This important munitions facility was created in October 1945 by the combination of the Wolf Creek Ordnance Plant and the Milan Ordnance Depot. The combined physical plant of the two installations includes 88 miles of railroad track and 231 miles of roadway in a sprawling 36-square-mile tract that lies in both Gibson and Carroll Counties.
Construction contracts were awarded December 31, 1940, and the builders turned the properties over to the government exactly one year later. Construction began on the Wolf Creek facility in January 1941 and on the Ordnance Depot two months later. Building on the 28,000-acre grounds required the demolition of over fifteen hundred existing farm structures and their replacement with approximately thirty separate assembly and storage areas. Construction costs topped $34 million. Operated by the Procter and Gamble Defense Corporation, the facility functioned as a shell-assembly plant where components were turned into finished products.
Although Congress investigated possible corruption in the construction of the facilities, the plant received the Army-Navy “E” for excellence award during World War II. During the Korean Conflict, a few research and development functions were added, but the primary business of the plant remained the assembly of large caliber ammunition for mortars and artillery.
Peak employment reached more than 10,000 during World War II, fell to 1,500 in 1947, rose to more than 8,000 during the Korean War, and dipped again to fewer than 500 in 1959 before returning to 7,000 in 1968. The small farming community of Milan boasted a population of 3,000 in 1940, but by 1971 that figure had risen to 7,000–growth largely attributable to the Arsenal. Environmental concerns associated with decades of toxic waste dumping represent the downside of such military-oriented economic progress, however.