In 1958, Allis-Chalmers announced that it would build a research laboratory for development and testing of nuclear technology. The 30-acre site chosen was a few miles south of West Allis in the village of Greendale, Wisconsin, a planned community built during the Great Depression. The facility consisted of 2 main structures totaling 27,000 square feet* of space for labs, office areas, and a machine shop and staffed by 200 employees. (1) The laboratory was up and running by 1959, and scientists at the laboratory were able to conduct Wisconsin’s very first nuclear reaction in a model reactor they built. (2)
The company’s need for an advanced research facility can be traced back to Allis-Chalmers’ work with the Manhattan Project during World War II. The Hawley Plant, built at the West Allis Works, housed operations for filling wartime orders–one being equipment that helped build the first atom bomb. Management at Allis-Chalmers could see the peaceful uses of atomic energy for the future. (3)
In October 1954, the company was awarded a contract by the Atomic Energy Commission to build equipment for an experimental reactor at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. The scientists at the laboratory built the reactor components, and Allis-Chalmers designed and built the power systems. (4) This was one of several AC nuclear energy projects. It’s work in the nuclear field prompted the company to establish a nuclear power division and erect the facility in Greendale.
)In 1959, Allis-Chalmers introduced a tractor powered by fuel cells–the first vehicle of its kind. This breakthrough launched the company into another field of advanced technology. Soon scientists and engineers with the company were building fuel cell components that powered golf carts, submarines, forklifts, and space equipment for NASA. The U.S. Military began ordering millions of dollars worth of fuel cell equipment for military projects. (5)
)In 1966, Allis-Chalmers announced that the Greendale facility would be expanded to include the fuel cell technology. Work on fuel cells had been done at the West Allis Works and a lab in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (north of West Allis). The addition to the Greendale complex was roughly 20,000 square feet**. About 500 employees worked at the Greendale facility on both the fuel cell and atomic energy programs at Allis-Chalmers. (6)
Despite relative success in the fields, Allis-Chalmers shut down these branches of the company. Management divested in the nuclear testing program in 1966. The government canceled its contracts for fuel cell equipment as interest in the space program waned. As a result, Allis-Chalmers laid off workers and eventually shut down that program as well. By the early 1970s, the Greendale facility sat vacant.
(1) MKE Sentinel 01/7/1958
(2) MKE Sentinel 11/13/1959
(3)An Industrial Heritage-pg 350
(4)MKE Sentinel 10/8/1954
(5)Fuel Cell Accomplishments of Allis-Chalmers Research Division. Box 8, Folder 41 “Fuel Cell Technology, Allis Chalmers Corporation Files. Milwaukee County Historical Society
(6)MKE Journal 01/10/1966
*Figures announced in a press release said 23,000 sq/ft, but company information shows 27,000 sq/ft.
** Figures announced in a press release said 32,000 sq/ft, but company information shows 20,000 sq/ft.