Allis-Chalmers, History

Allis-Chalmers and Civil Defense

I am beginning to turn up some very interesting material for my History Seminar project. I’ve gone through boxes upon boxes, folders upon folders. papers upon papers, and I have run into Allis-Chalmers a few times in the old Wisconsin Bureau of Civil Defense information. The company played two interesting roles in Wisconsin Civil Defense. One was devising a CD plan for industry in Wisconsin, and they also were involved with the creation of an alert system for homes.

In 1955, Allis-Chalmers ranked 54th overall  among the Fortune 500 companies at that time. The company was very diversified in what it made. Farm equipment, electrical equipment, and other precision industrial parts were just a few of the items that came out of the company’s many factories.

Allis-Chalmers had won some defense contracts in the 1940s to build parts for airplanes and navy vessels. After the war, Allis-Chalmers continued to get contracts through the U.S. government. While conducting my research, I have discovered that Allis-Chalmers won some contracts from Office of Civil Defense (OCD) to help develop equipment for the National Emergency Alarm Repeater (NEAR). They were to research, build and test electrical equipment that would make the NEAR project work.

Milwaukee Journal, 8/14/62 Pg 20

Allis-Chalmers was going to build this equipment, and it was to be installed and tested at the Dairyland Power Cooperative power plant in La Crosse, Wisconsin. That was as much information I was able to gather about the project. I have contacted the Dairyland Power Cooperative via Facebook about information regarding the tests. The person I have been in contact with there is looking into it.

The equipment they were producing was going to be used with the National Emergency Repeater Alarm (NEAR). The alarm was a little box that could be plugged into a wall socket in homes. In the event of an imminent enemy attack, a surge could be sent through the power supply to trigger these small units to start buzzing. This was a mechanism to warn people in their homes of the coming attack. The units would be available for $5 to $10.

NEAR: Indoor Attack Warning
(Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization-1961)

Research and development began in 1956 on these units. There was a test in Charlotte, Michigan, and Wisconsin was even chosen for some testing. By the mid to late 1960s, the NEAR project was buried. It was not an efficient way to warn people or give them instructions. The Emergency Broadcast System was a better means of reaching the public during emergency situations.

PBS has a show called History Detectives that did a special on one of these devices. They really have an interesting story behind them.

I am still trying to find out some more details of Allis-Chalmers’ involvement with this emergency system. The National Archives has material in their vast collections that deal with the NEAR project. I contacted them and await a response. I also know that the Allis-Chalmers collection at the Milwaukee County Historical Society may have some information about it as well.

If you have any information about Allis-Chalmers and their involvement with the NEAR project, I would appreciate the information you have.

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