Gopher Ordinance, Rosemount Minnesota, 21 May 1943

During the dark days of World War II the U.S. government acquired by eminent domain 12,000 acres of land in today's bustling suburban Dakota County. The land, located in Rosemount Township, was to be the site of a munitions plant that would support World War II needs, but within a few years 60 percent of the property would be deeded to the University for the modest sum of one dollar.

A spectacular bargain for the people of Minnesota, the sprawling complex has been a major site of University research for more than 50 years. Until the mid-1960s the property was home to one of the country's finest aeronautical research laboratories, and agricultural research continues to be one of its mainstays.

The Rosemount facilities owe their existence to a turbulent era. In 1942 the world was at war, and the federal government moved quickly to provide the U.S. military with munitions needed to win the conflict.

The Rosemount property became the site of the Gopher Ordnance Works, a munitions plant that produced nitrocellulose, a single-base powder used as a high explosive and propellant for large naval guns. DuPont was awarded the construction contract, and groundbreaking began later in 1942. Sixty miles of roads and 33 guard towers were constructed within weeks, and a security force of 500 was hired and equipped with cars and radios so that it could remain in constant contact with nearby Fort Snelling.

Production began in February 1945, and by the end of March, Gopher had more than 3,100 employees, many of whom traveled from around the area to take advantage of the plant's high wages. Rosemount Township had become a booming metropolis seemingly overnight, and as a result, extra police were hired and liquor licenses were limited. County Road 42 ran only eastward in the mornings and westward in the evenings.

When Japan surrendered in August 1945, production at Gopher ceased, and its employees were out of work. By October the last of the powder was packed and readied for shipping. The plant was labeled surplus and dismantled, but only 3,500 acres were sold back to their original owners after the closure.

Aeronautical engineering professor John Akerman played a major role in securing 7,500 acres of the property for the University. Akerman believed that the Rosemount property was an ideal place for an aeronautical research laboratory, and on behalf of the University he initiated negotiations with the federal government to acquire Gopher Ordnance Works. The University took possession of the site in 1948.

With the help of federal grants and use of the powder factory machinery, Akerman developed the Rosemount Aeronautical Research Laboratory (RAL), which would serve as the aeronautical engineering department's primary research facility for almost 15 years. During RAL's first year of operation, the department had research contracts totaling $400,000; by 1954 this figure reached nearly $1 million.

Faculty members designed and installed a number of wind tunnels at Rosemount, including a hypersonic wind tunnel capable of producing speeds between Mach 7 and 11 and air temperatures of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The RAL would be the site of significant research for both industry and the military. Graduates of the department who worked at RAL developed a total temperature sensor for the navy and then formed Rosemount Engineering Company to produce it commercially. Rosemount Engineering became one of the world's largest suppliers of air data and other flow sensors. The company later split into Rosemount Inc. and the Sensor Division of B.F. Goodrich Aerospace.

In 1958 the aeronautical engineering department merged with the Department of Mechanics of Materials. In the post-Sputnik era, research funds were redirected to engineering science-oriented programs. During this time the department's external funding base also changed in favor of projects on the Minneapolis campus. Fewer faculty wished to continue the large aeronautical-based projects required to sustain the lab's extensive facilities and personnel, and reduced funding forced the RAL to close its doors in the mid-1960s.

Now known as University of Minnesota Outreach, Research and Education (UMore) Park, the Rosemount site is a living laboratory located at an active urban/rural interfaceˇa resource for teaching, research, and community education about issues such as land-use history and planning, agriculture, natural resources, health, environment, energy, and water. Nearly 50 University faculty conduct research there.

Amid architectural remnants of the old ordnance plant, signs of new life abound, including an 11-mile riding trail, a truck-driving range for Dakota County Technical College, a law-enforcement bomb detonation area and firing range, and a small airport. The complex is also home to the Dakota County Master Gardeners' Research and Display Garden and a University program that teaches new immigrants about growing and marketing vegetables and flowers for sale in outdoor markets in the Twin Cities area.


Article source:
University of Minnesota Institute of Technology News Retrospect Winter 2005

Thanks to John U.