal Government and Utah's Defense Housing in World War II," Pacific Historical Review 38.4 (November 1969), 419–20.
  2. Arrington and Alexander, "They Kept 'em Rolling," 10–12; Pacific Citizen, Sept. 16, 1944, 1, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19440916_001.jpg; Pacific Citizen, Sept. 23, 1944, 2, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19440923_002.jpg; Marion Tajiri, "Japanese Americans Go All Our for Victory," Pacific Citizen, Jan. 27, 1945, 5, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19450127_005.jpg; Pacific Citizen, Nov. 24, 1945, 4, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19451124_004.jpg, all accessed on June 18, 2014; They Work for Victory: The Story of Japanese Americans and the War Effort (Salt Lake City, Utah: Japanese American Citizens League, n.d. [1945], 15–17.
  3. Jack T. Harada, "Nisei Still Employed at Tooele Depot By Army Department," Pacific Citizen, Dec. 25, 1948, 24, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19481225_024.jpg; Pacific Citizen, Jan. 27, 1951, 3, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19510127_003.jpg, both accessed on June 18, 2014.