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Vigo Ordnance Plant

vigo ordnance plant
The Vigo Ordnance Plant, also known as the Vigo Chemical Plant or simply Vigo Plant, was a United States Army facility built in 1942 to produce conventional weapons In 1944 it was converted to produce biological agents for the US bio-weapons program The plant never produced any bio-weapons before the end of World War II but did produce 8000 pounds of an anthrax simulant The plant was transferred to Pfizer after the war; the company operated it until announcing its closure in 2008


  • 1 Location
  • 2 History
    • 21 Construction and conversion
    • 22 Bio-weapons production
    • 23 Demilitarization
  • 3 Pfizer's ownership
  • 4 Russian tour
  • 5 See also
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 External links


The Vigo Ordnance Plant was located on 700 acres 28 km2 of a more than 6,000-acre 24 km2 government-owned tract and cost $21 million to build1 The facility was constructed in the Honey Creek Township in Vigo County, Indiana1 The plant was located near the small community of Vigo, Indiana, about six miles 10 km south of Terre Haute1 The area surrounding the plant was flat, covered with cornfields and dotted by hog farms1 The site of the former Vigo Plant is south of Interstate 70 near Highway 41 and Indiana State Highways 150 and 632


Construction and conversionedit

The US Army Ordnance Corps constructed the Vigo Plant in 1942, prior to the official start of the US biological weapons program1 The Vigo Ordnance Plant began producing conventional explosives and munitions on February 18, 19423 The Army decommissioned the factory less than year later,1 and on June 30, 1943 the plant was transferred to the US Army Corps of Engineers3 Portions of the Vigo Plant were then leased to the Delco Radio Corporation for the manufacture of military electronics equipment1 The plant served in this capacity until May 19441

On May 8, 1944 the Army Special Projects Division SPD directed the Vigo Plant to convert its facilities for full-scale biological agent production13 The plant was converted for biological warfare BW use by the HK Ferguson Construction Company; they added fermenter tanks, slurry heaters, laboratories and the other necessities of a biological warfare facility1 The plant was to be the first US anthrax factory and would be utilized filling a British order for anthrax bombs4 In March 1944 the British had placed an order for 500,000 of these bombs which Winston Churchill, remarked, should only be considered a "first installment"5

Bio-weapons productionedit

When it was conceived, the initial plan was for the Vigo Plant to be a production facility for anthrax and botulinum toxin5 The 1944 order converting the plant to a BW facility directed that it become a factory capable of producing 275,000 boutlin bombs or one million anthrax bombs per month3 The core of the Vigo Plant's BW operation was the anthrax fermenters installed during the renovations in 19441 There were 12 20,000 gallon fermenter tanks at Vigo, the total of 240,000 gallons which made it the largest bacterial mass-production line anywhere in the world at the time1

After US BW scientists worked through the problems presented by trying to mass-produce bombs that were to be filled with a deadly biological agent, the production line was essentially ready to operate1 The line would fill the British four pound anthrax bombs6 with an anthrax slurry and then cluster them into the M26 cluster adapter, to form the M33 cluster bomb1 Before production could begin, however, safety testing commenced The scientific director of the US BW program, Ira Baldwin, selected Walter Nevius, a specialist in pathogen containment, to lead the safety inspections which began when he arrived at Vigo in the summer 19441

Nevius was considered conscientious, so much so that at one point the Army wanted to replace him; this resulted in Baldwin resigning his position and becoming an "advisor" to the US BW program7 The testing regimen that followed extended well into 1945 The first tests ran water through the system, to ensure there were no leaks A second round of tests were run with an anthrax simulant, Bacillus globigii1 The plant was pronounced water-tight by Nevius in April 1945 and trial runs with the simulant began in June1

By the time the plant was ready to produce the simulant the end of World War II was on the horizon The plant was able to produce about 8,000 pounds of B globgii before production was halted in October 1945,37 but was never able to produce any BW agents, including anthrax, before the war ended4 As October 1945 ended, approximately $800,000 worth of equipment at Vigo was declared surplus7 Eighteen boxcars were loaded with caustics, sulfuric acid, bleach, tributyl phosphate and 765,000 explosive detonators and shipped elsewhere for storage37 Vigo Ordnance plant was placed on "stand-by" in December 1945, in reality, the demilitarization process had already begun3


The plant remained on standby to produce "highly classified material" and in February 1947 four areas of the plant were declared restricted3 On April 30, 1947 demilitarization of the Vigo Plant began; this allowed prospective buyers to inspect the site3 Even with the earlier equipment removal, the fermenters remained behind7 On December 15, 1947 the Pfizer company executed a 20 year lease agreement with the government to take over the Vigo site35 The company would begin antibiotic manufacture at Vigo in 1948 but the military continued to liquidate the surrounding land into 19493 That year a 1,500-acre 61 km2 tract was acquired by the Bureau of Prisons to be used as agricultural land, other portions of the Vigo property were acquired by various private entities3 The BW production facilities at Vigo were eventually replaced by a more modern factory at Pine Bluff Arsenal in 19545

Pfizer's ownershipedit

After the lease agreement, and later the sale of the plant,5 was finalized the company transferred John E McKeen to the Vigo site in 1948 in preparation for the production of streptomycin3 The main objective of Pfizer's Vigo operation in the years after the war was the production of veterinary antibiotics5 The large fermenters were used during the period after the war to produce penicillin but afterwards sat dormant for decades4 Of the areas at Vigo not utilized by Pfizer, most were left undisturbed4 Adjacent to the old BW buildings the company constructed their own facilities for drug manufacturing4

After operating the Vigo plant since 1948 Pfizer announced in October 2007 that 600 of the plant's 750 employees would be placed on paid leave8 The announcement followed disappointing sales for the plant's flagship product, an inhaled insulin known as Exubera8 Beginning in 1999, Pfizer had invested $300 million in the plant and hired 400 additional employees,910 Pfizer's Vigo location was declared the sole producer of Exubera10 In January 2008 those employees on paid leave were permanently eliminated9 The company announced in May 2008 the remaining 140 jobs, occupied making antibiotics Cefobid and Unasyn,8 at the plant would be eliminated and the plant closed9 In November 2008 the company announced the site and its buildings were for sale9

Russian touredit

Per a 1994 arms-control agreement between the United States and Russia each nation was permitted to inspect three sites in the other country that it suspected were biological warfare facilities11 The Russians chose to tour Pfizer's main research center in Groton, Connecticut,4 the Plum Island facilities, including Building 101, and the Vigo Ordnance Plant11 The Russians were shown the decrepit military facilities at Vigo, many of which were shuttered, padlocked and in an obvious state of disrepair4 When the Russians observed the fermenters, they asserted that it was evidence of a secret, illegal US BW program4 Russian reaction to the tours, in general, was not good, and a negative report of their visit followed when they returned to Russia4 The report maintained that the facilities could potentially be used for BW4

See alsoedit

  • Fort Detrick
  • Fort Terry
  • Granite Peak Installation
  • Horn Island Testing Station
  • Plum Island Animal Disease Center


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Regis, Ed The Biology of Doom: The History of America's Secret Germ Warfare Project, Google Books, Macmillan, 2000 pp 71-74, ISBN 080505765X
  2. ^ "Pfizer Terre Haute Plant on The Market Archived September 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine", Inside Indiana Business, November 10, 2008, accessed January 11, 2009
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m McCormick, Mike Terre Haute: Queen City of the Wabash, Google Books, Arcadia Publishing, 2005, pp 129-130, ISBN 0738524069
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Mangold, Tom Plague Wars: A True Story of Biological Warfare, Google Books, Macmillan, 1999, pp 200-208, ISBN 0312203535
  5. ^ a b c d e f Meselson, Matthew "Bioterror: What Can Be Done", The New York Review of Books, Vol 48, No 20, December 20, 2001, accessed January 11, 2009
  6. ^ See also: M114 bomb
  7. ^ a b c d e Guillemin, Jeanne Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism, Google Books, Columbia University Press, 2005, pp 71-73, ISBN 0231129424
  8. ^ a b c Greninger, Howard "Pfizer resolves contractual issues tied to Exubera, Nektar Therapeutics", Tribune-Star, November 13, 2007, accessed January 11, 2009
  9. ^ a b c d Staff "Pfizer puts closed Terre Haute plant up for sale", Associated Press via Chicago Tribune, November 10, 2008, accessed January 11, 2009
  10. ^ a b Editorial board "Pfizer’s track record provides ray of hope on sad day", Editorial, Tribune-Star, October 18, 2007, accessed January 11, 2009
  11. ^ a b Carroll, Michael Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory, Google Books, HarperCollins, 2004, pp 233-34, ISBN 0060011416

External linksedit

  • Records of Chemical Plants, National Archives, Records of the Chemical Warfare Service, Guide to Federal Records, accessed January 11, 2009

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