Atomic cannons. Giant anti-aircraft guns. The powerful “Honest John” rocket.
The high-tech weapons were all in production at the Watervliet Arsenal in 1958.
“In the massive shops and development buildings, the arsenal houses widely contrasting processes that go into the shaping of tools of destruction,” wrote Schenectady Gazette reporter Rutledge E. Carter. “Some of the most sensitive instruments known, capable of the most minute measurements, combine with huge presses and lathes to form some of the largest weapons ever produced.”
Capital Region residents received the chance to examine the dangerous cannons and missiles in 1958. The arsenal designed to arm America opened its doors for Armed Forces Day on May 17, 1958.
The “Honest John,” a 25-foot-long missile, was one of the draws. The big flyer hit objects with the impact of hundreds of artillery shells. Another attraction was the 37 mm anti-aircraft cannon; its revolving chamber probably reminded some visitors of the Colt pistol.
The arsenal opened in 1813, founded to support the War of 1812. It became the Watervliet Arsenal in 1817. By 1958, more than 300 Schenectady residents were on the arsenal’s 2,600-member civilian roster. Employees had plenty of work in the late 1950s. One of the new projects was the production of bulldozer blades that tanks would use to clear obstacles for other tanks.
The facility owned and operated by the U.S. Army remains the oldest continuously active arsenal in the country. The building off Broadway in Watervliet has been a National Historic Landmark since 1966.
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