Skip Navigation

History of the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant

After World War II broke out following the attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, the U.S. Army moved quickly to expand the production of munitions to support the war effort.

A young Congressman named Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), who hailed from the Hill Country of Central Texas and had already established himself with President Franklin Roosevelt and House Speaker Sam Rayburn as an up-and-coming legislator, saw the opportunity to persuade the Army to build one of the new ammunition plants in an isolated, rural area adjacent to his wife Lady Bird’s home town of Karnack, Texas.

LBJ moved quickly and so did the Army, which acquired 8,493 acres of land adjacent to Caddo Lake approximately four miles from the Louisiana-Texas border. In October of 1942 the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant was established to produce trinitrotoluene (TNT).

With the exception of a 7 year period when it was maintained on stand-by status, the Longhorn plant spent 55 years manufacturing a variety of munitions ranging from incendiary devices to rocket motors.

At its peak, the facility included 451 buildings, operated its own power and water treatment plants, and was interlaced with rails for the movement of raw materials and finished product.

Stand-by status ended in 1952 when the plant was reactivated and operated by Universal Match Corporation. During the Korean War, Longhorn expanded its mission to include loading, assembling, and packing rocket motors and pyrotechnic ammunition.

The Thiokol Corporation, which operated a facility at Redstone Arsenal, received the contract to rehabilitate Longhorn’s World War II era liquid fuel facility into a solid fuel rocket motor plant. In 1955, Plant 3, which was operated by Thiokol Corporation (later Morton Thiokol, Inc.), was designated to produce solid propellant rocket motors.

Production on the original Nike-Hercules rocket motors began at Longhorn in 1956. Thiokol also produced propellants and motors for the Falcon, Lacrosse, Honest John, and Sergeant missiles. As production increased, so did capacity. In 1959 a Main Rocket Motor Assembly Building (45E) was constructed along with a Static Test Building (25T). Longhorn produced illuminating and pyrotechnic ammunition during the Viet Nam war. In 1977, the plant was designated a CORE* facility for the production of solid propellant rocket motors and pyrotechnic-type ammunition. This facility produced both the first and second stages of the Pershing IA missile. The facilities were modernized in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

On September 9, 1988 Longhorn played a significant role in history when it was the site where the first U.S. missiles were destroyed as a part of the U.S. and Soviet INS (Intermediate-range Nuclear forces) treaty, the beginning of the end of the nuclear arms race between the world’s atomic age superpowers.

Witnessing the event at Longhorn, Vice President George Bush said ''It's a moment we'll be able to tell our children and our grandchildren about. This is the day we began to reverse the arms race. This is the day we began destroying the weapons of destruction.''

The senior Soviet inspector at the site, Nikolai B. Shabalin, pointed out that the event proved that ''the world is by no means doomed to the nuclear arms race.''

In 1997, the Army declared the Longhorn facility to be “in excess of its needs” and the following year the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) requested that the site be transferred to them for the purpose of establishing a national wildlife refuge. In the ensuing years, portions of the Longhorn lands were declared an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site and extensive remediation was undertaken to remove chemical wastes and other hazards while the Service began focusing on the management of the habitat for the conservation and protection of the migratory and resident waterfowl and neotropical migratory birds that utilized these important wetlands.

In September of 2009, the Caddo Lake National Wildlife was opened to the public for wildlife-dependent recreation.
Last Updated: Aug 17, 2012
Return to main navigation